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Why August is Russia’s tragic month

at 24/08/2009 22:29

Ayano Hodouchi

Last week, in the space of less than 24 hours, Russia was hit by a troika of tragedies - the suicide attack on a police station in Nazran that left at least 24 dead, a disastrous flooding of a power station in southern Siberia and a midair collision at the MAKS air show near Moscow.

The incidents left many people once again scratching their heads as to how Russia always seems to suffer its worst tragedies in August, the sleepy holiday month when everything that can go wrong - from war in the Caucasus to attempted coups and financial meltdowns - does go wrong.

In the wake of the Ingush bombing, news reports immediately picked up on the fact that the authorities had been aware of the fact that a GAZel van was being prepared for use in a terrorist attack.

President Dmitry Medvedev immediately slammed local authorities. "This attack could have been prevented," RIA Novosti reported him as saying. "This happened not only because of terrorist activities, but because of the poor work of the law-enforcement authorities in Ingushetia." He dismissed the Ingush Interior Minister the same day. Three days later, a criminal investigation for negligence was opened.

In the case of the power station accident, experts said it was highly likely to happen, considering that the facility was working at peak capacity and in dire need of modernisation.

Mattias Westman, chief investment officer of Prosperity Capital Management, which manages investments in the Russian energy sector, warns that such disasters may happen with increasing frequency unless the funding-starved sector gets tariffs which will allow them to maintain equipment properly and replace old parts.

"This is a terrible accident and should serve as a reminder that both management systems and market mechanisms need to develop much further," he said in e-mailed comments.

Russia seems to be especially prone to disasters in the month of August. The easy explanation is that many people are on vacation, but it goes deeper than that, experts say.

"Not all these disasters are related, much of it is bad luck, but vacation and inattention were certainly key factors in the Nazran terrorist attack," said Yevgeny Nadorshin, chief economist at Trust Bank. Many, including those in the security forces, take vacation during the summer, and terrorists and malefactors could exploit that weakness in the system.

That has been proven in the past, said Ivan Ivanchenko, an analyst at VTB. He gave as an example the attempted hardline Stalinist coup in August 1991. "It is a fact that most people, including the political elite, traditionally take their vacations in August and leave the capital. A void is gravitational, and sucks in challengers to step in."

However, many people around the globe take vacation in August, yet few countries seem to be as cursed in August as Russia is.

Westman remarked that besides the issue of inadequately maintained and ageing facilities, there is also a lack of functional management systems. "Often people in Russia do not want to make decisions without consulting the boss, and at the same time they do not want to disturb the boss on holiday," he said. This could lead to a problem being left to exacerbate, and an avertable accident happening.

"They hope for the best but it turns out as usual," Westman said.

Month of misery - timeline of tragedies

2009

August 17 - Suicide bomb attack on police station in Nazran, kills at least 24 people, injures at least 200

August 17 - Accident at Sayano-Shushenskaya hydroelectric power station in Khakasia. 69 dead, 6 missing presumed dead

August 17 - Two planes collide during rehearsals for the MAKS air show in Moscow. 2 dead, 3 injured

2008

August 8-12 - War in South Ossetia with Georgia

2007

August 13 - Bomb derails train between Moscow and St. Petersburg

2006

August 22 - Commercial plane carrying 170 crashes, all dead

2005

August 5 - Submarine with seven crew members trapped in fishing nets off the Kamchatka Peninsula, rescued by Britain's Royal Navy

2004

August 31 - Suicide bomb kills 10 at Rizhskaya metro station in Moscow

August 24 - Two planes flying from Moscow's Domodedovo airport hijacked and crash, 89 dead

2003

August 29 - Russian submarine sinks in Arctic, 9 dead, 1 survivor

August 1 - Suicide bomber drives a truck with explosives into a military hospital in North Ossetia. 44 dead, 79 wounded

2002

August 19 - Russian military helicopter crashes in Chechyna,

115 servicemen dead

2000

August 27 - A fire at Ostankino TV tower leaves the city's screens blank

August 12 - Russian submarine Kursk sinks in the Arctic, killing all 118 crew members

August 8 - Bomb kills 12 in underground passage at Moscow's Pushkin Square

1999

August 31 - Bomb in the Manezh shopping centre kills 1, injures 40

August - Second Chechen war begins

1998

August 17 - Financial crisis in Russia

1991

August 19-21 - Attempted Stalinist coup d'etat

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