Fire at television tower offers new evidence of Russia's decay

Moscow's giant television tower is the latest symbol of Russian pride to fall, devastated by a fire that has thrown a spotlight on the nation's increasingly decrepit infrastructure, plunging safety standards and downright neglect.

Moscow's giant television tower is the latest symbol of Russian pride to fall, devastated by a fire that has thrown a spotlight on the nation's increasingly decrepit infrastructure, plunging safety standards and downright neglect.

The blaze, which cut virtually all television broadcasts in Moscow and the surrounding regions after it broke out Sunday, follows the disaster that sent a nuclear submarine plunging to the Barents Sea floor and killed its entire crew of 118 seamen. That catastrophe brought home the decay of Russia's once-mighty navy.

From gas explosions in crumbling apartment buildings to airplane crashes, disasters have become commonplace in Russia, making the one-time superpower and technological leader a zone of seemingly perpetual calamities.

A prolonged economic decline has thrown the nation into decay, making it unable to replace or maintain its Soviet-era machinery. The wear-and-tear has been augmented by sloppiness, lack of training and plain theft.

"This emergency highlights what condition vital facilities, as well as the entire nation, are in," President Vladimir Putin said Monday at a government meeting called to discuss the fire. "Only economic development will allow us to avoid such calamities in the future."

The 540-meter (1,771-foot) Ostankino Tower, which was erected in 1967 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution, has been one Moscow's most prominent landmarks and a showpiece of Soviet technological power. In recent years, it has become overloaded with equipment needed to broadcast mushrooming channels and service government communications and other needs.

"They kept putting new equipment on the tower, adding to the strain," said Culture Minister Mikhail Shvydkoi. "We are dealing with the legacy of the past - most of our machinery is 30 years old or older."

Government officials acknowledged that the tower was working 30 percent beyond its capacity, setting the scene for possible accidents. It has never been renovated and its safety system was unable to squelch a fire that appeared to have been caused by a simple short-circuit.

"It's quite obvious that the tower's safety and anti-blaze systems were outdated," Eduard Sagalayev, the head of Russia's Broadcasters Association, said, according to the ITAR-Tass news agency.

Although the fire hasn't affected broadcasts throughout Russia, it completely cut all television channels except one in Moscow and surrounding regions - home to an estimated 15 million people. Experts have warned that the blackout, expected to last for at least several days, would badly affect a population that has grown increasingly dependent on television.

Shvydkoi called the event a "tragedy," and Sagalayev said it amounted to a "national catastrophe."

"The Ostankino Tower was a symbol of Moscow and Russia. It was a terrible blow," Sagalayev said.

Along with television broadcasts, the blaze has affected some government communications and disabled several leading paging companies.

The government has warned continually that Russia faces disasters everywhere, from airplanes to elevators, because of the lack of funds to keep aging infrastructure running safely. Earlier this year, the Emergency Situations Ministry issued an apocalyptic annual forecast that said the nation was vulnerable to myriad technological disasters, including fires, collapsing buildings, pipeline ruptures, radiation leaks and toxic chemical spills.

If the current shortage of funds for new equipment and maintenance continues, most of Russia's industrial equipment could come to a virtual standstill by 2005-2007, ministry experts warned. They said that most of Russia's industrial equipment should have been discarded years ago, but companies struggling to stay afloat and workers desperate for wages have continued to use them.

Putin recently said that only 5 percent of enterprises were using modern technology.

A steady decrease in discipline and safety standards has accompanied the decay of machinery. Unlike in Soviet times, when discipline and the fear of punishment were stronger, safety rules are commonly neglected in today's Russia. And a tendency to minimize or dismiss danger - a foolhardiness that is sometimes boasted of as a national trait - makes the problem even worse.

There are frequent airplane crashes because pilots overload their planes to take extra cargo for bribes. Natural gas explosions rip through apartment buildings because of a lack of maintenance. In rural areas, people hack holes into oil pipelines to siphon fuel, often causing fires or explosions.

Other machinery is being crippled by thieves. Hundreds of people are electrocuted every year while trying to pilfer communication wires, electric cables and train and plane parts to sell as scrap metal. Large areas are left without electricity after power lines are looted.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
Tangerine Dream Edgar Froese
people
News
Rob Lowe
peopleRob Lowe hits out at Obama's snub of Benjamin Netanyahu
News
Davies (let) says: 'Everybody thought we were having an affair. It was never true!'
people'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
News
Staff assemble outside the old City Road offices in London
mediaThe stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century at Britain's youngest paper
Life and Style
The Oliver twins, Philip and Andrew, at work creating the 'Dizzy' arcade-adventure games in 1988
techDocumentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Arts and Entertainment
Krall says: 'My hero player-singer is Elton John I used to listen to him as a child, every single record
music
News
Friends for life … some professionals think loneliness is more worrying than obesity
scienceSocial contact is good for our sense of wellbeing - but it's a myth that loneliness kills, say researchers
Arts and Entertainment
The Wu-Tang Clan will sell only one copy of their album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
musicWu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own only copies of their latest albums
News
i100
Environment
Number so freshwater mussels in Cumbria have plummeted from up to three million in the 20th century to 500,000
environment
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us