29 december 2010

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting of the Government Presidium

At the Presidium, the Prime Minister raised the issue of severe weather and subsequent power and transport failures. “Although the situation is rather complicated, it is not catastrophic, thank God. Our job is to prevent this situation from becoming catastrophic. This goal will be achieved if we work hard and in a well-coordinated manner,” the Prime Minister said.

Transcript of the beginning of the meeting:

Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.

Let me first mention several decisions that we have prepared and taken together. Today I signed a government executive order to set aside the necessary funds for relief work following the November 30th fire in the village of Tsibari in Dagestan and a government resolution extending measures to ensure the employment of workers at Avtovaz and its subsidiaries in 2011. In addition, we allocated about 7 billion roubles from the budget of the Ministry of Defence to build permanent housing for service members. Another 1.3 billion roubles will be spent on the construction of social facilities for military personnel and their families.

In this respect, I would like to recall that service members received over 97,000 flats in 2009 and 2010. I request that the Ministry of Defence and all related social agencies address such issues as accessibly as possible and put up no bureaucratic barriers. Many issues arise along the way – that’s why we have a lot to do. These issues should be addressed open-mindedly and without excessive bureaucracy. Significant funds are being set aside, and they should be spent wisely.

Now let’s speak about the difficult situation resulting from abnormal weather patterns, including icing and heavy snowfalls. In this respect, I would like to say the following: Naturally, the situation is difficult, and not everything depends on us. But there is no sense in moaning – we all need to work at it.

On Sunday, I met with the Minister of Transport, the Minister of Energy and the Minister of Emergency Situations. I heard their reports on measures taken to remedy the situation. At that meeting, I said that given the weather forecast the situation was not likely to improve in the next few days. My words have proven true. That is why today, I would like to request our colleagues to inform us of measures taken to address the current situation and plans for the very near future. I’m referring to the fact that entire communities remain disconnected from power lines, roads are blocked, and thousands of people are stranded at airports. By the way, everyone responsible for taking charge of the situation should have been at the site of the events from the get-go instead of starting to celebrate the New Year. But we will discuss that later.

Let’s hear from our colleagues. Mr Gromov (addressing Moscow Region Governor Boris Gromov), what is the current situation in the Moscow Region? Please.

Boris Gromov: Mr Putin, the current situation with the energy supply is that 11 municipal districts are still without electricity (compared to 27 districts before), including 176 towns and villages. However, all large cities and towns of the Moscow Region have electricity.

A total of 11 socially important facilities, including four public healthcare facilities, four educational facilities and three facilities that are open to the public round the clock, are without electricity but have an alternative power source. So all the facilities, including 44 housing and utility facilities, that are without stable electricity have an alternative power source.

A total of 6,500 people and 2,500 vehicles were dispatched to handle the problem, including 512 teams from utilities providers, 510 teams from fuel and energy providers, 243 teams from the State Road Traffic Safety Inspectorate, almost 1,800 people from road services and almost 400 people from the Emergencies Ministry. We plan to finish work on all these facilities at about 6.00 p.m. tomorrow evening.

Vladimir Putin: Look what’s happened. Power lines and trees are iced over, and it is snowing in many parts of the country, which weighs down on the supports for the power lines and on nearby trees that can break and damage the lines.

We already discussed these issues with Mr Shvets. We talked about the need to take new decisions regarding the felling of trees near power lines and to take corresponding decisions, including changes to the law. What has been done since our last conversation, Mr Shvets?

Nikolai Shvets (Director General of the MRSK Holding): Mr Putin, members of Presidium, after speaking with you and reporting back on the problems with amendments to the corresponding regulatory documents, on December 14 we signed the order in the Ministry of Agriculture. The regulation that restricted protected areas and clearings to 25 metres has already been rescinded. We are now allowed to use the regulations established in the rules for electric equipment installation. But this happened quite recently.

At present, the situation in the MRSK Holding and the 69 regions is stable. There were power outages in Gorenergo in the Republic of Chechnya and in Pskov. The situation in Moscow and the Moscow Region remains extremely tough. There are now 424 professional teams, 2,270 personnel and 174 special vehicles involved in repair works. Getting high-voltage transformer substations and feeder centres back up and working is the priority.

Today, on the instruction of the minister of energy, I went to Domodedovo and checked the power lines there that supply electricity to the Vzlyotnaya and Yakovlevo substations. I determined that in view of deteriorating weather conditions 18 trees could potentially fall on a power line supplying electricity to the Vzlyotnaya substation.

Considering that Domodedovo Airport normally receives electricity from four power lines, a decision was made to disconnect this power line. Six teams are now working to remove the trees that pose a threat. In three hours this line will be functioning, and we hope that this will not cause Domodedovo Airport any serious problems.

Today and tomorrow we plan to gather another group of 20 teams – 100 employees who will be deployed from our northwestern branch. The entire MOESK management team and its branches are working round-the-clock. The governor of the Moscow Region said that the power supply to main substations will be restored by approximately 6 p.m. on December 30.

