Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EDITORIAL: Blame it On Simonov -- He's Dead

Last week a nine-story building exploded in northeast Moscow. Mayor Yury Luzhkov wrote to President Boris Yeltsin that this was the result of a gas leak caused by "the negligence of a 35-year-old resident of the building from Chelyabinsk, Sergei Simonov."

Now this may or may not be true -- Luzhkov has been awfully quick to accuse a dead man of having killed seven people. No due process for Mr. Simonov. But even if Luzhkov is right and Simonov was somehow negligent, this begs a larger question: Why is it that for years enormous apartment buildings across Russia have tended to explode over such gas leaks?

For that matter, why do boiling sinkholes suddenly open under the feet of Muscovites these days? Why do deadly icicles drop from the roofs onto people below during every winter thaw?

A quick answer would be the tight economic straits, which leave no money for vital services and maintenance.

However, that doesn't suffice. Moscow has money to burn -- on giant ugly statues, enormous cathedrals and city-wide 850th birthday parties, to say nothing of world-class levels of government corruption. It also has a mayor widely hailed as a can-do manager. Yet Moscow is not immune to falling ice and collapsing streets.

Instead of shoring up infrastructure to protect citizens, Moscow has too often chosen to spend its wealth frivolously (dropping $40 million on a youth sports competition, for example, including about $400,000 for Luzhkov's cloud-seeding campaign to keep the sun shining).

Consider: When a Muscovite is injured or killed in an avoidable accident, a low-level employee (or in many cases, a victim like Simonov) is quickly punished -- either charged with a crime or sacked. But if the same thing happens in Europe or America, victims can sue the government or the company for punitive sums.

And this is what Russia needs: A working judiciary that can bravely hit businesses and governments with hefty fines. The first time someone in Moscow has to pay a $50 million judgment to a widow Simonova, everyone will sit up and pay attention. Suddenly there will be money for street maintenance. Suddenly companies will follow the Western practice and pay to have their roofs heated, so that icicles don't form.

That's the kind of society Russia will have when its politicians allow the courts to work properly. Sadly, however, too many corrupt officials fear an independent judiciary. So for now, the sun will go on shining (at $400,000 per week) while the streets buckle and crumble -- and Simonov takes the fall.