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Putin Enters Blogosphere to Counter Outrage as Wildfires Rage in Russia

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who once said he’d never written an e-mail, replied to an expletive- laced blog that criticized the government’s handling of wildfires raging across central Russia.

Putin penned his answer after a Moscow radio station forwarded him a blog that railed against the decline of rural fire protection and self-serving bureaucrats. Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, confirmed the authenticity of the response posted on the website of broadcaster Ekho Moskvy.

“On the whole I agree with your observations,” Putin wrote in a letter mixing flattery with irony. The blogger, nicknamed “top_lap,” demanded his pension-fund contributions be returned so he can buy a fire truck for the village northwest of Moscow where he owns a dacha.

The prime minister has led the government response to the fires, which have killed at least 50 people and scorched more than 700,000 hectares (2,700 square miles). Putin has traveled to affected regions, met with victims and ordered governors to speed up compensation payments and start rebuilding homes.

The Russian Internet, where free speech still thrives, has long been the domain of President Dmitry Medvedev, 44, who posts his own blogs, has an account with Twitter Inc. and published his manifesto on Russia’s need for modernization online. Medvedev has stayed in the background during the fire season, issuing decrees from his Kremlin office and inspecting a new fire engine in the resort town of Sochi.

Post-Communism Changes

Putin, 57, told Time magazine in 2007 that he’d never sent an e-mail. He wrote his answer to top_lap by hand, according to spokesman Peskov.

The blogger complained that after the collapse of communism 20 years ago, the ponds used for fighting fires in his village were filled with earth and sold to developers, the local fire truck vanished and the ship’s bell used as an alarm was replaced with a phone number that was never connected.

Top_lap questioned the need for Medvedev’s pet project of building a Russian “Silicon Valley” when the country doesn’t have enough fire engines.

“We have no hope in you,” he wrote, addressing Russian officialdom. “We all understand that your one principle in life is that everybody owes you. But you’re mistaken, you owe us and you owe us a lot.”

Putin, who began his letter with the words “dear user,” said he read the blog “with great interest and pleasure.” While conceding the government’s responsibility to fight natural disasters, he explained that Russia was facing its worst heat wave in 140 years and that western countries also suffered frequent wildfires.

“You’re definitely a gifted writer,” Putin wrote. “If you made a living by writing, you could live in Capri, just like Vladimir Lenin’s favorite writer, Maxim Gorky.”

“If we had your address, you’d immediately get a ship’s bell from the governor,” he wrote.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lucian Kim in Moscow at lkim3@bloomberg.net

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