For the last month, the escalating diplomatic conflict over the Kremlin's alleged poisoning of former intelligence double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the UK has captivated the world's attention. But for Vladimir Putin, the backlash over the attack poses far less of a risk than a domestic tragedy. On March 25, a fire at a mall in the Siberian industrial city of Kemerovo killed at least 64 people, including 41 children. The inferno triggered protests in several cities over inadequate evacuation procedures, inaction and lack of training by firefighters and police, and the tone-deaf response of government officials. The governor of the Kemerovo region resigned after thousands of demonstrators, many of whom lost relatives in the fire, railed against corruption and demanded both him and Putin step down.
The Predata signal above shows that the blaze caused a surge in Russian-language interest in graft and embezzlement that was far greater than that during the period around the recent presidential election. While the farce of a vote went off as planned, the Kemerovo episode demonstrated how quickly frustration over local corruption could generate challenges to Putin's rule.