DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Throughout the past week, shock and anger have mounted in Russia directed at Vladimir Putin's government. A week ago, floodwaters up to 10 feet high engulfed the sleeping town of Krymsk, drowning people as they were sleeping. A few days later, news broke that the government knew that such a tragedy was likely hours before it struck and they did nothing. For more on the public reaction to this disaster and its aftermath, I'm joined by Masha Lipman at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Moscow. Masha, hello.
MASHA LIPMAN: Hello.
GREENE: You know, one thing that's been fascinating about Russian society is that social networking, the Internet has really been exploding. And we saw that at the end of last year and beginning of this year with the anti-government protests. Was that a factor here? I mean, were people learning very quickly about the government's lack of response to this through social networking sites, etc.?
LIPMAN: Absolutely. The news of the flood, the images of - the meeting between the governor and the crowd of survivors was immediately all over. You could see the video, you could hear the governor, all the regions, who, by the way, in response to distress and outraged people did ask do you think we should have gotten to each one of you? What is noteworthy is that Putin did not meet with a crowd of survivors. He actually flew to the region. He flew over the region to get an impression of what it looked like after the flood. He met with the officials but not with the people.
GREENE: In some prior tragedies, like the fires from a couple of years ago, Putin was actually able to use the media to his benefit to help his image. I mean, he had cameras set up with rebuilding houses that were destroyed by fire. And he was able to say I'm monitoring the progress with this footage. Does Putin still have the media at his disposal?
LIPMAN: He has television at his disposal. And, of course, reports on television are very different from the kind of reports that you can read on the Web, that you can listen on the radio. This realm of the Web has grown, no doubt about that. However, the realm controlled by Putin is still much, much larger.
GREENE: It's amazing - you say he flew over the region, and that brings to my mind to the famous image of President George W. Bush flying over New Orleans right after Hurricane Katrina struck. And he, of course, got punished in the media and politically for that image. I mean, what similarities, what differences do you see between that tragedy in the United States and these floods in Russia?
LIPMAN: There are certainly think that are similar. The grievances, the accusations of the authorities, of the lack of coordination, of mismanagement, of failing to do the engineering work in the past required for keeping the place safe. Floods are common. Floods happen almost every year in the region. It's just this one was worse. It should be remembered that in Russia we still have control politics. Putin, at this point in time, even though he has lost some of his popularity, some of his images fully uncontested, unchallenged, father of the nation, what have you, still he's got full control over the legislature. He has control over law enforcement, over courts. So, his waning popularity is something that is a slow-going process. The outrage over the flood and the mismanagement and the inefficiency will contribute to the process. But it will not have a definitive (unintelligible), not right now.
GREENE: That's Masha Lipman from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Moscow. Masha, thanks so much for talking to us.
LIPMAN: My pleasure.
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