“Protect your children”: Smolny launches mass posting before rally Delovoi Peterburg
January 21, 2021
On January 21, the social network pages of Petersburg’s district administrations, as well as of municipal schools, libraries, and educational organization, published the same message, appealing to parents not to let their children attend the rally urging the release of politician Alexei Navalny.
“Protect your children from being dragged into destructive actions that can lead to psychological problems in the future, but also to unpredictable consequences in their lives today,” the text of the mass posting says. It stresses that the upcoming rally is a “blatant provocation.”
A search for the phrase “protect your children from being dragged into destructive actions” yielded around a hundred hits on the social media pages of municipal organizations. At the time of writing, the post had been published on the VK pages of the Kolpino and Vyborg districts, as well as the press services of the Shuvalovo-Ozerki, Posadsky, Kronverk, and Sampsonievsky municipal districts, and dozens of schools.
Earlier today, First Deputy Interior Minister Alexander Gorovoy said that the Russian Interior Ministry has “all legal grounds” to charge with misdemeanors those who “in person, on the internet, [or] by sending written appeals” call on people to attend the rally [sic]. The Prosecutor General’s Office ordered the blocking of websites containing posts with calls to attend the [rallies].
Alexey Navalny recently published a large-scale investigation dealing with the construction of a grand residence on the Black Sea. The Anti-Corruption Fund (FBK) founder claims that the palace was built for Vladimir Putin. Navalny and his FBK team have called on their supporters to come out to protest on January 23. He has been supported by bloggers on Instagram and TikTok who have over a million followers.
Alexei Navalny, Putin’s Palace: The Story of the World’s Largest Bribe, January 19, 2021. [There were over 51 million views as of 1:00 a.m. Moscow time, January 22, 2021]
Navalny recorded this video before his return to Russia, but we immediately agreed that we would release it after he returned: Alexei did not want the protagonist of this investigation—Vladimir Putin—to think that we were afraid of him and that we were telling his biggest secret from abroad.
Today, you will see something that is considered impossible to see up close. Along with us, you will go where no one is allowed. We will go for a visit to Putin’s house. With our own eyes, we will see that, in his craving for luxury and wealth, Putin has completely lost his mind. We will find out whose money has financed this luxury and how it was done. And we will learn how, over the past fifteen years, the biggest bribe in history was paid and the most expensive palace in the world was built.
Alexey was detained at the airport [in Moscow], where he arrived after five months of medical treatment in Germany. He went to Germany after Putin tried to kill him. On January 18, Navalny was illegally arrested and placed in a pre-trial detention center.
Alexei has always fought for our rights, and now we have to fight for his. Vladimir Putin must answer for all his crimes.
At 2:00 p.m. on January 23, go to the central streets of your cities. Don’t stand on the sidelines.
Petersburg Governor Alexander Beglov (in mask, on right) visited the city’s Maternity Hospital No. 9 on May 3. Photo courtesy of Sever.Realii
Beglov Explains Outbreak at Vreden Center Through Failure of Employee to Self-Isolate After Returning from Turkey Bumaga
May 1, 2020
Speaking on TV channel 78, Governor Alexander Beglovclaimed that the source of the coronavirus outbreak at the Vreden Traumatology and Orthopedics Institute in Petersburg was an employee who had returned from Turkey and failed to self-isolate.
“Again, we’re talking about conscientiousness, about people’s other qualities . . . One employee at the Vreden Institute came back from Turkey. By law, he should have stayed home fourteen days in self-isolation. He went out on the fourth day, engaged in certain activities and, consequently, brought the infection into the hospital. And a large number of people were infected, on the order of 150 people. Naturally, the hospital had to be closed,” Beglov said.
Beglov noted that during this time, a large number of patients were discharged and released to other regions of the country, thus “spreading” the coronavirus.
The governor did not directly respond to a question about whether any measures would be taken against the employee who did not self-isolate. “The law stipulates criminal liability. We have already opened five criminal cases. This is no a joke, ” Beglov said. The governor also cited the closure of three maternity hospitals where women in labor “forgot to warn” staff about their recent trips.
The Vreden Institute of Traumatology and Orthopedics has been closed for quarantine since April 9 due to the coronavirus. Doctors reported a lack of personal protective equipment. There is no official information about the number of cases, but according to media reports, sixty out of 260 employees tested positive. TASS reports that 300 people at the hospital have been infected.
[. . .]
Photo by Mikhail Ognev. Courtesy of Fontanka
Presumption of Guilt: Petersburg Doctors Warned They Should Die from the Coronavirus Correctly
Alexander Yermakov Fontanka
May 1, 2020
Not all doctors infected with COVID-19 will receive financial compensation from the city. The municipal public health committee has made it possible to shift responsibility to health workers and thus save the municipal government money.
