Who knew that the resignation of Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin would generate so much heat on the day of his resignation in order to hold new elections for the position on 8 September of this year?
So when black smoke began to pour out of downtown Moscow Metro entrances, commuters joked that only when white smoke appeared would there be a new mayor, humorous references to how Western Popes are elected. As cute as the jokes went however, it was a serious situation inside as electric cables caught fire forcing the busy Red Line to shut down for several hours and commuters to be evacuated from the trains.
The high-voltage cable caught fire around 8:30am in a tunnel between the Okhotny Ryad and Biblioteka Imeni Lenina stations of the Sokolnicheskaya (Red) line, just a stone’s throw from Red Square and the Moscow Kremlin. The fire started just as the crowded morning commute was thinning out yet some 4500 passengers had to be evacuated by fire and emergency workers.
Ambulances filled the streets outside the stations and at last count the number of injured stood at 76 persons. Sixteen of them were hospitalized of which four are in intensive care.
Metro officials are asking commuters to use other stations and say that the Red Line will be returned to service by sometime today (Thursday).
Mayor Sobyanin had been appointed in 2010 to a five year term by then-President Medvedev but surveys showing overwhelming support for direct elections led the mayor to announce his resignation and to declare his desire to run for another term in September. Some say that the calling of an early election may yield to the people’s demands for direct election instead of presidential appointment, but a quick election gives little time for challengers to plan and wage an opposition campaign.
Who will run the city in the meantime? Moscow is a federal city, operating much like a state, and one of only two such cities in the Russian Federation. Not to worry friends, Kremlin sources say it is likely that President Putin will appoint Sobyanin as interim mayor to serve until the election.