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Monday, Aug. 23, 2010


Political dues of scorched earth

The consequences of Russia's hottest summer in 130 years, which has caused forest fires and severe drought, have been devastating. More than 50 people have died and thousands of people have lost their residences to fire.

The Russian government has banned cereal exports from Aug. 15 to Dec. 31, apparently to secure enough grain for domestic consumption. The ban covers such cereals as wheat, wheat flour, barley, rye and maze. If the harvest is bad, the ban may continue into next year. The current situation could have political implications for President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Russia is one of the world's top wheat producers. Of some 93 million tons of cereals Russia produced in 2009, some 58 million tons were wheat. President Medvedev said the heat wave and drought had destroyed some 25 percent of land used for cereal production. The Russian government has revised downward its forecast for this year's cereal harvest from 95 million tons to between 60 million and 65 million tons. It is reported that this may push down Russia's gross domestic product by 1 percent.

Vedomosti (The Record), a Russian business daily, even reported that Russia may have to import more than 5 million tons of cereals in fiscal 2010, thus turning itself into a grain importer as the Soviet Union was. There is also a report that bread prices in Russia have already risen some 20 percent and that feed prices have also risen.

Polls show that people's "trust" in both Mr. Medvedev and Mr. Putin has fallen. Even the state-owned Public Opinion Foundation found that, as of Aug. 1, people's trust in Mr. Medvedev had dropped from 62 percent in January to 52 percent and that trust in Mr. Putin had fallen from 69 percent to 61 percent — the lowest rate yet for Mr. Putin as prime minister.

Unless both leaders take measures that are more than cosmetic in dealing with not only the consequences of the scorching weather but also Russia's overall situation, they may have to pay a political cost for people's grievances in the Lower House election — toward the end of 2011 — and in the 2012 presidential election.

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