Russia on fire, has asked Vilnius for help

  • 2010-08-18
  • By Rokas M. Tracevskis

VILNIUS - Hundreds of wildfires, sparked by the hot summer, have engulfed large areas around Moscow and other parts of western Russia, choking Moscow in smog. “Lithuania is deeply shocked by the devastating effect of the natural disaster that has hit the Russian Federation these days and has resulted in many human victims, as well as destroyed property,” Lithuanian Foreign Minister Audronius Azubalis wrote in his letter of Aug. 5 to his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov. On Aug. 9, Russia officially requested assistance from Lithuania in fighting the fires.

On Aug. 11, Lithuania announced that it is sending 24 firefighters with eight firefighting trucks and other fire-fighting equipment to Russia. “Our firefighters will be financed totally by Lithuania and they will not be a burden for locals,” Vygandas Kurkulis, deputy director of the Fire and Rescue Department under the Lithuanian Interior Ministry, said during his briefing. However, Vladimir Chkhikvadze, the Russian ambassador to Lithuania, after visiting the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry, said, “I think there is no more need of firefighters.”

There are 551 firefighters from foreign countries in Russia now, including Latvian and Estonian firefighters. Moscow’s refusal of Lithuanian firefighters came after Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin climbed, as co-pilot, into a firefighting plane on Aug. 10 and dumped water on two of the hundreds of wildfires. It seems that Putin was so successfull in fighting the fire himself that no more foreign firefighters were needed after his action. Then, Lithuania decided to donate to Russia only a Russian-made pump-house on wheels, costing 160,000 litas (46,339 euros) as well as 5,000 respirators and equipment for firefighting which is worth some 90,000 litas. The Lithuanian support was transported to Russia.

The heat wave in Russia should finish by the end of this week, according to weather forecasts. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Russians were attacking the Lithuanian embassy in Moscow, asking for Lithuanian visas in trying to escape from the smog in the Russian capital city (the famous Russian journalist Yulia Latynina, for example, stated that two cats in her villa near Moscow died due to the smog, and that she evacuated her parents to Saint Petersburg). However, the Lithuanian embassy can give its Schengen visa only after three days, due to the Schengen requirements and a lack of personnel in the embassy. Only several Moscow dwellers, suffering with asthma, got a visa in the Lithuanian embassy on the same day that they gave their request for a visa.