The Kremlin spent a great deal of time planning the run-up to Vladimir Putin’s election to a fourth term as president and the aftermath, which would enshrine the Russian leader for what many expect to be a lifetime in power. The opposition was sidelined, the media were controlled, the internet was throttled, the protests were subdued.
All seemed perfect as the Kremlin announced after the March 18 poll that Mr. Putin had won with well over 70 percent of the vote and well over 70 percent voter turnout, easily hitting the “70/70” goal the Russian leadership had set for an outcome. The Kremlin seemed free to continue its crusade against the West and extend the revival of imperial Russia.
But then a black swan appeared on the Moscow River and swam past the Kremlin.
The unpleasant and unforeseen event came in the form of the unnecessary deaths of scores of children trapped helplessly in a burning shopping mall theater, in far-distant Kemerovo, Siberia.
The official death toll is fluctuating around 80, including 41 children, but social media sites suggest the real number could be in the hundreds. Fingers have been pointed at corrupt officials and builders who allegedly bypassed safety precautions. The fire alarm was inoperative. The fire exits were blocked. The fire rescue plan was inadequate at best.
Children called their parents as they were dying, telling them they loved them. The fire raged for more than 14 hours. Children jumped to their deaths from fourth-story windows — caught on video as the world watched in horror.
After the incident, Russians convulsed in grief and raged at the corruption and incompetence. The Kremlin was slow to react, possibly because officials were still basking in the afterglow of the election victory.
In one video, angry local citizens and parents confront the local governor, who bizarrely begins talking about his service in the military before answering the parents’ questions. At one point, the governor confronts one of the fathers of the dead, demanding, “Young man, are you trying to use this tragedy to hype yourself?”
The father replies simply, “My entire family has died.”
This disaster touched a long-dormant nerve in the Russian people. It’s a nagging fear that Russia’s leaders, for all their patriotic bravado and the relentless propaganda about the failings of America and the West, really do not care at all about the little guy, the forgotten man in Siberia, the helpless citizen who watches his whole family burn to death while the firemen fail to act.
The Kremlin has long been worried about a homegrown “color revolution,” along the lines of the Orange Revolution in neighboring Ukraine, which twice toppled corrupt governments. This is why Mr. Putin was determined to exact revenge on Hillary Clinton. He blamed her and President Obama for egging on street protests in Moscow in 2012 that rattled the regime. Mr. Putin, who never forgot that slight, kicked out foreign nongovernmental organizations, cracked down on dissent and tightened his grip on the levers of power.
To the Kremlin’s shock, this week’s events were not the products of malign Western influence, although some in government tried to point the finger in that direction. No, the popular discontent came from the heart of the Motherland itself, a spontaneous rage of the people not seen since the Bolshevik Revolution.
The Siberia tragedy should remind Americans of the blessings we enjoy in being able to remove governments that don’t work for us, that look only to their own interests. We saw this very thing happen with the election of Donald Trump. The flyover people rose up and replaced the Obama machine, to the surprise and horror of the elites in our government and media.
The Russian people do not have this capability, having given up their guns and freedoms long ago.
⦁ L. Todd Wood is a former special operations helicopter pilot and Wall Street debt trader, and has contributed to Fox Business, The Moscow Times, National Review, the New York Post and many other publications. He can be reached through his website, LToddWood.com.