Green Eurasia https://www.opendemocracy.net/taxonomy/term/13591/all cached version 04/07/2018 11:16:00 en Protecting the environment is becoming a deadly occupation in Russia https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/dmitry-shevchenko/protecting-the-environment-is-becoming-a-deadly-occupation <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Environmental activists in Russia’s North Caucasus are fighting not just for the environment, but their own lives. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/dmitry-shevchenko/nasilie-na-autsorsinge" target="_self"><em><strong>RU</strong></em></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_shevch003_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>December 2017: public inspection of illegal construction in a Krasnodar forest, after which Andrey Rudomakha (pictured right) was attacked. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Over the last two decades, successive Russian governments have done their utmost to destroy any emerging elements of civil society. This has included passing increasingly restrictive legislation on NGOs, including the infamous <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/daria-skibo/five-years-of-russia-s-foreign-agent-law">“foreign agent” law</a>, and it is now attacking a new target — the internet — with a <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/sergey-lukashevsky/russia-expanding-the-field-of-uncertainty">media law</a> that is trying to make “foreign agents” out of bloggers.</p><p dir="ltr">Until now, the only thing they haven’t resorted to — or at least, not openly welcomed — has been physical attacks on civil society campaigners. But there are already “pilot regions” where activists, including environmental protesters, have been facing violence for some time. And the worst area in this respect is the North Caucasus.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Land of spontaneous protests</h2><p dir="ltr">Environmental activism is less developed in the North Caucasus, and southern Russia in general, than in any other Russian region (apart from sparsely populated parts of Siberia and the far north). </p><p dir="ltr">This is a legacy of the cultural-historical and socio-political specifics of the region: the North Caucasus has traditionally had a fairly loose connection with Russia’s judicial system. And it’s not just Chechnya, as people assume: the entire region between the Black Sea and the Caspian is in the hands of local clans who enjoy individual relationships, some more successful than others, with the Moscow government.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Environmental protesters in the North Caucasus have been facing violence for some time</p><p dir="ltr">In return for their loyalty and the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/anna-yalovkina/decorative-deputies-of-north-caucasus">right election results</a>, local officials have carte blanche from Moscow to do what they like on their own patch. The result is a systemic infringement of the public’s rights and freedoms on a horrendous scale. And when people’s basic rights are breached, environmental issues have to take second place to the right to life, personal inviolability and so on. Eco-activism is, however, alive and well in the region.</p><p dir="ltr">One case, for example, has been the <a href="http://www.kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/240750/">longstanding fight</a> by residents of southern Dagestan for the Samur river, which marks the border with Azerbaijan. Unsustainable use of its water in both countries led to the near disappearance of the unique tropical liana forest in its delta, while lowered levels in the river and the surrounding groundwater put at risk the Magaramkent district’s fruit orchards, on which its economy depends.</p><p><iframe width="460" height="259" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/z8FEtfto-IA" frameborder="0" allow="autoplay; encrypted-media"></iframe><em>December 2013: 15 people are arrested after protesting the construction of a water station on the Samur river. Source: Caucasian Knot</em></p> <p dir="ltr">In 2013 plans to create another fifty water catchment areas in the delta, to supply water to the cities of Derbent and Izberbash, triggered social unrest in the region: people held spontaneous rallies and were ready to build a protest camp. In December of that year the army was brought out to put down the protest, although fortunately no one was killed.</p><p dir="ltr">Now Dagestanis are actively engaged in <a href="http://www.kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/Chechnya_Dagestan_Krasnodar_Refinery_Cause_Protest/">direct action</a> against illegal private mini oil refineries. A couple of years ago a crowd of young people <a href="http://www.kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/220379/">almost trashed</a> one of these in a suburb of the capital Makhachkala: its waste dumping was really annoying the locals and the city authorities were doing nothing about it. So the residents got organised and took the law into their own hands.</p><p dir="ltr">Spontaneous “radical” (although fairly brief) environmental protests — complete with blocked roads and building sites — are a common feature of Russia’s North Caucasus republics. They horrify the local authorities, who immediately imagine political cabals and conspiracies behind them. Instead of dealing with the reasons for people taking to the streets, local elites invent mythical “extremists” and talk about “forces motivated by the destabilisation of the situation”. It is only fear of being arrested as an “extremist” and ending up in an FSB or “Centre E” (Department for Countering Extremism) cell, which in the Caucasus happens often enough, that restrains the citizens of the north Caucasus republics from actively campaigning for their environmental rights.