The Smolny [Petersburg city hall] has given head physicians at the city’s hospitals the right to decide whether health professionals were “correctly” infected with the coronavirus or took ill due to their own negligence. Occupation health and safety experts see this as an acute conflict of interests and predict a wave of refusals to make cash payments to people whom President Putin has compared to soldiers fighting on the front line.
The Smolny decided two weeks ago on the amount of lump-sum payments to health professionals who have suffered while treating patients with COVID-19. The death of a hospital or ambulance employee has been valued at one million rubles [approx. 12,000 euros]; disability, at 500,000 rubles [approx. 6,000 euros]; and infection with no particular health consequences, at 300,000 rubles [approx. 3,700 euros]. Thirty million rubles [approx. 368,000 euros] have been allocated for this purpose. The small matter of outlining the procedure for determining whether a health professional was a victim of the virus remained. The task was assigned to the city’s public health committee.
While the committee has been designing this procedure, Petersburg health professionals began contracting the coronavirus in large numbers and dying. As of April 30, around 250 cases of COVID-19 had been registered among the city’s doctors, paramedics, and orderlies. If each of these cases had resulted in compensation, Smolny’s thirty-million-ruble limit would now have been surpassed: eight million rubles would have been paid to the families of the dead, and 75 million rubles to infected health professionals [for a total of approx. 981,000 euros].
A few days ago, a draft order appeared on the public health committee’s website, establishing the procedure for recognizing a medical worker as a victim. The document indicated that the families of those who died with a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19 would automatically receive payments.
On Friday, April 30, the final version of the document was published on the Smolny’s website. A significant addition has been made to it. The death certificate must cite the novel coronavirus infection as the cause of the medical worker’s death. If the medical worker died of concomitant diseases, their family cannot claim compensation. As cynical as it might sound, the family of Sergei Beloshitsky, an emergency room anesthesiologist at the Alexander Hospital, would not have received the million rubles promised by Governor Beglov had Beloshitsky died after April 30. The death certificate lists pneumonia-induced cardiopulmonary failure as his cause of death.
“This item [on the exact cause of death] was added at the approval stage of the draft municipal government decree ‘On the procedure and conditions for providing lump-sum payments to injured medical workers’; it is a clarification,” Fontanka was informed by the public health committee.
According to the committee’s order, payment to infected health professionals is almost entirely contingent on the opinion of the head physician at the institution where the person works.
Medical workers must append a whole stack of documents to the compensation application, including—and this will be the main obstacle to receiving money—a “certification of injury caused by rendering assistance to sick patients.”
For a medical worker to obtain this certification, he or she will be subjected to an investigation carried out by a commission convened at the hospital where the infected person works. The commission will include the hospital’s deputy head physician, the worker’s immediate supervisor (for example, a department head), someone from the hospital’s occupational health and safety office, and a trade union member.
The hospital’s head physician will have to approve (or deny) the certification of injury.
The investigation must not merely confirm or deny that the health worker contracted the coronavirus in the line of duty (and not in the subway), but also name a specific factor, for example, violation of sanitary regulations, working conditions, failure of ventilation systems, or lack of personal protective equipment. In addition, the commission has the power to determine in percentages the degree of the medical worker’s own liability.
The Pokrovskaya Hospital will investigate this claim. The investigation’s findings will be approved (or denied) by the head physician, Marina Bakholdina. Sayapin claims that he was infected due to a lack of personal protective equipment, which was allegedly not provided by Bakholdina. In order for Sayapin to be entitled to compensation in the amount of 300,000 rubles, his hospital’s head physician must declare herself guilty.
“No hospital director in their right mind will take responsibility and sign a certificate recognizing their employee as a victim,” said Oleg Shvalev, an occupational therapist and associate professor of occupational medicine at the Mechnikov Northwestern State Medical University. “Under the usual procedure for certifying occupational illnesses and injuries, an independent commission headed by an official from Rospotrebnadzor runs the investigation.”
It is obvious that head physicians are not interested in recognizing medical workers as victims. Rostrud (the Russian Federal Labor and Employment Service) has already proposed deeming each case of coronavirus infection an acute occupational illness, running an investigation (involving Rospotrebnadzor), and holding the management of medical institutions accountable. It is entirely possible that while a hospital’s own commission could deem individual medical workers guilty of their own infections (thus depriving them of the right to compensation from the Smolny), the social security disability assessment board would find the hospital liable.
A source at city hall told Fontanka that the city had already clearly decided on its method for counting COVID-19 cases and did not plan to change it.
“Our statistics include people who died from covid, not with covid,” the official said. “There are dozens of instances when patients with confirmed cases of the coronavirus have had cancer, heart failure, or pneumonia listed as their cause of death. The same method will be applied to medical professionals.”
