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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin Backs Infrastructure Checks After Accident

ReutersA rescuer and his dog looking for victims of the dam accident Thursday.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin backed an overhaul of all major infrastructure installations Thursday as the death toll in this week’s dam disaster climbed to 17.

Putin told the Cabinet that a review must be carried out on the soundness of the country’s strategic objects after the turbine room flooded at the Sayano-Shushenskaya hydroelectric plant on Monday.

“A serious revision of all strategic and vitally important infrastructure is required,” he said.

Putin will hold a working meeting in Khakasia on Friday to discuss ways to handle the disaster.

President Dmitry Medvedev ordered Putin to report the cause of the dam disaster to him in two weeks and to ensure that electricity bills for Khakasia customers do not grow, the Kremlin said in a statement.

Plant owner RusHydro promised that it would not increase tariffs to cover reconstruction costs, which Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko has said may cost more than 40 billion rubles ($1.25 billion).


Ilya Naymushin / Reuters
Rescuers sifting through Sayano-Shushenskaya plant debris on Thursday. 

No one has been accused of wrongdoing in the disaster, but Khakasia prosecutors said Thursday that they have opened a criminal investigation into the editor of the regional online magazine Novy Focus for publishing “misleading information that damages the honor, dignity and public reputation of the republic’s leaders and the plant’s directors.”

The editor, Mikhail Afanasyev, wrote on his LiveJournal blog on Thursday that prosecutors accused him of calling the plant’s directors and head of the republic’s branch of the Emergency Situations Ministry, Andrei Firsov, negligent in their duties.

Afanasyev faces up to three years in prison if charged and convicted.

But Afanasyev told Interfax that he had never mentioned Firsov or the plant’s director, Nikolai Nevolko, in any of his articles. He also said police wrongly believed that he was a member of the Solidarity opposition movement.

Prosecutors said in a statement that Afanasyev had posted the information on the magazine’s web site, Khakasia.info, on Tuesday. No Tuesday news about the disaster could be found on the web site Thursday.

Oleg Panfilov, head of the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, said the criminal case against Afanasyev showed that “the mentality of the authorities is turning Soviet.”


Ilya Naymushin / Reuters
People grieving Thursday at a funeral for victims of an accident at the Sayano-Shushenskaya power station in the village of Cheryomushki. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin backed an overhaul of all major infrastructure installations as the death toll from this week’s disaster rose to 17. 

“This is a typical situation: When disastrous events are happening in the country, the authorities are trying to conceal any information that can sow panic among the people,” Panfilov told The Moscow Times.

Panfilov said that by opening the criminal case, the authorities broke many of Afanasyev’s legal rights, including his constitutional right of the freedom of speech.

The Union of Journalists will examine the relevancy of the allegations against Afanasyev, said its head, Vsevolod Bogdanov, Interfax reported.

Federal law forbids journalists from damaging the dignity, honor and reputation of politicians, although it has been rarely enforced.

Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu said Thursday that the cause of the disaster was “unique” and “inexplicable.” A government commission has been created to investigate the reasons for the disaster, fix the plant, secure a stable power supply in the region and provide support for the victims’ families, Interfax reported, citing a government statement.

Emergency workers, meanwhile, started pumping water from the damaged plant, a process that will take 37 hours, the Emergency Situations Ministry said in a statement.

Four bodies were discovered overnight, bringing the death toll to 17, news reports said. Fifty-nine people remained missing.

RusHydro said it would give 1 million rubles ($31,600) to the families of each victim and pay for the care and education of their children.

Pope Benedict XVI offered his condolences to the families of those killed and injured and called on the authorities to support them.

Four hundred tons of fish have died in the Yenisei River as the result of an oil leak from the plant after the flood, World Wildlife Fund spokesman Alexei Knizhnikov told Interfax.