The title of this article is not an over-exaggeration. The YouTube clip--filmed by bystanders yesterday--shows plane AN-24 literally falling out of the sky. Out of 36 people on board, seven people died, others suffered various injuries. The top comment left for the video reads (translated from Russian): "The remains of the Soviet Union are crumbling away, and nothing new is being built. Modernization, innovation, Go Russia! "
When comparing their multi-national country to the United States, Russians tend to pride themselves in a lesser amount of freak accidents and unnecessary deaths, such as shootings in colleges, hostage takings in shopping malls, and armed robberies. However, the sentiment is very different these days. Just in the past month, the world has witnessed two major accidents in Russia - a plane landing half a mile short of the landing strip and killing nearly everyone on board, and a ship sinking--not in the open ocean--but in a river, killing more than half of its passengers. The incidents, overlooked by the Western media, in the last two weeks include more helicopters and planes falling out of the skies, and the debates around Russia's new ballistic missile Bulava, that flies correctly only half of the times--a disturbing success rate if armed with a nuclear warhead. What is happening to Russia?
At the core of the problem is one fact: today, nothing in Russia is Russian, and whatever can be called such, is Soviet--in most cases over 50 years old, in some cases approaching the centennial age mark. The infrastructure has been raped, the profits from its abuse have landed in $750-million oligarchs' European mansions and rescued British soccer clubs. Bright engineers and talented managers have left for the West. Imagine the States without the Dockers, Hanes, Procter & Gamble, Hollywood, GM, and John Deere. Well, that's how Russia is today. And the argument is not about Hanes being produced in the Dominican Republic, the issues is about the R&D expenditures, cash flows (including Vladimir's) that flow in only one direction (Switzerland), and what is done at home.
Many foreigners get mesmerized by the fact how "international" and "global" Russia has become in the past two decades. Quaker oatmeal and California's Driscoll's raspberries can be found on Moscow grocery stores' shelves. American-imported oatmeal and raspberry? In the largest country in the world? Really?! The TU-134 plane that fell from the skies two weeks ago was built in 1980 and had flown 35,474 hours and 20,902 cycles. The riverboat "Bulgaria" that sunk this week was built in 1955; the newest river cruise ship available in Russia was built in 1992. And even if the reasons of the tragedies are not the wear of equipment, then it's the corruption that prevents proper inspections, maintenance, and trainings, and equipment's low-tech that needs Medvedev's innovation more than Medvedev needs it himself.
As one of my Russian mentors said, "it is a miracle that these planes and ships still fly and sail, and pipes still pump the oil and gas. Today's failures are evidence of the genius of the Soviet engineers, who managed to build machines that--after half a century of neglect, and under the operation of mostly incompetent money-makers--still fly, sail, and pump. And--in most cases--it is the lack of modern technology, a human error, and the corruption-sponsored lack of standards that make these machines fail."
In dealing with the problem, President Medvedev suggested to prohibit the exploitation of the old planes and boats. However, as he flies on a hand-tuned jet and drives Porches Cayenne, he may be unaware that Russia's fragile private businesses don't have the money to buy modern Western equipment, and the already infrastructure-depleted nation will come to a halt without the Soviet-era "transformers." Mercedes-driving prime-minister Putin, on the other hand, stayed away from the infrastructure debate and joined thousands of his compatriots in their grieving, by laying Holland-grown flowers to remember the Russian victims.
Russians laying flowers at the site of the Bulgaria ship tragedy