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Instead of dealing with the reasons for people taking to the streets, local elites invent mythical “extremists”</p><p dir="ltr">A few years ago, I visited a small village in the Elbrus district of Kabardino-Balkaria. A gas pipeline ran through the village to a ski resort, in a straight line through a pine grove that was one of the few remnants of the forest that once covered the valley of the Baksan River. The local residents were not happy with this outrage, but no one dared protest. I was told that some young men suspected of “extremism and Wahhabi sympathies” were being abducted, just picked up off the street and driven off to unknown destinations, and lucky if they came back alive.</p><p dir="ltr">It’s worth mentioning that never having been involved in protest before, the locals have only pretty basic methods and tools at their disposal: their activities boil down to street protests and collecting signatures on petitions. There are hardly any NGOs in the north Caucasus that could provide an infrastructure for public environmental activity, if you discount a couple of sham government-sponsored organisations.</p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">“In Russia, you can never tell what will happen to you and when. The all-pervading sense of threat and uncertainty creates a lot of psychological stress. It’s true that there are also countries in the EU where environmental campaigners work in almost equally difficult conditions (Bulgaria, for example). There may be no physical attacks there yet, but the machines are in motion, inciting the public, threatening and making wide use of black propaganda. Even in western Europe there are publications specially designed to marginalise or defame activists or entire groups, but in civil societies there you have the chance of publicising your own point of view through outlets with a similar status and popularity — a definite plus for countries with free media. But Russia and Bulgaria don’t have this.”</p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr"><strong>Ksenia Vakhrusheva, Bellona and member of EU-Russia Civil Society Forum environmental working group</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Nonetheless, in places where the public can engage in systemic environmental protest campaigns and are not limited to “street” activity, but also, for example, can use judicial strategies, then the authorities are often left flummoxed and prepared to compromise. Last year in Kabardino-Balkaria, for example, the residents of the town of Prokhladny <a href="http://bellona.ru/2017/10/13/no-gidrometallurg/">succeeded</a> in halting work on a project to build a hydrometallurgical leaching plant, thanks to a well-researched campaign involving the press and TV, social media and NGOs (and not all of them local).</p><h2 dir="ltr">Pig manure and extremism</h2><p dir="ltr">However, in a region as complex as the North Caucasus, not even loyalty to the authorities can always save you from prosecution: you have only to remember the high profile case of environmental specialist Valery Brinikh from the tiny Republic of Adygea, an enclave within southern Russia’s Krasnodar region. Brinikh headed his republic’s department of the All-Russian Society for the Protection of the Environment, whose Russian acronym is VOOP. VOOP is a perfectly “systemic” (i.e. government-sponsored) organisation: it never ceases to proclaim its loyalty to the government, has never been seen to have any links with the political opposition and none of its officials has ever been charged with any offence connected to their public service.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">There are very few NGOs in the north Caucasus that could provide an infrastructure for public environmental activity</p><p dir="ltr">At the centre of the Brinikh case were peculiarly regional factors: the environmentalist fell foul of Vyacheslav Derev, a businessman and former senator in Karachaevo-Cherkessia. In his own republic, Derev is well known as the proprietor of a business empire encompassing vodka, taxis, agriculture and car assembly. At a certain point, however, he decided to further extend his commercial interests and acquire a pig farm — not in Karachaevo-Cherkessia but in neighbouring Adygea, where he had already financed the construction of a large livestock enterprise in Teuchezhsky district. For the hard-pressed regional authority, it was like a Cinderella story: an opportunity to provide jobs for the local population and earn a few roubles in taxes.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_right caption-medium'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_shevch001_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_medium/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_shevch001_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="240" height="320" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-medium imagecache imagecache-article_medium" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Valery Brinikh during an inspection. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>The “good deed”, however, brought its own problems: people started complaining about the disgusting smell of the pig dung, which investor Derev <a href="http://01portal.com/?p=128">had no plan to reprocess</a>, as they do in civilised countries, into biogas and fertiliser (some Russian enterprises have already adopted this practice from Denmark): the waste substances were simply spread on the surrounding fields, poisoning the soil and water courses. </p><p dir="ltr">In 2014, Valery Brinikh, who had become actively involved in a campaign for the rights of the local population, <a href="https://zona.media/article/2016/01/15/lambs-282">published</a> an article, entitled “The Silence of the Lambs”, in which he, among other things, pointed out that pig breeding was not the best business activity in a region with a Muslim population.