Putin vows funds boost to protect Russian forests from fires

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during a United Russia ruling party’s congress in Moscow on August 24, 2021. (Photo by Grigory SYSOYEV / SPUTNIK / AFP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday pledged hundreds of millions of dollars to protect the country’s forests, saying the nation must learn from the “unprecedented” wildfires that engulfed swathes of Siberia.

Experts blame the huge fires that have ripped across Russia’s vast territory in recent years on climate change, negligence and underfunded forestry management services.

“We need to learn lessons and radically strengthen the forest protection system,” Putin told a televised meeting of officials of the ruling United Russia party.

Putin, a former prominent climate-change sceptic, was speaking ahead of parliamentary elections next month that could see the unpopular United Russia party struggle.

He also pledged a significant surge in funding for the efforts.

“To improve the regions’ capabilities in protecting forests, we will additionally allocate another 24 billion rubles ($325 million, 277 million euro),” he said, in brief remarks on the fires in which he didn’t mention climate change.

Russia’s forestry agency says fires this year have ravaged over 173,000 square kilometres (67,000 square miles), making it the second-worst season since the turn of the century.

In Russia’s largest and coldest region of Yakutia, which sits atop permafrost, fires have burned through an area larger than Portugal.

Officials in areas hard-hit have called for resources and economic support from Moscow to deal with the damage.

Putin described the scale of the fires this month as “absolutely unprecedented”.

The Russian leader this year participated in a summit hosted by US President Joe Biden and said Moscow is interested in “stepping up international cooperation” on climate change.

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