Vladimir Putin: How many people in the region were left without electricity?

Nikolai Shvets: About 24,000.

Vladimir Putin: That’s a large number. And what about it, Mr Shvets? I heard the governor’s report. What measures are being taken to restore the power supply in the localities?

Nikolai Shvets: Mr Putin, first of all, we will repair the main substations – with a capacity of 110kV and 35kV – and then we will start repairing the final distribution substations in the localities. Today there are 3,388 such local substations, although there were as many as 7,500. After restoring the power supply at the main substations, we will need one more day to restore electricity to the affected localities. But we need to bear in mind that there are energy network companies working in the region that do not represent IDGC Holding.

Vladimir Putin: How much time do you think will be needed to restore power in full?

Nikolai Shvets: Mr Putin, we are planning to restore power by New Year’s. If we fail to do so, then we will meet the New Year at the mainline.

Vladimir Putin: So you mean to say that it will be restored by the end of the next day?

Nikolai Shvets: By 6 p.m. on December 31.

Vladimir Putin: By 6 p.m. on December 31. Good. Now, as for the airports: let’s start with Domodedovo. Mr Kamenshchik, what’s the situation there? Mr Dmitry Kamenshchik is the Board Chairman of Domodedovo.

Dmitry Kamenshchik: Mr Prime Minister, the situation is stable. The airport is working on schedule. There were no delays on the 26th and the 27th. As of 1 p.m., there were eight delayed flights today, from yesterday, the 28th of December. According to the latest report I received on my way to this meeting, the passengers of six of these flights had checked in and were awaiting boarding. The two remaining flights had boarded by that moment.

There are only two flights that can’t depart: one is to Elista and is delayed because there is no aircraft available (we expected an airline to provide one), and the other is to Norilsk and is delayed due to inclement weather at the destination – it’s a common situation for this season. The airport is working on schedule.

Vladimir Putin: Mr Vasilenko of Sheremetyevo, please.

Mikhail Vasilenko: Mr Prime Minister, members of the Presidium, during the period of black ice and freezing rain, Sheremetyevo Airport operated flights non-stop. We did not close a single runway and were ready to provide any one of them for arriving and departing flights. Airlines serviced by Sheremetyevo International Airport operated on schedule.

Since December 26 we faced only one problem – the interruption of Aeroflot flights. We are doing our best to resolve it. There are a total of 18 delayed departures now. Most of them are December 28th flights. There were no delays on the 26th. We have resolved all issues related to delays on the 27th.

During the crisis period, the terminal was catered every four hours. Drinking water for passengers was delivered every four hours as well. Many volunteers and charities offered to help with the catering – we actually had to explain to them that we could handle it on our own.

This concludes my report.

Vladimir Putin: Good. I’ll comment on it later. Now, Mr Savelyev of Aeroflot, please.

Vitaly Savelyev: Mr Prime Minister, Presidium members, to begin with, between December 24th and 26th Moscow was hit by freezing rain for the first time in the past 23 years. The situation was critical. Our aircraft were covered with a layer of ice that was 6 cm thick within hours. As we have recently learnt, Russia does not produce type-four antifreeze. Or, to be more precise, it is produced by only one Russian-American company, Octafluid, which cannot meet the current demand. It is a very specific chemical agent.

Our aircraft in Domodedovo faced the same problem. They practically stalled to the point of stand-still. In these conditions, it takes up to four hours to prepare aircraft for flights, whereas normally it would take between seven and ten minutes. The procedure takes 90-120 minutes. Instead of 35 takeoffs and landings, we now conduct five to six takeoffs and landings per hour.

As of today, we have been forced to cancel 202 flights. We have decided to completely reimburse all passengers who were stranded in Moscow for the cost of their ticket because we believe we are responsible for creating the situation.

As far as de-icing fluid is concerned, we have an emergency reserve that will last until December 31. I can tell you that we had ordered 2,200 tonnes last year because the winter season is not an unexpected emergency, we prepare for it. That amount was enough. This year, we had 300 tonnes left and had ordered 2,500 tonnes because we are operating additional flights and have spent half of this amount. Our McDonnell Douglas MD-11 airliners and cargo aircraft fly in this fluid from abroad. We hope that the weather will stabilise to some extent, and that it will become possible to rectify this situation. But we have to solve this systemic problem.

As far as passengers are concerned, a permanent emergency command centre has been established. All of us are working round the clock at the airport. As of today, less than a thousand passengers out of the 5,000 people, who were stranded on December 27-28, remain.

The entire short-haul flights schedule will be normalised by midnight. And all long-haul flights will start operating normally by midnight tomorrow. Our proceeds depend on our turnover. Consequently, we experience such delays, including when an aircraft does not return from New York, due to bad weather.

The situation is now under control. We regularly report on the situation at Sheremetyevo Airport. I think we will straighten everything out, but the situation with de-icing fluid is critical. We are looking for ways to resolve this situation.