</p><p dir="ltr">Adygea’s Investigative Committee, the main federal investigative agency in Russia, latched onto Brinikh’s remark and in December 2014 charged him with an “extremist” offence (“incitement to hatred or hostility”). </p><p dir="ltr">According to the investigators, Brinikh “aided and abetted unknown individuals in disseminating information designed to insult human dignity in terms of ethnicity and background, by creating extremist material”. He also faced a number of lawsuits to do with the preservation of honour and dignity — from both the pig farm and the Teuchezhsky district local administration.</p><p dir="ltr">The environmental specialist had to spend nearly three years of his life proving that he had no involvement in “religious extremism”. In the final stage of his case in July 2017 (Brinikh was faced with a potential suspended sentence or large fine), experts from the FSB’s Institute of Criminology could not find any signs of incitement to interethnic hatred in his article, and in August the case against him was closed. By that time the pig farm at the centre of the scandal was under new ownership and its new management had no interest in prosecuting Brinikh.</p><h2 dir="ltr">The Adygea phenomenon</h2><p dir="ltr">Tiny Adygea is, in terms of its judicial and law enforcement system, an interesting anomaly. Unlike in other Caucasus regions, local civil society activists can actually succeed in standing up for their rights in the courts: the Brinikh case is one example of this, as is the environmental organisation<a href="http://www.rightsinrussia.info/home/rights-group-of-the-week/ecologicalwatchofthenorthcaucasus"> "Ecological Watch for Northern Caucasus"</a>, also known as EcoWatch, the best known environmental protection NGO in southern Russia.</p><p dir="ltr">The thing is that although EcoWatch is an inter-regional organisation, it is registered in Adygea. When its enemies (and they are many, especially in neighbouring Krasnodar) want to take it down a peg, everything has to go through the Adygean law enforcement and judicial bodies, which are not impressed by the indignation of its neighbour’s officials and security services.</p><p dir="ltr">In September 2016, for example, when EcoWatch was declared a “foreign agent” and the NGO and its head Andrey Rudomakha had <a href="http://ewnc.org/node/23902">administrative cases</a> raised against them, the organisation decided to go down the judicial self-defence road, which was not typical of environmental groups on the “foreign agent” register. But it brought results: with the help of the <a href="https://ru-ru.facebook.com/NGOLawyersClub/">Lawyers’ Club</a>, one of Russia’s most authoritative professional bodies protecting the rights and interests of the sector, EcoWatch succeeded in overturning already imposed fines to the tune of 700,000 roubles (£8,800) — an absolute record for environmental organisations caught by the “foreign agent” law.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_rsz_shevch002_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_rsz_shevch002_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Ecologist Andrey Rudomakha is the head of the "Ecological watch for the North Caucasus". Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>In mid-January this year, EcoWatch was removed from the “foreign agent” register, after the Adygean Ministry of Justice ruled that it had received no foreign finance.</p><p dir="ltr">Attacks on the organisation are, however, continuing. In Krasnodar, where it is most active and where it has had a great deal of success in the last few years, civil activists have become victims of “hybrid” violence. This, by analogy with “hybrid war”, is a type of pressure where the authorities and the local security services apparently stand aside and “outsource” the violence to various, often destructive, groups among the public: Cossack associations (whose members include many radical nationalists and criminal elements), ultranationalist groups, football fans and so on.</p><p dir="ltr">In practice, this “hybrid violence” has many faces. It can be used by all kinds of groups, from aggressive female pensioners storming Alexey Navalny’s campaign headquarters (there have been about a dozen incidents of this kind in Krasnodar) to Cossacks lashing Tajik migrant workers and Pussy Riot members with whips in 2014. Every time something like this takes place, the Krasnodar authorities either demonstratively distance themselves from the violence and its perpetrators or keep their mouths shut and pretend that nothing has happened. Meanwhile, the local media, most of which are controlled in some way by the regional administration, cover any and every news story except the one that matters.</p><p dir="ltr">EcoWatch has been the victim of violence outsourcing more than once. In February 2014, for example, a couple of days before the opening ceremony of the Sochi Olympics, unknown thugs in masks smashed up a car belonging to Igor Kharchenko, a member of EcoWatch’s Board of Trustees, while police officers stood by and watched.</p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">“Green activism has always been a dangerous activity in Russia, since it differs little from other forms of civil activism where people campaign against the criminality that is often closely linked to power. All we can do, I think, is to learn how to follow certain safety rules: become more knowledgeable about the law; plan your activity thoroughly (especially if it is some kind of fieldwork — expeditions, public inspections and so on, as well as any street-based activity); learn how to avoid conflict situations whenever possible. If you are in a dangerous situation, it’s important to involve the public, attract as much media attention as possible and demand a proper response from the authorities.”