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A look at the most severe catastrophes under Putin’s rule that had consequences in Russia and beyond. August 9th marks 15 years since the beginning of Vladimir Putin’s rule in the Russian Federation. It was back in 1999 that he was first heard of, when Boris Yeltsin nominated him as successor.

The current president of Russia had previously served as head of FSB, but common Russians knew nothing of him back in ‘99. Nevertheless, reaching the top of Russia’s political world 15 years ago, Vladimir Vladimirovich never left it afterwards. Meanwhile, his popularity has been constantly growing.

From 1999 onwards he was twice President of Russia and twice Prime Minister. It is a curious thing that his 15 years in power were marked by a string of terrorist attacks, air crashes and other major accidents. It was with Putin in office that the ‘August curse’ phenomenon was taken notice of.

Here we recall the largest catastrophes in Russia under Putin’s rule. It is to be noticed that apart from the mentioned events, 15 years were marked by the second Chechen war,  South Ossetia conflict, the war in Georgia and, finally, the annexation of the Crimea and Donbas conflict.

1999 terrorist attacks

Two blocks of flats in a multi-apartment building collapsed as a result of a mined car explosion in the Dagestan city of Buinaksk on September 4th, 1999; a 9-storeyed building exploded in Guryanov Street in Moscow on September 8th; another explosion took place at the Kashyrskoye highway on September 13th; a truck exploded in Volgodonsk on September 16th, damaging a 9-storeyed building. The attacks took the lives of 300 people.

The events took place a month following the intrusion of Chechen militants into Dagestan, which served as a background for Putin being appointed acting Prime Minister. The Russian government blamed Islamists for planning the attacks.

According to a theory, it was shortly after these attacks that the largely-unknown-Putin’s popularity began to grow. He turned into a fighter against terrorism. ‘We are going to pursue terrorists everywhere,’ said Putin back then. ‘If they are in the airport, we will pursue them in the airport. Pardon my language, if we catch them in the toilet, well, then we’ll whack them in the outhouse.’ That is how ‘whack them in the outhouse’ became the first of Putin’s well-known sayings.

The ‘Kursk’ disaster August 12th, 2000. 

The K-141 “Kursk” nuclear-powered submarine went down during naval exercises in the Barents Sea. It had been launched in May, 1994. According to the official version, an explosion took place as a result of a fuel leak. It caused a fire that lead to the detonation of torpedoes located in the vessel’s first compartment.

The second explosion led to even more damage. All the 118 crew members died as a result. A rescue operation was conducted a year later: the vessel was recovered, 115 bodies were found and buried. ‘Kursk’ was considered to be the best submarine of the North Fleet.
‘Nord-Ost’ October 23rd – 26th, 2002. 

The tragedy took place at the Moscow Theatrical Centre. A group of terrorists took the audience of the ‘Nord-Ost’ musical and the theatre personnel hostage. The building was stormed by Special Forces three days later. The terrorists were eradicated while the hostages, whose survival was a miracle, were released. 130 hostages died.

According to the investigation materials, the preparation to the attack started in early October, 2002, when weapons and explosives were delivered using automobiles from Chechnya to Russia. The planning of the attack took place earlier – presumably at a Chechen battle commanders’ council in the summer of 2002.

The Beslan massacre. September 1st – 3rd, 2004.

The whole world was shocked at the news of a school occupied by terrorists in the North Ossetian city of Beslan on September 1st, 2004. The attack took place during Knowledge Day celebrations. Over a thousand people, including children and their parents, were taken hostage. Two days later, on September, 3rd, the school was stormed by Special Forces.

334 people died, including 186 children and 13 Special Forces officers. All attempts of negotiating with the terrorists and finding a way to free the hostages peacefully failed.

The ‘Ulyanovskaya’ mine explosion. March 19th, 2007

The explosion at the ‘Ulyanovskaya’ mine in Kemerovskaya oblast took the lives of 110 people. 93 miners were rescued. The Federal Service for Ecological, Technological and Nuclear Supervision announced that ‘blatant violations of security regulations’ took place at the ‘Ulyanovskaya’ mine.

According to oblast governor Aman Tuleyev, new equipment for gas leak detection and localization was installed at the mine on the day of the accident. Practically all of the mine’s administration members went underground for an inspection and were killed in the explosion.
The Sayano-Shushenskaya hydroelectric station accident. August 17th, 2009

No. 6 in the world and no 1. In Russia, the Sayano-Shushenskaya hydroelectric station, was stopped on August, 17th, when water entered the machine hall. Three of the ten turbine generators were destroyed, with the rest seriously damaged.

This was the largest hydroelectric power plant accident in Russian and Soviet history, taking the lives of 75 people. The Derzhduma commission that investigated the accident, named around 20 station employees allegedly involved in the tragedy.

The Lame Horse fire. December 5th, 2009

The most deadly fire in post-soviet Russia occurred in the ‘Khromaya Loshad’ (Lame Horse) nightclub in Perm. According to the official version, the fire started when sparks from fireworks ignited the low ceiling and its willow twig covering. Panic erupted quickly, the crowd was packed tight and many could not get out of the club.

The Lame Horse Fire took the lives of 156 people, dozens received burns. A number of Fire Security officials were sacked as a result, the Perm regional government resigned.

Moscow Metro Bombings. March 29th, 2010.

Two women of Dagestan origin carried out suicide bombings at the ‘Lubyanka’ and ‘Park Kultury’ stations of the Moscow Metro.
41 people died as a result of the explosions. There were citizens of Russia, Tadzhikistan, Kirgizia, the Philippines, Israel and Malaysia among the victims. “Caucasus Emirate” leader Doku Umarov claimed to be behind the bombings.

The Smolensk Air Crash. April 10th, 2010.

The Presidential Tu-154 of the Polish Air Force crashed while attempting to land at the Smolensk North Airport. All people on board were killed, that is 88 passengers and 8 crew members. The plane carried President of Poland Lech Kaczyński and his wife Maria, prominent polish politicians, representatives of higher military command, public and religious figures.

This is the most deadly air crash in history to involve a head of state. President Kaczyński was heading to Russia leading a Polish delegation to an event marking the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre. According to the official version, the plane crashed while attempting to land due to thick fog.

The ‘Bulgaria’ sinking. July, 10th, 2011.

The ‘Bulgaria’ two-deck cruise ship heading from Bolgar to Kazan sank three kilometers from the beach. The main cause for the accident was water pouring in through the opened portholes and leading to a sharp list to starboard.

According to final reports, 79 of the 201 people on board survived. The death of 122 people is confirmed. ‘Bulgaria’ captain Oleksandr Ostrovskyi was among the deceased. A quarter of those killed were children.

The Domodedovo International Airport Bombing. January 24th, 2011
The suicide attack was aimed at the international arrival hall of the Domodedovo airport. The bomb’s strength equaled up to 7 kg of TNT. It was packed with shrapnel, probably pieces of chopped wire.

37 people died in the attack, including a Ukrainian writer from Odessa, Hanna Yablonska. ‘Caucasus Emirate’ leader Doku Umarov claimed responsibility for the attack. The suicide bomber was identified as 20-year-old Magomed Yevloyev, born in the village of Ali-yurt, Ingushetia. 
2014 Moscow Metro derailment. July 15th, 2014.

Three cars of the metro train derailed between ‘Park Pobedy’ and ‘Slavaynskiy Bulvar’ of the Arbatsko-Pokrovskaya Line. 23 people died.

The primary version is that the railroad switch was faulty and that works on its installment had been carried out improperly. The accident has been named the largest catastrophe in the Moscow Metro.


Translated by Mykhaylo Turyanytsa, EMPR

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