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As wildfires engulf Russian region, Putin urges authorities to take stronger action to prevent them

Smoke from forest fires is see over small town of Kysyl-Syr, Vilyuysky District, Sakha Republic also known as Yakutia, Russia Far East, 2021.
Smoke from forest fires is see over small town of Kysyl-Syr, Vilyuysky District, Sakha Republic also known as Yakutia, Russia Far East, 2021.   -   Copyright  AP Photo
By Jill Pole  with AP

President Vladimir Putin is urging authorities to take stronger action to prevent wildfires in Russia.

Speaking in a video call with federal and regional officials, Putin emphasised that the wildfires which hit the country last year were the largest in years - and asked local governors to report on measures that were taken to increase fire safety last time.

Fires that have broken out across south-western Siberia in Russia have killed at least 10 people and damaged hundreds of buildings this week.

Blazes ripped through several villages on Saturday, with high winds hampering efforts to extinguish them.

"We can't allow a repeat of the last year's situation," said Putin. "We need to combat fires in a more efficient, systemic and consistent way."

Large-scale wildfires undermine our climate protection efforts.
President Vladimir Putin
AP Photo
Firefighters work at the scene of a forest fire in Kurgan region, Russia, May 2022.AP Photo

He reaffirmed the importance of forests for dealing with global warming, noting that "large-scale wildfires undermine our climate protection efforts."

"This issue is of principal importance for our country and the entire world," he said.

AP Photo
Vladimir Putin on a video call with leaders around the world.AP Photo

Is Russia tackling climate change?

In recent years, Russia has recorded high temperatures that many scientists regard as a clear result of climate change. The hot weather, coupled with the neglect of fire safety rules, has caused a growing number of wildfires that authorities say have consumed more than 17 million hectares (42 million acres) last year in Russia.

Russian experts decried a 2007 decision to disband a federal aviation network tasked to spot and combat fires and turn over its assets to regional authorities. The much-criticised transfer led to the force's rapid decline.

Wildfires consumed more than 17 million hectares (42 million acres) last year in Russia.

The government later reversed the move and reestablished the federal agency in charge of monitoring forests from the air. However, its resources remain limited, making it hard to survey the massive forests of Siberia and the Far East.

The authorities responded to last year's fires by beefing up monitoring assets and rapid response forces. The Kremlin has ordered to earmark additional funds for combating the blazes.

Russia's goal is to reach net zero by 2060, but its energy strategy to 2035 appears to be mostly about burning more fossil fuels.