The Petersburg public health committee confirmed that the death of every medical worker would be investigated by the commission for the analysis of deaths from influenza and severe forms of other SARS, including COVID-19. Only if the death certificate lists the cause of death as infection from the novel coronavirus will families of the deceased be eligible for compensation.”
Fontanka asked the Moscow health department how they keep their statistics. All patients with a positive test result for the novel coronavirus infection and a confirmed diagnosis of pneumonia are counted in Moscow. “The cause of death could be another concomitant disease, but it does not matter for our statistics,” an official at the department added.
According to the head of the working group on combating the coronavirus, Yevgeny Shlyakhto, director of the Almazov Medical Center, only half of the healthcare professionals in Petersburg who have fallen ill with COVID-19 contracted it directly through their work. Most likely, infected doctors working in non-specialized hospitals will not automatically be covered under the Smolny’s compensation order.
Thanks to Dmitry Kalugin and Vadim Klebanov for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader
Petersburg historic preservationists gathering for a “sanctioned” protest near the Sports and Concert Complex (SKK), a late-Soviet era landmark in southern Petersburg that recently collapsed while being illegally dismantled, killing one worker. Photo by Sergei Yermokhin. Courtesy of Delovoi Peterburg
Don’t Rally Here: It Will Be More Difficult for Petersburg’s Historic Preservationists to Protest
Svyatoslav Afonkin Delovoi Peterburg
March 11, 2020
The Petersburg Legislative Assembly is amending the city’s law on protest rallies. The rules for holding protests have become more complicated, especially for historic preservationists.
The city parliament passed in the second reading a new redaction of the law on protest rallies. Thanks to amendments introduced by the parliamentary majority, the minimum number of “Hyde Parks” [locations where it is legal to have public protests] has been reduced from eight, as stipulated in the first redaction of the draft law, to four. Moreover, the parliament’s legislative committee added another restriction: a ban on public events outside dilapidated buildings in danger of collapsing.
Several sites designated as “dangerous” have inflamed the passions of historic preservationists in recent months. The roof on the Petersburg Sport and Concert Complex (SKK) was deemed dangerous. The Basevich tenement building on the Petrograd Side, which has been threatened with demolition, is also considered dangerous. Protest rallies have recently taken place on more than one occasion at both sites. The resettled houses on Telezhnaya Street, which the Smolny [Petersburg city hall] wants to sell, have also been the focus of public attention once again.
Drone footage of the collapse of the Sport and Concert Complex (SKK) in Petersburg in January 2020. Courtesy of Fontanka.ru
Alexei Kovalyov, leader of the Just Russia faction in the legislative assembly and deputy chair of its commission on municipal facilities, urban planning, and land issues, argues that new language in the bill appeared for a reason.
“Of course this will be an obstacle for historic preservationists. Our faction opposed these cretinous amendments. There is no doubt that this is why the new norm was introduced. It was done deliberately,” Kovalyov told DP.
Anna Kapitonova, a member of the presidium of the Petersburg branch of VOOPIiK [Russian Society for the Preservation of Historical and Cultural Landmarks], noted that the amendments could make life more difficult for protest organizers: small protest rallies, such as a series of solo pickets, sometimes take place right on the sidewalks, after all. According to Kapitonova, the authorities were also able earlier to prevent even solo pickets on the pretext that scheduled maintenance or construction work was taking place nearby.
“Last year, I held a solo picket at the entrance to the Smolny. After a while, an official with the law enforcement committee came out of the building. Although the Smolny is hardly a dangerous site, scheduled maintenance of the facade was underway over fifty meters from my picket. But the official told me it was dangerous for me to be there, and asked me to move away,” Kapitonova said.
Denis Chetyrbok, head of the legislative assembly’s legislative committee, told DP that the amendments were introduced in connection with a Constitutional Court ruling, and parliamentarians had no other motives.
“If there is a dangerous building that might collapse located next to the place indicated in the [protest rally] application, then it will be difficult to secure approval for a public event,” Chetyrbok confirmed.
Campaign poster for Vladimir Bortko in downtown Petersburg: “Bortko: The City Has a Choice. September 8. CPRF.” Photo by Gleb Morev
Bortko Withdraws from Petersburg Gubernatorial Election, Ensuring Beglov Victory in First Round: Northern Capital’s Acting Governor Now Faces Only Two Opponents Yelena Mukhametshina Vedomosti
September 2, 2019
At a press conference, Bortko said he asked the other candidates to withdraw due to possible vote-rigging after it transpired polling stations would be opened in Leningrad Region and Pskov Region.
“If I had not withdrawn, the methods for rigging the vote would have been employed to the hilt and we would have been looking at 200,000 to 250,000 extra votes. But I don’t want to get seventeen or eighteen percent and an honorable mention for second place.”