</p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr"><strong>Alexander Fedorov, co-chairman of the Russian Social-Ecological Union and member of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum environmental working group </strong></p><p dir="ltr">The only thing that we hadn’t encountered until recently was serious physical violence, which could have been fatal, against individual activists: “hybrid” aggression had its boundaries. But in 2016, the boundaries fell when Greenpeace volunteers returned from fighting a wildfire to their camp to an <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/svetlana-bolotnikova/kuban-some-men-want-to-watch-world-burn">attack by unknown assailants</a>. This attack left two activists seriously wounded and the group’s equipment trashed. This happened after strangers had been discovered spying on the camp and threatening violence against the volunteers. The local media, of course, interpreted the incident as “a scuffle between the environmentalists and members of the local population”.</p><p dir="ltr">And now, a year later, December 2017 saw another <a href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/01/12/leading-environmentalists-violently-attacked-russia">serious incident</a> which left EcoWatch head Andrey Rudomakha badly injured. He and a group of activists had returned to Krasnodar after carrying out a public environmental inspection of the area around the village of Krinitsa on the Black Sea coast, where a building project resembling a winery estate for VIPs was appearing within a state forestry reserve and without any planning permission.</p><p dir="ltr">Back in Krasnodar, three assailants attacked the group outside the house of one of the activists. They were dressed just like those who had attacked Igor Kharchenko three years earlier: leggings, hoodies, balaclavas and masks. They began by “neutralising” Rudomakha: sprayed gas in his face to blind him before one of them knocked him to the ground and kicked him in the face, leaving him with concussion, a broken nose and broken teeth. He lost consciousness and lay bleeding on the ground while the thugs “dealt with” the rest of the activists.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen Shot 2018-02-06 at 14.59.49.png" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="286" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>28 December: unknown assailants attack Andrey Rudomakha. Source: <a href=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Rpp9Ww0B9M&t=1s>YouTube</a>. </span></span></span>And although a criminal case of “group robbery” was opened almost immediately after the attack, the Krasnodar police were in no hurry to catch the criminals. And even if they had apprehended them, there’s no certainty that they would have revealed the name of the person who had ordered the crime, or that the police would have shown any interest in the motivation behind it.</p><p dir="ltr">Physical violence carrying a risk to life is something new for southern Russia’s environmental (and not just environmental) activists, and they’re totally unprepared for it. You can read up on the mechanisms for keeping information and communications secure, find 1,001 ways of continuing your activities while on the “foreign agent” list and gain massive experience in defending yourself and your organisation in court. But it won’t do a thing to protect you if someone comes up behind you in the street and fells you with a club or a knuckle duster.</p><p dir="ltr">Unfortunately, many environmental activists who have been quietly carrying out work for the state which the state won’t do itself are still not morally prepared to take on the work of the police — and defend themselves as they need to.</p><p dir="ltr">We can only hope that the massive public response to the attack on Andrey Rudomakha will provide the impetus not only for investigating this hideous incident, but drawing attention to the unfortunate and completely unprotected position of civic activists in southern Russia.</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia/russia-s-eco-activists-not-out-of-woods-yet">Russia’s eco-activists: not out of the woods yet</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/anna-yarovaya/karelia-mining-conflict-russia">Extremists by any another name: how Karelian pensioners fought against a mining company – and won</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/violetta-ryabko/wake-up-and-smell-ruthenium">Wake up and smell the ruthenium</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/elizaveta-pestova/russias-kuzbass-coal-region">Russia’s Kuzbass coal region is on the verge of an ecological catastrophe</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Dmitry Shevchenko Green Eurasia Russia Wed, 07 Feb 2018 06:56:38 +0000 Dmitry Shevchenko 115979 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Extremists by any another name: how Karelian pensioners fought against a mining company – and won https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/anna-yarovaya/karelia-mining-conflict-russia <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Local conflicts in Russia are often written off as paternalistic. But sometimes, people win. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/anna-yarovaya/himkinskiy-les-po-karelsky" target="_self"><em><strong>RU</strong></em></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_лагерь_осень_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_лагерь_осень_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The camp. