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Russia links drownings, intoxication

MOSCOW -- Poverty and political chaos have surely taken their toll on this nation. But for a look at what is really corroding Russia's soul, take the day off and go to the beach.

That is what Moscovites are doing this month, and they are perishing in numbers that would stagger most Westerners.In the first 20 days of June, 89 people drowned in Moscow rivers and reservoirs. Over a long holiday weekend in mid-June, police fished at least 13 bodies out of Moscow waters every day.

Nor is it just Moscow's problem. The annual drowning rate for Russia is eight per 100,000, compared with 1.68 per 100,000 in the United States. Russian men, who account for the vast bulk of drownings, die at an annual rate of one in 5,700.

"Those are huge numbers -- bigger than the murder rate in the U.S.," said Philip C. Graitcer, an Emory University professor and author of a paper on injury rates in the former Soviet Union, referring to the rate for Russian men. "They're astounding."

But not to most Russians. They already know what autopsies of this month's drowned Moscovites show in black and white: 94 percent of the victims were officially drunk when they died.

Alcohol has a death grip on this nation, and the statistics on drownings and other injuries show vividly how powerful that grip is. Russia has about twice the rate of fatal injuries, including murders and suicides, that the United States has.