Admitting the Smolny [Petersburg city hall] had helped get him through the so-called municipal filter, Bortko said his withdrawal had been his own spontaneous decision and that the president’s first deputy chief of staff, Sergei Kiriyenko, had tried to talk him out of it.
Meanwhile, last week, Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky wrote on Instagram that he and Bortko had discussed the idea for a new TV film about the 1812 war against Napoleon.
Bortko is the second parliamentary party candidate to withdraw from the Petersburg elections. Earlier, Oleg Kapitanov, an LDPR member of the Petersburg Legislative Assembly, accepted Beglov’s offer to take up a post in the city government. The acting governor now faces only two opponents: Mikhail Amosov (Civic Platform) and Nadezhda Tikhonova (A Just Russia).
Bortko said the Communist Party did not know about his decision. But our source inside the part said Bortko had informed party chair Gennady Zyuganov about his intentions early last week. The Communists had talked Bortko out of withdrawing but he changed his mind.
Our source admitted it was possible that Bortko had been used “without his knowledge” as “an emotional person,” but thought it was unlikely that Beglov could not have won in the first round without his help. He did not believe Kiriyenko had tried to talk Beglov out of it.
Zyuganov said the party would evaluate Bortko’s actions after the elections.
Earlier, a source close to the Kremlin told Vedomosti that Bortko’s support rating had climbed to nearly thirty percent and thus increased the likelihood of a second round.
Another source close to the Kremlin said Beglov did not have enough support to win in the first round: fewer than fifty percent of Petersburgers who were polled said they would vote for him.
Two other sources close to the Kremlin told us about the danger of a second round.
“The expectation is some older voters who supported Bortko could switch their support to Beglov,” one of them said.
Bortko’s name will now be manually stricken from the ballots. Dmitry Krasnyansky, a member of the Petersburg City Elections Commission, said the electronic ballot boxes set up at a quarter of polling stations provided for this option.
“However, this has to be done with maximum precision. If it’s a little crooked, it won’t read. It’s a real problem. In such cases, the electronic ballot box would simply be turned off,” Krasnyansky said.
One of our sources argued that, in this case, there would be “great opportunities for adjusting the final vote tallies.”
Political consultant Grigory Kazankov argued Bortkov’s withdrawal would not help Beglov in any way since Beglov was his own worst enemy.
“Beglov has no strong opponents. The situation is similar to the one faced by Governor Svetlana Orlova in the Vladimir Region in 2018. She lost to the LDPR candidate. Whether the election is legitimate or not will depend on whether it is run properly. So the question is whether the votes will be counted honestly or, as is usually the case in Petersburg, there are controversies,” Kazankov said.
Bortko’s withdrawal suits the powers that be since it will lower voter turnout. If the turnout was around thirty percent, the majority of Petersburgers who come to the polls would be pro-government voters, argued political consultant Valentin Bianchi.
“No matter what anyone says now, everyone will assume the government got Bortko to withdraw. This is a minus sign for the authorities, and for Beglov in particular. Although Bortko is a creative type, he’s a rational man. His meeting with Medinsky could be the piece of the puzzle that explains what happened,” Bianchi said.
While Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin and the Kremlin were trying to spearhead protests and organize their own rally in support of [the briefly arrested investigative journalist] Ivan Golunov, Petersburg’s acting governor Alexander Beglov missed the political bandwagon once again. Today, during a session of the governor’s so-called inner cabinet at the Smolny, he was told by his underlings the Vesna (Spring) Movement wanted to hold a rally against the persecution of journalists on June 23. Beglov ordered city officials to reach out to the organizers and move the rally to another date since, otherwise, it “would ruin the celebration for school leavers.”
When Beglov gave this order, he was likely unaware city officials had already taken care of the kids. The Smolny turned down Vesna’s request to approve their rally by making up literally a million excuses. For example, a source in the Smolny reported a military band would be playing on Lenin Square (one of the city’s specially designated so-called Hyde Parks, where, theoretically, protesters do not need the city’s go-ahead to hold rallies) on June 23. It also transpired that urgent repairs of heating mains, buildings, pedestrian crossings, etc., were underway at all the other venues in the city center where protest rallies could be held.
Rotunda (Rotonda) is a Telegram channel, covering city politics in Petersburg and written by reporters Maria Karpenko and Ksenia Klochkova. Translated by the Russian Reader
Petersburg Municipal Hospital and Clinic Construction Program on the Skids
Svetlana Zobova Delovoi Peterburg
February 3, 2017
Petersburg Governor Georgy Poltavchenko has botched ex-Governor Valentina Matviyenko’s ambitious program of building 32 healthcare facilities at a cost of upwards of 30 billion rubles. The city lacks a force that could consolidate physicians and builders to campaign against construction delays.
