Greg Yudin: The Last Circle of Hell

Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich, speaking at meeting with relatives of miners who perished in the Severnaya coal mine in Vorkuta, Komi Republic. Photo courtesy of
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich, speaking at meeting with relatives of miners who perished in the Severnaya coal mine in Vorkuta, Komi Republic. Photo courtesy of

Greg Yudin
March 3, 2016

The transcript of Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich and Severstal president Alexei Mordashov’s meeting with relatives of miners who perished in the recent coal mine disaster in Vorkuta makes for hellacious reading. It is like the last circle of hell.

I won’t even mention the fact they did not want to take any responsibility for the incident, that it was their incompetence which lead to the deaths of rescuers, and that they covered for a flagrantly brutal system in which miners were forced to turn off sensors and worked like slaves.

But these people really, seriously consider themselves heroes, because they came to the meeting with the unfortunate relatives.

Dvorkovich: You know, many people tried to dissuade me from coming here and traveling here at all, because it is incredibly difficult, really difficult. Nevertheless, my colleagues in the republic and I decided we had to share this grief along with you.

I can just imagine the “many” people who tried to dissuade Dvorkovich.

“Arkady Vladimirovich, what is with you? Why are you going there? There are those stupid widows there. They don’t understand a thing, and they cannot control themselves. How are you going to help them? All the orders have been given already. They will get the money, bawl a bit, and calm down. Dmitry Anatolyevich is not insisting that you go. As it was, we were planning to order a table at a restaurant and drink a toast for the greatness of Russia and our common victory in this difficult time. Well, and we would drink a toast for the dead miners, too, of course.”

“No, I have to go! Of course I know it will be hard for me, very hard. I must show the country’s leadership is mindful of the common people and shares their pain.”

“Oh, Arkady Vladimirovich, what heroism! You’re a hero. It is people like you who make Russia strong.”

You get the sense they flew in from another planet. Why do miners tamper with the sensors? What do you say? They are afraid of losing their jobs? Let them find another job! We have a free labor market. Loans, you say? You cannot afford to buy an engagement ring? So who forced you to take out a loan?

Mordashov: Well, you know, coming to see you all was a personal choice for each of us. Those of us present here made this choice. We cannot force anyone else to make it.

How has it happened that Russian officials and fat cats have come to think they could choose not to come and talk with the relatives of victims, that it is their “personal choice”? I remember quite well how twenty years ago or so Prime Minister Chernomyrdin talked with terrorists to save people’s lives, but nobody reported that it was his “personal choice.” Because it was his job.

But now a billionaire from the Forbes list and a guy who has spent the better part of his life as a government minister say with a straight face that after a disaster involving dozens of victims it is okay not to come and explain themselves, and that basically they are doing people a favor by traveling from Monaco or wherever they live and stopping by this godforsaken mine.

Actually, it isn’t difficult to understand why these bastards consider themselves heroes. Because hiding behind them is a man who sixteen years ago, when the Kursk sunk, was so frightened he went into seclusion for several days, but then called the widows of the drowned submariners “paid whores.”*

Since then the country has been ruled by men and women incapable of sharing the grief of their own people in a way that at least would appear convincing, because they fear and despise the people.

Translated by the Russian Reader

*The new Russian president grew particularly irate early in his tenure when the submarine Kursk sank in the Barents Sea in August 2000 and Russian television aired tough reports about the government’s slow response and dishonest public statements. Even state-controlled Channel One, under Berezovsky’s control, broadcast critical segments, including interviews with the wives of Kursk sailors distraught at the way the situation was being handled

Outraged, Putin called personally to rail about the report and accuse the journalists of faking it. “You hired two whores … in order to push me down,” Putin exclaimed, as former anchor Sergei Dorenko remembered it. Dorenko was taken aback. “They were officers’ widows,” he said, “but Putin was convinced that the truth, the reality, did not actually exist. He only believes in [political] technologies.”

Putin’s anger boiled over at a closed-door meeting with relatives of the crew six days after the submarine sank. When fuming relatives shouted him down, saying they knew from television that the Russian government had initially turned down foreign assistance, Putin bristled.

“Television?” he exclaimed. “They’re lying. Lying. Lying.”

Peter Baker and Susan B. Glasser, “Nuts and Bolts of Project Putin,” Moscow Times, June 8, 2005