Streetwise Professor

June 6, 2011

More Dangerous to Friend Than Foe

Filed under: Military,Russia — The Professor @ 1:09 pm

Somebody really needed a smoke, apparently:

A fire, possibly sparked by a discarded cigarette, engulfed a Urals arms depot over the weekend, injuring at least 95 people and prompting 2,000 others to seek psychological help, officials said.

Smoking in an arms depot?  Really?

This follows by about week anther explosion at another Urals arms depot:

But a careless moment as he worked with fellow conscripts to prepare artillery shells for disposal started a fire at the ammunition depot, launching shells hundreds of meters into the air, setting fire to buildings and trees and injuring a dozen people.

On Friday, Denyayev’s commanders told him that he would face a criminal investigation over the accident.

Investigators say he mistakenly threw an artillery shell still containing a detonator onto other shells ready for disposal, which triggered an explosion and the subsequent blaze.

When powerful blasts broke the silence in the sunny afternoon, shattering windows of the nearby buildings, residents in the Urals village rushed to leave their houses, many of which burst into flames soon afterwards. Local officials said 120-mm artillery shells were exploding at the depot.

But the he-dropped-a-fused-shell-on-the-pile story doesn’t make much sense:

Sadovsky could not specify how much time had passed between the moment when Denyayev threw his ill-fated shell and the first blast, saying that investigators were working to establish the details.

“If he threw this shell, an explosion would have occurred immediately and everyone would have been killed, given the power of a 120-mm shell,” says military expert Ivan Konovalov. “But there was no explosion. There was a fire, and explosions followed later. It’s very strange.”

So maybe Denyayev is a patsy.  Maybe this just another tragic consequence of playing with matches.  Regardless, it blew up real good.

These are just more of a string of such accidents:

The fire in Urman is a continuation in the series of accidents at Russia’s military bases last year.

Last June, one person was killed and several dozen injured as old ammunition exploded at a military base in central Russia while being unloaded.

In November last year, a total of ten people were killed by two explosions at an arms depot in the city of Ulyanovsk in Russia’s Volga region, which occurred with a 10-day interval. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev described the tragedy as a “shame” and fired several high-ranking military officials.

These incidents are symptomatic of the severe software problem in the Russian military.  Poor, abused, conscripts, who are often from the left tail of the mental and physical aptitude distribution (for those with better prospects often find ways to avoid service) are prone to carelessness and accidents.  They have virtually no supervision from trained NCOs, and officers often fail to supervise as well.  With such personnel, stuff happens.  Stuff happens a lot.

So sure, with a force of men such as this to operate it, it makes total sense to spend hundreds of billions on new, advanced hardware.

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  1. Incidents like this have happened with soviet munitions around the world.

    Comment by Fred — June 6, 2011 @ 4:19 pm

  2. I have no comment about the fires mentioned in your post, but when I was in the U.S. Army I saw people do amazingly stupid things. I saw a soldier smoking next to a 5,000 gal gasoline container. I saw a soldier throwing boxes of live mortar rounds from the back of a truck. I saw a soldier hook up to a hovering helicopter without first discharging the static electricity into the ground (I bet he never did that again!). I saw a soldier smoking next to a sandbag bunker that had big red signs on it reading “Warning! Explosive! No Smoking Withing 100 Feet.” So, Denyayev might be a patsy, but we should never underesimate the stupidity of some of the people who serve in uniform.

    Comment by Matt — June 6, 2011 @ 4:21 pm

  3. Saw this spooky article on BBC linked on RA’s site.

    While we have no shortage of morons in the U.S. military, it is still a world-class, professional organization that manages to avoid regular destruction of ammo depots and god knows what else we don’t hear about. I especially admire the Mothers’ groups in Russia that try to protect their sons from the deathtraps there. Bit by bit, I hope they can make a difference. But then again, you usually can’t cure stupid either.

    Comment by Howard Roark — June 6, 2011 @ 6:04 pm

  4. The 2,000 Russians seeking psychological help doesn’t sound right. Firstly, psychological help for Russians, let alone soldiers, in the provinces is almost non-existent. Secondly, there are few ambulance-chasing lawyers to encourage such a movement. Thirdly, Russians tend to just get on with things, I can’t imagine too many being psychologically scarred by an arms depot going up.

    Comment by Tim Newman — June 6, 2011 @ 11:37 pm

  5. @Matt–I have no doubt that stupidity is rife in the US military as well. I witnessed such during my limited military experience. That said, arms depots are not blowing up regularly in the United States. Nor does the US–or British, or French, or German–military suffer the rate of military accidents that the Russian military does. So given the kind of stupidity you’ve witnessed, consider just how gobsmacking it must be in the Russian military to explain the disparity in the rate of catastrophic incidents.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — June 7, 2011 @ 12:19 am

  6. According to Russian analyst Alexandr Golts, there have been 12 ammo depot explosions in Russia since the beginning of 2011.

    This appears to be an official government program to save money on old ammo disposal (just kidding, probably)

    Comment by Ivan — June 7, 2011 @ 9:21 am

  7. @Ivan. It’s funny (in a sick way) but as soon as I read your first sentence I thought exactly what you wrote in your second–i.e., this is a cheap way of disposing of used ammo. Then Mrs. SWP came up with an even more plausible hypothesis–they are blowing up ammo to cover up thefts from the dumps. That makes a lot of sense. Seriously–because it is very hard to believe that there could be so many accidents of this nature.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — June 7, 2011 @ 2:46 pm

  8. The ammo dump explosions are only a reflection of Russia’s much broader problem with fire. Your chances of being killed in a fire in Russia are astronomically higher than they are in the USA or Western Europe, because Russians have the same reckless disregard for human life in this area that they have in every other area (Russia’s murder rate is also far, far higher than in civilized countries).

    And where is Vladimir Putin on this issue? Silent, as on all the others. Putin prefers to spend his energy building personal palaces, confronting democracy and butchering the people of the Caucasus than to invest in saving the lives of ordinary Russians from fire. And why shouldn’t he do as he pleases, when Russians resolutely refuse to hold him accountable? Were the prime minister not named Putin, he woudl have been fired long ago, especially if the president’s name were Putin.

    Not until Russians learn to act like responsible citizens and hold their leaders accoutable for failure will their children stop being incinerated.

    Comment by La Russophobe — June 7, 2011 @ 4:43 pm

  9. Another possibility is that hostile spies, saboteurs, and/or terrorists are involved.

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — June 7, 2011 @ 7:03 pm

  10. I think S.O. has a point: it’s probably the CIA supplying the North Caucasus rebels with Russian weapons and then hiring saboteurs to blow up the weapon depots so that it is impossible for the honest Russian colonels to prove the weapons did not come from their depots.

    Comment by Ivan — June 8, 2011 @ 1:07 am

  11. Ivan –

    More likely, the CIA has been secretly training a select breed of idiots to inflltrate the Russian military and blow themselves up in carefully staged suicide “accidents.” The Russians are probably just victims of western plots because we are secretly jealous of all things Russian.

    Comment by Charles — June 9, 2011 @ 7:00 am

  12. On second thought, since the CIA is probably still booting after someone pressed that reset button, the Japanese spies must be behind all this.

    Comment by Ivan — June 9, 2011 @ 7:13 am

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