DP has audited all the municipal healthcare facilities that have been built, are under currently construction or are in the planning stages. The circumstances surrounding them are far from ideal. In each specific case, we can speak of certain objective causes as to why a particular clinic has not been completed or is not yet treating patients. But if we look at the issue as a whole, it becomes clear our city has no system for overseeing and managing the sector. Accountability is split between two committees whose specialists, to put it mildly, are not very happy with each other.
Both doctors and builders tell obscene jokes about each other behind each other’s backs and complain of their opponents’ extreme incompetence and their unwillingness to compromise. They cannot work together to finish nearly any of the projects. But no one is ready for a showdown that could reverse the situation and establish new, functioning rules of the game.
The few examples when new hospitals and clinics have been successfully opened either conceal sad stories of protracted construction delays or were overseen by federal officials, and the degree of oversight and accountability were thus on a completely different level. Aside from federal facilities, this study did not take into account facilities that merely underwent renovations, only those that were slated for complete makeovers or new facilities.
DP received quite detailed replies from the city’s Construction Committee and Healthcare Committee about the causes of the delays at dozens of facilities and the complications with bringing operating facilities online. However, there was no answer as to why these processes have been implemented so poorly, with so much anguish and pain.
To equip the city with the three dozen modern medical facilities it so badly needed, the Matviyenko administration allocated around 30 billion rubles. However, under the current administration, construction companies have been paid less than 10 billion rubles from the budget, completing only a few facilities in fits and starts. Our sources in the Health Committee say the sector’s underfunding has been due to delays in construction.
In some cases, the quality of their work has caught the eye of the prosecutor’s office, while in other cases, expensive medical equipment has been ruined due to mistakes and miscalculations. Deadline overruns have been ubiquitous. It would be wrong to say that the only cause has been poor work on the part of builders and designers. The city authorities have kept on awarding new contracts even to those contractors who have attempted to turn over blatantly shoddy facilities to doctors and brazenly lied.
DP discussed the problem with a dozen head physicians and their deputies, as well as well as contractors and city officials. We got the impression Petersburg has not become Russia’s northern healthcare capital less because of the economic crisis and a lack of financing, and more because of bureaucracy and the complete absence of a genuinely efficient system for managing municipal construction projects. In several instances, it is obvious that if city officials had done nothing at all, it would have been much better, as was the case, for example, with the closure of the maternity hospital on Vavilovykh Street.
When she departed from Petersburg, Valentina Matviyenko left a legacy of numerous ambitious construction projects, including healthcare facilities. She had planned for the construction or reconstruction of 32 medical facilities by 2016, including new hospital wings, outpatient clinics for children and adults, dentistry clinics, ambulance stations, and specialized early treatment and prevention centers (as per Petersburg Government Decree No. 149, dated 10 February 2011).
As of late 2016, city authorities had built and opened only six facilities on the list. Another four facilities have been built, but their directors, the Construction Committee, and contractors have been bogged down in fierce arguments as to the quality of the construction. The other projected facilities have either been frozen or not assigned a contractor, and their designs are now outdated.
Initially, Governor Poltavchenko seemed inclined to keep improving healthcare in Petersburg. In 2012, he added several dozen future facilities to Matviyenko’s list. Design and construction work on the facilities was to have been completed in 2013–2014.
For example, the new governor promised to rebuild the morgue at the Bureau of Forensic Medicine, design a hospice, build several antenatal clinics, design new wings for the Kashchenko Mental Hospital, and build a TB prevention and treatment clinic in Kolpino.
A little later, Matviyenko and Poltavchenko’s plans were drafted as a program for the healthcare sector. The document originally promised that city officials would arrange for the construction or reconstruction of 29 ambulance stations and medical facilities capable of taking in 36,000 patients a day by 2015.
In reality, the healthcare facilities construction program has been the most disastrous line item in the city’s targeted investment program for several years running. In 2016, none of the medical facilities under construction used 100% of the funds allocated to them in the budget. Certain facilities did not touch literally any of the funds allocated to them.
The prosecutor’s office and the Audit Chamber have highlighted construction delays. The city’s vice-governors for construction policy and Construction Committee chairs have come and gone, but federal officials are still asking the same questions.
At our request, the Construction Committee listed all the medical facilities that have been either built or constructed in the last ten years. According to the officials there, from 2009 to 2011, the three years before Poltavchenko took office, eleven major facilities were brought online. After he arrived in the governor’s office, from 2012 to 2016, another eleven facilities were completed, according to officials, although two are still closed, and the others opened considerably later than they were completed.
