'Dark times': These Russians are blaming Vladimir Putin for deadly infrastructure failures

'Dark times': These Russians are blaming Vladimir Putin for deadly infrastructure failures

In Russia, state-sponsored media outlets have often been cheerleaders for the invasion of Ukraine, which was launched on February 24 on orders from President Vladimir Putin. But the war is by no means universally popular in Russia, where economic sanctions from the Biden Administration and its European allies in the North American Treaty Organization (NATO) have been taking their toll. President Joe Biden has adamantly maintained that there will be no U.S. “boots on the ground” in Ukraine, but stressed that economically, Russia will continue to pay a price for the invasion.

Russia is not only having economic problems during the invasion — it is also having infrastructure problems. And journalist Anna Nemtsova, in an article published by the Daily Beast on December 1, reports that Russians who have been losing heat in frigid temperatures are blaming Putin and the war in Ukraine. As they see it, the war in Ukraine is a much higher priority for Putin and the Kremlin than the wellbeing of people in Russia.

“Russians are being plunged into a bleak winter where power outages and heating failures are already freezing people to death while President Vladimir Putin is choosing to spend hundreds of billions of dollars prosecuting an illegal war in Ukraine instead of helping his own citizens,” Nemtsova reports. “In many of the remote regions where conditions are at their worst, people are also being forced to contribute the most to the war via conscription drives that strip healthy young men out of the local workforce and send them to their deaths on the front line.

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Valentina Melnikova of the Soldiers’ Mothers Committee stressed that many families of young Russians fighting in Ukraine are hurting economically.

Melnikova told the Beast, “They take young men — the only breadwinners — away and send them back in coffins. The guys freeze on the front, get sick, die while their families live in poverty. It seems authorities have no interest left in human lives at this point.”

Nemtsova stresses that losing heat can be deadly during a Russian winter.

“While Russian missile attacks leave Ukraine without water, heating and power, Russia’s own cities — in Siberia, the Altai Mountains, Baikal and Kamchatka — are freezing without central heating,” Nemtsova explains. “The hot water pipeline burst in the center of Abakan, the capital of the Russian republic of Khakasia in Siberia. The crossing of Krylov and Kati Perekreschenko streets disappeared in clouds of steam. The accident meant a disaster for at least 70,000 local people: no hot water, no heating in the freezing -8F.”

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Nemtsova continues, “Dozens of people spent the night calling the local emergency hotline on Sunday, asking when their apartment blocks would be warm again. But nobody seemed surprised — worn-down infrastructure and bursting pipes are typical crises in wintertime not only for this part of Siberia, but for dozens of other regions of Putin’s Russia…. People are frustrated that while Moscow spends billions of dollars on the war, they are left to die at home. The Russian regions of Tyumen, Karaganda and Yakutia were among those which reported cases of frost victims in the past week.”

Russia blogger Nikolay Zolotov told the Beast that the war in Ukraine is doing nothing to make life easier in his part of Siberia.

“Dark times,” Zolotov told the Beast. “Ukraine is surviving without heating and light, and here in Khakasia, our life is awfully hard. Bursting pipes is not the worst problem: people live on tiny salaries in a poorly maintained city, without cash to buy food, while our government spends billions on the special operation in Ukraine.”

Nemtsova notes that in 2021, Putin acknowledged that poverty “is our main enemy” in Russia.

“But instead of spending money on fighting poverty this year, the Kremlin found a new enemy and decided to spend around $155 billion of the $315 billion annual state budget on defense and security,” Nemtsova observes. “That meant less money for fixing central heating systems or for figuring out how to install modern plumbing for 35 million Russians who still live without a sewage system and have to rely on freezing outhouses.”

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