In Russia, only the dogs and drunks are in peril

Britain lags behind in dealing with the onset of winter, writes Will Bennett
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Every winter, the cold weather takes Britain by surprise. Even in post-Soviet Russia, when the full ferocity of the Russian winter strikes in Moscow, only the drunks and the dogs have anything to fear. Public transport runs normally and, however poor, people make sure that their homes are well-heated.

In Ottawa, 40 inches of snow has fallen in the past few weeks. This is the amount that the Canadian capital normally expects in an entire winter, but not a single aircraft has been delayed out of the city's airport.

The contrast is vivid between countries which regard snow and ice as an inevitable part of winter, and Britain, where winter is treated as an extraordinary act of God.

In Russia, ramshackle as it is, roads and even main footpaths are salted every time there is a fresh fall of snow. The quantities of salt applied cause problems for dogs, which suffer from sore paws as a result.

Some services are not what they were in Soviet times, especially in smaller cities where not all roads are kept clear, and in Moscow one cut in government spending has led to the deaths of 250 people in the past two months. All were drunk, and in the past they would have been picked up by trucks, no longer operating, scouring the Russian capital to prevent them falling victim to the sub-zero temperatures. .

In Canada, dealing with the winter has become an art. Ottawa airport has a fleet of snowploughs, four or five of which clear runways operating in a wing formation followed by trucks with revolving brooms. On the railways, heat switches prevent points failures.

Even countries closer to home are more prepared than Britain for snow and ice. The Dutch government has invested huge sums in making sure that it has railway rolling stock that can withstand the fiercest winter temperatures. However, it does have a problem with some of its newest roads which are made of a water-absorbent material that also sucks up salt.

But Britain can take comfort that even the best-prepared Alpine nations can be caught out. Last month much of Austria ground to a halt amid an unexpectedly early - and heavy - snowfall, which caught motorists driving on summer tyres.