The city’s Health Committee provided us with different information. Officials there calculated that 28 facilities had been completed between 2006 and 2016, although Poltavchenko’s program had stipulated either renovating or building 63 facilities from scratch. The difference in figures is due to the fact that officials from the two committees used different timespans. In reality, both lists show outright that the city has got worse at building medical facilities since Poltavchenko’s team came on board.
As health professionals who were well versed in the issues told us, city officials would always ask contractors the same questions during regular on-site debriefings. Why is the facility not under construction? You’ve been working here for five years, but you’re still at stage one. How much of your advance have you gone through? Who produced such a bad design?
Subordinates would be reprimanded, and contractors would be fined and have their contracts torn up, but nothing would change. Construction completion dates would be postponed, and cost estimates would be increased.
By 2016, the list of construction projects had been greatly reduced. Currently, the target invested program lists 14 medical facilities, almost all of them projects from the Matviyenko period that have been subjected to protracted delays.
The construction sector professionals we surveyed estimated that, on average, one and half years are needed to design a large medical facility, while it would take another three years to build the facility. A small ambulance station could be built in a year. In Petersburg, however, actual times to completion are many times longer. It takes five to 15 years to build many facilities.
The Causes Are Plain to See
The Smolny believes that the virtual breakdown of its grand social policy plans has been due to insufficient funding. Thus, in 2017, Petersburg’s most renowned delay-plagued construction project, the Zenit Arena, gobbled up nearly a billion rubles. But this is fibbing, for, in reality, line items for financing the building of facilities that have obviously been abandoned were simply stricken from the budget, because no one was spending any money on them.
In addition, according to the city hall officials we talked to, careless contractors are to blame for construction delays and poorly designed projects, and for not calculating their risks. As you might guess, in this way of seeing the world, officials bear no blame for the fact they are surrounded by bunglers and swindlers.
But there is a more complex view of the issue. A source at one of the city’s largest hospitals told us that the ceremonial communiques and press releases issued by city officials belie the serious friction between the Construction Committee and the Healthcare Committee, as well as between the relevant vice-governors. For while hospitals and clinics are still under construction, the Construction Committee’s budget is replenished. They even purchase medical equipment. But when hospitals start treating patients, the money for that is allocated via the Healthcare Committee. This does not mean, of course, that the Construction Committee deliberately delays building projects. Of course, they want to get delay-plagued facilities off their hands as quickly as possible. But Construction Committee staffers bear no personal accountability for missed deadlines and the poor quality of construction.
A senior official, who has worked in the Healthcare Committee since the Matviyenko administration, says during the past four or five years he and Vice-Governor Olga Kazanskaya have had to wage a “quite serious fight” with the construction bloc in the Smolny. Describing the state of affairs in the Construction Committee, the official spoke of confusion and complained about the frequent change of leadership.
A telling example occurred when we asked Igor Albin, vice-governor for construction, to explain why the Botkin Infectious Diseases Hospital, whichas far back as 2015 he had publicly promised would soon reopen, was still not treating patients. However, he gave us no explanation, shifting the blame for the situation on Healthcare Committee staffers. In turn, they said it was the Construction Committee who was responsible for construction at the Botkin. Off the record [sic], they told us about a long list of defects and unfinished work to which contractors wanted doctors to turn a blind eye, making them sign off on the facility even though it was unfinished. Of course, a dispute like this could go on indefinitely until someone takes responsibility for the entire project.
Our source in the medical community, who spoke out about the construction community in a somewhat biased way, argued that no one except medical professionals had any interest in bringing facilities online. As a consequence, officials failed to make purchase requests for equipment, did not calculate the costs of logistics, and fined the medical facilities.
“There is way too much politicking and money at each stage. Everything is bureaucratized and corrupt in the extreme. What matters is that everything looks right on paper,” said our source.
He was surprised that, under Poltavchenko, the Construction Committee did not “tremble” for failing to execute the annual budget. Under Matviyenko, he claimed, failing to spend funds allocated under the yearly budget was considered an extremely grave offense for officials to commit.
Another senior medical administrator sees the root of the trouble not in corruption per se, but, rather, in the overall “muddle” and the fact that “the system doesn’t function.”
“Every staffer needs to know his function and the consequences that await him in case of failure. Step left, step right, and you can step on a land mine and blow up. Now, though, there is basically no accountability for mistakes, and no one feels personally to blame.”
The Construction Committee has no specific department or expert responsible for medical facilities. A personal curator is usually appointed to oversee each of them. A considerable part of the work is overseen by the Fund for Capital Construction and Reconstruction, which is controlled by the committee. Its longtime head was Andrei Molotkov. It was Molotkov who was criticized by Igor Albin for the numerous missed deadlines and unscrupulous contractors. Ultimately, in April 2016, Molotkov resigned his post, a job that is still vacant.