That concludes my report.

Vladimir Putin: How is the Interior Ministry operating?

Rashid Nurgaliyev: Mr Putin, we allocated additional forces and resources as soon as we learned about problems at airports and international transport hubs.

Over 282 agents from various services are working at Sheremetyevo Airport. Law and order was upheld in all situations.

Vladimir Putin: Did you deploy additional personnel there?

Rashid Nurgaliyev: Yes, Sir. That’s right. We have deployed additional personnel there and at Domodedovo Airport. We have responded to all emergencies, cooperating with the administration and taking action to prevent developments that could have escalated into serious situations.

On the whole, we managed to control the situation. I would like to say right away that all this was caused by an extremely difficult initial phase and because the people could not get any information. The situation later improved, and the airport administration started paying more attention to this.

Vladimir Putin: Ms Golikova, where did the medical personnel come from?

Tatyana Golikova: There are medical centres at every airport. We deploy additional personnel whenever necessary.

Vladimir Putin: Although airline and airport CEOs who are present here have probably mentioned everything, they have not mentioned the most important issue. How did you deal with the people? You did nothing! Although Domodedovo Airport experienced power outages, people continued to arrive. No one was notified. Over 8,000 people were at the airport. What kind of work is this? You ought to have notified the people that the airport had stopped functioning properly, and that it was impossible to operate any flights. The same is true of Aeroflot. The situation with de-icing fluid is understandable. Incidentally, I would like to draw the attention of the Ministry of Industry and Trade to this issue. I am asking it to submit proposals on arranging for the production of such fluid. This really isn’t a complicated product.

And now the Ministry of Transport. Where is Igor Levitin? Please analyse all aspects of the operation of the aviation complex in a critical situation that has taken shape, submit proposals on improving the operation of airport infrastructure, and assess the performance of all officials.

Now, regarding power outages in homes and communities. First, several pylons have already collapsed in Moscow. Am I right, Mr Shvets?

Nikolai Shvets: Yes, four pylons at thermal power station No. 26 collapsed this morning.

Vladimir Putin: The weather is not improving. It is good when there are alternative power sources. And what if such sources are unavailable? Are you sure that the situation is the same everywhere? You and I know that the potential consequences are extremely serious. Everything will be brought to a standstill if any heating system breaks down. What are you going to do in winter time? This is why I am asking the Ministry of Civil Defence, Emergencies and Disaster Relief to monitor all the developments and to respond promptly whenever necessary.

If necessary, you must involve the Defence Ministry and other departments. You must also activate the required reserves. Most importantly, residential areas must be kept from freezing. What are we going to do if this happens?

Mr Shoigu, please.

Sergei Shoigu: Mr Putin, per your instruction, additional generators have been installed at 257 facilities, and they will act as alternative power sources. All this is operational. Moreover, we have carried out your instruction from Sunday to stockpile reserve generators and facilitate train operations, in case the railway grinds to a halt. We have also stockpiled surplus food, warm clothes, and field kitchens. We have also established medical teams. All this has been prepared. Naturally, we have arranged for continuous information exchange on housing and utilities facilities, so that there are duty operators posted at every boiler room who can report on any problems that arise. We are also cooperating with the Moscow Region on all water-intake facilities pumping water to boiler rooms. This is currently under control.

Regarding the weather conditions you just mentioned, 25,805 Moscow Region residents were without electricity at 8.00 a.m. today. Their number reached 47,905 after 90 minutes of worsening weather, an almost twofold increase. In effect, 47,905 people now lack electricity. Our additional measures may include alternative power sources. We are also mobilising the reserves mentioned by Boris Gromov. We have carried out all instructions with regard to reserves. Hopefully, we won’t have to do anything else. Just in case, we are maintaining contact with the Defence Ministry.

Vladimir Putin: Good. We must continue to restore the damaged power grid, with a focus on communities, primarily homes and blocks of flats, and we must do everything possible in order to prevent the heating systems from freezing. Medical services must be placed on high alert. We must maintain law and order in these residential areas and in public places. Food and water supplies are essential. We must also communicate information to the public. We must prevent panic. The people must know that government bodies are doing their best to normalise the situation. They must also know about specific deadlines and specific plans. The people must know what is going on. The ministries and departments involved must report at the end of each day. I am asking their chiefs to report to me.

Finally, some of our colleagues have had to cancel their vacations. There will be no vacations pending further notice. Everyone must be at their workplace. Although the situation is rather complicated, it is not catastrophic, thank God. Our job is to prevent this situation from becoming catastrophic. This goal will be achieved if we work hard and in a well-coordinated manner. 

As far as vacations are concerned, this also applies to the leaders of those regions experiencing difficulties, as well as the heads of the relevant departments and their divisions. Naturally, everything must be done in order to assist the work of repair teams. Their workers must get hot food and must also have acceptable conditions for rest. Please address this issue with the seriousness it deserves.

And now let’s start consider some current issues.

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