Vladimir Putin bans grain exports as drought and wildfires ravage crops
• More than a third of cultivable land in Russia destroyed
• Wheat prices hit 23-month high on commodities market
Tom Parfitt in Moscow
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 5 August 2010 18.35 BST
Russia's prime minister, Vladimir Putin, has announced a ban on grain exports after millions of hectares of crops perished in the worst drought in more than a century.
High temperatures, lack of rain and wildfires have devastated more than a third of cultivable land in Russia, the world's fourth largest grain exporter.
News of the ban pushed wheat prices to a 23-month high on commoditiesmarkets and raised concerns about a boost in food prices worldwide.
Putin said the ban would last from 15 August to 1 December. "We shouldn't allow domestic prices in Russia to rise, and we need to preserve our cattle and build up supplies for next year," he said.
The announcement came as firefighters continued to battle hundreds of fires caused by the heatwave across European Russia, where daytime temperatures have been well above 30C (84F) since June.
Moscow's tabloid press has even speculated that the United States orchestrated the heatwave in order to favour its own grain exporters by blasting Russia with harmful rays from a research station in Alaska.
Wheat and barley have shrivelled, sunflowers have wilted and sugarbeet has barely reached half its normal size. more
Russia's Wildfire Disaster
Fury Grows over Moscow's Failures and Mounting Deaths
By Ann-Dorit Boy in Moscow
Hundreds of forest fires are out of control, oil refineries are in danger and Moscow has been engulfed in smog. Russia is in the midst of a national disaster -- and the authorities are partly to blame. The country's fire departments are understaffed, poorly equipped and the forestry service has been all but dismantled.
The wind had been merciful during the night. By Thursday morning the thick, acrid smoke over the center of the Russian capital had cleared -- just a little. "Look, you can even see the sky!" said newspaper vendor Natasha Ivanova. The previous day at this time she couldn't see further than 100 meters beyond her little kiosk in front of the Paveletskaya metro station.
smoke engulfs Moscow
The city's high rises remained cloaked in a wall of smog, and hot gusts of wind blew down the streets. Knowing that at any moment another cloud of burning smoke could descend upon Moscow, Natasha carried one of the protective face masks that can be purchased at local supermarkets in her bag. The fires around the city and across large parts of Russia are still not under control.
On Wednesday, smoke from the massive Russian forest fire catastrophe that has engulfed the country reached the capital. The worst smog the city has seen in decades engulfed the city of 10 million like a white smoke screen. The smog even seeped into the metro stations deep underground. The mass-circulation newspaperKomsomolskaya Pravda described apocalyptic scenes reminiscent of horror movies. more