The Healthcare Committee employs one senior professional builder, Igor Gonchar, head of the Office for Medical Facilities Development. However, he deals with repairing and rebuilding the facilities his committee oversees. Since 2014, the Healthcare Committee has also been tasked with designing healthcare facilities. It was a seemingly reasonable step, meant to reduce the risk of drafting projects that were not suitable for physicians and had to be redone on the fly. In the last three years, however, the Healthcare Committee has not spent nearly 40% of the money allocated to it for design, i.e., 158 million of the 250 million rubles allocated in its budget for survey and design work.
Gonchar gave detailed answers to our questions, explaining that, out of eight planned facilities, the design work had been completed for six of them. Problems had arisen around a large project, estimated to cost 100 million rubles: new wings for Children’s Hospital No. 1. Due to the fact that, last year, changes were made to the law on historic preservation, the specs for facilities adjacent to historic Pozhelayev Park had to be redrafted. Similar difficulties have arisen with another problematic facility, the Dunes Children’s Rehabilitation Center. However, the difficulties having to do with historic preservation were in that case aggravated by the bankruptcy of the design subcontractor, Oboronmedstroy.
One of the most unpleasant consequences of delaying when medical facilities are brought on line is the premature purchase of expensive medical equipment. For when a senior official says a hospital or clinic is about to open, his underlings will willy-nilly have to purchase CT scanners and MRI machines. But then no one is responsible for the fact they have to spend several years in a warehouse, where they are not only of no use to patients but also run through their warranties and sometimes even are damaged due to improper storage conditions.
According to medical professionals, premature equipment purchases are also part of a cynical calculation by officials. They can report the city has already purchased everything a hospital in the midst of construction needs and demand its administrators move into a poorly constructed building.
“In my opinion, the people running the city are not very interested in healthcare, because it involves more political questions,” says Lev Averbakh, executive director of CORIS Assistance LLC (Saint Petersburg) [a private ambulance company]. “I think there no political will for it. No one says, ‘Let’s finish them!’ as with the stadium, for example. Besides, they have begun reducing the number of hospital beds available while changing the regulations. Under the new rules, not as many beds are needed in Petersburg as were required under the old rules.”
Another professional from the field of private medicine argues that Olga Kazanskaya, now the ex-vice-governor for social policy, and Healthcare Committee Chair Valery Kolabutin lack medical training.
Sergei Furmanchuk, co-founder of Hosser [a Petersburg-based company specializing in the design and construction of medical facilities], argues that problems arise when design work is done by people who have never done design work, and they do the construction work as well. He believes that each case has to be examined individually. However, it has to be acknowledged that having a lot of experience and even medical training, unfortunately, is no guarantee of impeccable work, as, for example, in the case of Rosstroyinvest and the Botkin Hospital, Petrokom or Oboronmedstroy, which is currently undergoing bankruptcy proceedings, abandoning several large healthcare facilities unfinished.
Translated by the Russian Reader
P.S. This article, its author, and Delovoy Peterburg obviously have a heavy axe to grind more against one faction of Petersburg city hall (still referred to as “the Smolny,” the headquarters of the Bolsheviks during the 1917 October Revolution). Normally, I would not translate and post this kind of potential journalistic hit job, although it does describe an urgent problem—the collapse of Russia’s post-socialist free healthcare system—more or less objectively, a problem I have touched on elsewhere in my translations of less dodgy printed matter.
But the author does signally fail to point out the role of Putin’s infamous “power vertical” in encouraging the lack of accountability among local officials, whether in Petersburg or Vladivostok.
Petersburg’s current governor, Georgy Poltavchenko, was first appointed outright by President Putin after the latter “upmoted” the city’s previous governor, Valentina Matviyenko, to the Federation Council, which she now chairs, after she had become deeply unpopular for, among other things, trying to ram Gazprom’s infamous Okhta Center skyscraper down the throat of Petersburgers, and flagrantly failing to clean snow from streets and rooftops during one particularly snowy winter, leading to massive residential property damage and a cityscape described by many locals as resembling what the city looked like during the 900-day WWII Nazi Siege.
Poltavchenko was later “freely” “re-elected” to the governorship in an election marked, as usual, by irregularities, running against a field of sock puppets that had been preemptively purged of any real competition.
From the get-go he has seemed more concerned with the matters spiritual and ecclesiastical than really running the city, which has looked especially dingy this winter, when it has become apparent that the previous street maintenance and cleaning system has collapsed altogether, possibly for a lack of poorly paid Central Asian migrant workers to keep it “affordable.”
Is is fair, though, to blame all local failings on the almighty power vertical? Probably not, and that is why I devote so much of this blog to Russians doing it for themselves at the grassroots, often against daunting odds and in the face of outright police repression. But their efforts won’t make a dent in all the issues they are tackling until the country becomes a real federation and power is devolved maximally to the regions, cities, towns, and neighorhoods.