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Almost a year ago, in March 2017, a conflict over a forest in Karelia that had long raged between local residents and entrepreneurs and the authorities finally drew to a close. Surprisingly, though, it was local residents and activists who triumphed in Sunsky Bor.</p><p dir="ltr">Petrozavodsk, the capital of Karelia, recently hosted a screening of <a href="https://artdoc.media/movie/ekstremisty_2017_36/">Extremists</a>, a film by director Alexey Tikhomirov inspired by the struggle waged by the forest’s defenders. Though Tikhomirov insisted during a presentation of his film that he’d made a “good-natured movie”, this was grasped neither by the organisers of the ArtDocFest documentary festival, who paired Extremists with a film about Pussy Riot, nor by the festival audience, whose reaction to the story was brusque and aggressive. The audience in Petrozavodsk, however, proved capable of appreciating the film’s true worth.</p><p dir="ltr">“Now it comes across almost like a comedy,” murmurs Tatiana Romakhina, one of the film’s protagonists, as she listens to the terse yet weighty pronouncements of Vasily Diykov, the story’s leading man. “But what did this victory of ours cost us.”</p><h2 dir="ltr">Investors are more important than people</h2><p dir="ltr">In June 2011, Karelia’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Ecology issued the company Saturn Nordstroi with a license to conduct geological surveys and mine sand at the Yuzhno-Sunskoye deposit, some 40km from Karelia’s capital of Petrozavodsk and just 600m from the village of Suna. </p><p dir="ltr">This move wasn’t particularly unusual for a republic whose entire territory is bisected by a federal highway connects Moscow, St Petersburg and Murmansk – and requires constant maintenance. Yuzhno-Sunskoye is only one of almost 100 sand-and-gravel deposits dotted throughout Karelia, which borders Finland. The regional government grants licenses, entrepreneurs mine sand and gravel – and the local population swallows the dust and trembles at the explosions of hard rock.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">In the majority of cases, few residents try to actively defend their right to healthy and comfortable environment</p><p dir="ltr">The regional authorities follow a straightforward logic: investors of any and all stripes are more important than the local population, boosting as they do the republic’s meagre coffers. Sometimes, though, local residents resist: in 2009, the town of Lakhdenpokhya held a referendum on the construction of two gravel quarries within town limits, and 77% of voters voted against the proposal. But the authorities and big business didn’t admit defeat: the administrative boundaries of Lakhdenpokhya were altered at the instigation of its mayor in 2011, leaving the quarries beyond town limits. The developers promptly began blasting operations just a few hundred metres away from residential areas.</p><p dir="ltr">In the majority of cases, few residents try to actively defend their right to healthy and comfortable environment –&nbsp;in other words, a quiet, explosion-free life. And the further you go from the big cities, the fewer and further between the activists get. In Suna, however, things panned out differently.</p><h2 dir="ltr">A socially significant forest</h2><p dir="ltr">Sunsky Bor is relatively small in area (a few hectares) and consists predominantly of pines. The forest is surrounded by kilometres of swampland, and the Kola federal highway slices its way north and south a thousand metres hence. Perched on a sandy elevation, this stretch of forest isn’t just beautiful but “socially significant” as well. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Perched on a sandy elevation, this stretch of forest isn’t just beautiful but “socially significant”</p><p dir="ltr">Remains of Soviet soldiers are still being unearthed here. While archaeologists organise expeditions to ancient settlement sites in the vicinity, lichenologists discover local specimens of plants listed in Russia’s Red Book, a state document listing Russia’s rare and endangered flora and fauna. The denizens of surrounding villages, meanwhile, call the forest their nourisher. Only here can local pensioners pick mushrooms and berries, source medicinal herbs and build up stockpiles for the winter. They take the grandkids along, too, because strolling in the forest is both healthful and pleasant.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_Нина_Шалаева_0-1.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_Нина_Шалаева_0-1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Nina Shalaeva. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>The fact that the Saturn Nordstroy company were set to begin quarrying operations here was not communicated to Suna residents by Karelia’s Ministry of Natural Resources; nor had the district administration or the village head kept them informed of developments. While walking in the forest in the summer of 2012, pensioner Nina Shalaeva – one of the future “Sunsky guerrillas”, as the Karelian press would nickname the anti-quarry activists – happened upon a group of workers marking trees that were due to be felled. They told her that the forest would be cut down and replaced with a quarry. The battle for Sunsky Bor had begun.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Pain in the neckera</h2><p dir="ltr">Residents’ appeals to the local administration and regional government yielded a predictable result: the developer company, went the official argument, is keeping to the letter of the law and acting in accordance with the licence granted to it. It became clear that simply appealing to the authorities wouldn’t solve the issue. