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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia Contributes $2M to Tsunami Fund

APU.S. Ambassador Alexander Vershbow, left, and Andras Simonyi, Hungary's ambassador to the United States, performing at a tsunami relief concert in New York on Saturday.
Russia, which was among the first countries to airlift supplies and medical personnel to Asian countries devastated by the tsunami, is contributing $2 million to the global relief effort.

Moscow's response to the Dec. 26 disaster, which killed more than 155,000 people, including at least two Russians, in Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, India and other countries, is dwarfed by the efforts of other nations.

Some 50 countries pledged more than $4 billion at a summit in Jakarta on Thursday, with the biggest amounts coming from Australia ($810 million), Germany ($674 million), Japan ($500 million) and the United States ($350 million). The Group of Seven leading industrial nations -- which becomes the G8 when Russia takes part in its meetings -- agreed on Friday to freeze debt payments from the affected countries.

Russia will chip in with $2 million in aid, Deputy Emergency Situations Minister Yury Brazhnikov, said Thursday on Ekho Moskvy radio.

President Vladimir Putin said the same day that the amount of aid is not necessarily as important as how quickly it is delivered -- in a reference to the fact that Russia was the first country to fly aid and medical personnel to Sri Lanka.

But the relatively small amount of Russia's contribution is drawing criticism from some Western politicians. "A country like Russia, which derives enormous profits from high oil and gas prices, cannot stand aside," senior German lawmaker Gernot Erler told the Berliner Zeitung daily, The Associated Press reported.

The decision to earmark only $2 million is not based on money problems but is a calculated move aimed at keeping peace at home, said Vladimir Pribylovsky, a Kremlin expert with the Panorama think tank. "Sure the government could give much more or just send a signal to the oligarchs, who would readily cough up millions of dollars," he said. "But the government understands that millions of dollars going to someone in Asia would be greeted badly by ordinary Russians, considering the rather meager aid that officials provide to their own people in trouble, such as the Beslan victims."

Russia's $2 million is less than some individual contributions: Formula 1 racer Michael Schumacher, for example, has donated $10 million. Hollywood director Steven Spielberg, meanwhile, has donated $1.5 million, while actress Sandra Bullock has offered $1 million. U.S. President George W. Bush has personally pledged $10,000.

Residents of Beslan, who are still reeling from a tragedy of their own, are donating 1 million rubles ($36,000). "Beslan residents will never forget how the world responded to our tragedy. So, for our part, we will always respond to the tragedy of people who suffer natural disasters and terrorists attacks around the world," said Mairbek Tuayev, head of the Public Council of Beslan, a nongovernmental organization established to support victims of the school terrorist attack in September that killed more than 330 people, Interfax reported.

The 1 million rubles is the largest private contribution in Russia.

Moscow, meanwhile, has been working around the clock with its relief effort. Two military cargo planes, Il-76 and An-124 jets, returned to Moscow on Monday after delivering almost 100 tons of aid to Indonesia and Thailand.

Three Il-76s that took off from an Air Force base in the Urals on Sunday were heading to Medan, Indonesia, on Monday, while three more planes were scheduled to depart for Medan later in the day, Air Force spokesman Alexander Drobyshevsky told Interfax. The six aircraft will deliver a field hospital and 150 medics to the devastated region, which was closest to the epicenter of the earthquake that caused the disaster and bore the brunt of the tsunami.

An Emergency Situations Ministry plane delivered 10 mobile electric power generators and 15 tons of bed linen to Phuket, Thailand, on Sunday, while another ministry plane will land in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on Tuesday, ministry spokesman Viktor Beltsov said, Interfax reported.

G7 finance ministers said Friday that they have agreed to freeze the debt repayments of the affected countries and will work out the details with the Paris Club and other creditors. The Asian countries have debts of about $272 billion, and Indonesia, for one, owes some $48 billion to the Paris Club, which groups the 19 biggest creditor nations, including Russia.

Russian officials, however, have yet to publicly express a position on the debt relief proposal. India alone owes Russia about $3 billion.

About 1,000 Russians were vacationing in Thailand and Sri Lanka when the tsunami struck, and all have been accounted for except for eight, in Thailand. Irina Borisyuk, spokeswoman for the Russian embassy in Thailand, said it might take months to learn their fate and that lengthy DNA tests might be required to identify their remains among the scores of dead foreigners, Russian news agencies reported.

Two Russian tourists have been confirmed dead in Thailand, Oksana Lipuntsova, 32, of Moscow and her 6-year-old son, Artyom.

Germany has the highest number of confirmed deaths, with 60 people dead and 720 missing, AP reported Monday. Sweden has 52 dead and 637 missing; Britain has 50 dead and 391 missing; and the United States has 37 dead and no clear estimate of the number of missing.

In addition, 17 Ukrainians and five Belarussians are missing.