In this light, it amounts to cynical mockery to repeatedly refer to President Putin as a “strong leader,” as the new Fascist Pig in the Poke did during his campaign and now after he has occupied the White Pride House in Washington, DC. Putin is not a strong leader in any sense, but his weakness has been especially apparent in the myriad ways his regime has disempowered Russians at all levels, making it increasingly difficult for them not only to solve but also even discuss the problems that concern them most.
Finally, I should point out that the original article in Russian features a map of the city marked with all the hospitals and other medical facilities built, currently under construction or abandoned under the municipal program described, above, as well as a table with more detailed information about each of these real, abandoned or planned facilities. I was not able to include the map or table in this translation. TRR
Schools, Kindergarten, and Hospitals Sacrificed to the Stadium Antonina Asanova Fontanka.ru
August 15, 2016
The Smolny [Petersburg city hall] will finance construction of the football stadium on Krestovsky Island twice over. The advances of 2.6 billion rubles that have not been returned by VTB Bank and Transstroy will be issued to new contractor Metrostroy. Schools and kindergartens will have to wait.
To finish the stadium on Krestovsky, the Smolny is ready to sacrifice the completion dates of three dozen facilities, including kindergartens, schools, and hospitals. 2.6 billion rubles, earmarked for social infrastructure, will be “redeployed” to Petersburg’s construction project of the century. City hall is counting on recouping the reinvested funds later, and figures it can afford not to hurry with the construction of public facilities.
The Construction Committee has prepared a draft decree on reallocating its 2016 budget. By law, the agency can redirect up to 10% of the funds in its targeted investment program, i.e., 2.8 billion rubles, a committee spokesperson said on the record.
Experience shows it is not worth counting on the good will of companies when it comes to giving back money. The Construction Committee is still in the midst of suing VTB for the return of funds issued under contracts for the construction of indoor ice rinks, which were terminated over a year ago.
A strategy of protracted litigation does not suit the Smolny at all. Completing the stadium before year’s end is a matter of honor to the city government. So the Construction Committee has decided to redeploy part of the funds allocated for new kindergartens and schools to Petersburg’s main construction project. Only facilities whose completion was planned for this year have not been touched.
The city’s calculation is simple. Construction of public facilities will be slowed down a bit for the time being. But when the stadium is delivered at the end of the year, and the monies that were advanced are returned to the budget, the long-awaited construction projects will again be accelerated to a proper speed.
Health clinics and hospitals will be most affected by the budget cuts. The Construction Committee has decided to withdraw nearly a billion rubles from construction of these facilities.
Expenditures on one of the city’s most protracted construction projects, a perinatal center at Maternity Hospital No. 9 on 47 Ordzhonikidze Street, have been reduced by a quarter billion rubles. Doctors were preparing to nurse premature and sick newborns in the facility, and spoke of modern operating rooms and a modern intensive care unit. The building, in fact, was supposed to be delivered at the end of 2015. But now the contractor, Stroykomplekt, owned by former Baltstroy top manager Dmitry Torchinsky and Alexei Torchinsky, has a new deadline: the end of 2017.
People in the suburb of Kolpino will also have to wait for the opening of the new surgical wing at Hospital No. 33. Only one million rubles has been left in this year’s budget for its completion, while 155 million rubles will be transferred to erecting the football stadium. However, the construction site on Pavlovskaya Street has already been idle for a year. The Construction Committee terminated its contract with the previous contractor, but has not yet found a new contractor.
The residents of Kolpino will not have to wait alone, however. Among the facilities where construction will be slowed down are health clinics in Strelna and Krasnoye Selo, an ambulance substation in Metallostroy, and a childen’s tuberculosis sanatorium in Ushkovo.
Residents of the housing project on Badayev Street will also have to be patient. The city has stripped their future school of 90 million rubles in financing.
Finally, kindergartens will hardly suffer at all: funding of their construction will be reduced only by 310 million rubles. The biggest loser, to the tune of 130 million rubles, is the future kindergarten in the Golden Bay residential complex, near Tricentennial Park. Its completion has been postponed for a year, until the end of 2017.
The Smolny is even ready to cut funding for construction of a site directly linked to the new stadium: the waterfront near the Novokrestovskaya subway station, currently under construction. The contractor, Leokam, will have its funding for making improvements to the waterfront cut by nearly 240 million rubles. Apparently, the company will have to catch up next year. Under the terms of its contract, it has to deliver the works before the end of 2017.
However, what matters is that the stadium on Krestovsky Island will be delivered before the end of this year, and cost estimates of its construction will not increase, formally speaking.
A total of 42 billion rubles [approx. 582 million euros] have been allocated on the stadium, Petersburg’s principal protracted construction project.