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_Татьяна_Ромахина_в_лесу_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_Татьяна_Ромахина_в_лесу_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Tatyana Romakhina. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Activist Tatyana Romakhina then sought assistance from environmentalists and asked them to verify whether the issuance of the licence had violated any environmental legislation. A survey of the area showed that there were indeed rare species – lobaria pulmonaria (tree lungwort) and neckera pennata (shingle moss) – growing on the territory of the planned quarry; though not the most scarce of plants, these lichens are nonetheless listed in the Red Book. Thus followed lawsuits against the regional ministry, which, though legally obliged to conduct a detailed survey of the area prior to issuing the license, had failed to do so, and against the developer company.</p><p dir="ltr">But the government authorities and Saturn Nordstroy managed to stop the locals, inviting their experts to testify and conducting a showcase operation to “save” the Red Book-listed plants. Professional lumberjacks sawed down several lichen-covered tree trunks and transported them beyond the territory of the proposed quarry. It subsequently turned out that the “saved” lobaria ended up perishing as a result of the operation, but by that time the court had ruled in favour of the developers, who began felling trees just beyond the forest proper to make way for a road that would be used to ferry in quarry equipment.</p><h2 dir="ltr">The Sunsky guerrillas</h2><p dir="ltr">On 20 June, 2016 local residents <a href="http://activatica.org/blogs/view/id/2300/title/srochno-v-karelii-nachali-rubit-sunskiy-bor">discovered</a> that tree-felling had started in the forest itself. Tatyana Romakhina and a handful of others literally stood in the way of the harvester and forced the fellers to stop. The locals now resolved upon a course of action: they’d pitch a tent on the hillside by the already-laid road, taking turns to keep watch, and if more people and equipment started arriving, they’d thwart the felling of the forest by any means necessary. Saturn Nordstroy made several attempts between June and October to resume work on the approach to the forest, but invariably encountered resistance from one of the Sunsky guerrillas, whose contingent included 80-year-olds Nina Makkoyeva and Vasily Diikov, 68-year-old Nina Shalayeva, Tatyana Romakhina, Vera and Nikolai Mushnikov, and other residents of Suna.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_Василий_Дийков_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_Василий_Дийков_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Vasily Diikov. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>In October, the harvester returned. This time, however, it was accompanied by a police officer who urged the oldsters to dismantle their camp or face criminal action. But the local cop was far from the most senior representative of the law enforcement agencies that came to be involved in the conflict, whether at the request of Saturn Nordstrom or on their own initiative. </p><p dir="ltr">Nina Shalayeva received visits not only from the police but also the FSB: in the autumn of 2015, Shalyaeva was suspected of hatching an unlawful plan to block the federal highway, and the following spring she was even suspected of extremism and threatening to torch equipment and destroy the layout markings for the future quarry. Other members of the resistance were questioned, too. But the guerrillas stood firm, determined to defend the forest to the last. The harvester quit the forest in 2016, thwarted once again.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Gratitude to the media and the Human Rights Council</h2><p dir="ltr">Vasily Diykov, the 80-year-old “guerrilla” and central protagonist of Alexey Tikhomirov’s Extremists, kept repeating a mantra of sorts at the Petrozavodsk screening of the film: “Thank you to the journalists, thank you to the journalists.” He and his associates are convinced that, were it not for the attention devoted to the affair by regional and federal journalists – attention that resulted in petitions, articles, social media posts, video reports and films – Sunsky Bor would long since have made way for the quarry.</p><p dir="ltr">The uproar surrounding Sunsky Bor and its defenders didn’t let up. In the autumn of 2016, two round tables were held by the Ministry of Nature Management and Ecology, with both sides given the opportunity to make their respective cases. Saturn Nordstroy director Igor Fedotov insisted that his company was operating within the law: having been granted a license by the ministry, it had already invested considerable resources into the project. The locals, for their part, continued to insist on the impossibility of measuring in monetary terms the harm that would result if the construction of the quarry went ahead. The regional authorities hummed and hawed. It would be unthinkable, on the eve of a gubernatorial election, to leave the problem unresolved. Yet to pander to the guerrillas’ demands would mean losing face and opening up an even more serious problem: it would embolden civil activists across Karelia to call on the local authorities to take action against unscrupulous developers.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_Игорь_Федотов_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_Игорь_Федотов_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Saturn Nordstroy director Igor Fedotov. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>In February 2017, a few days before Karelia experienced a change of governor, the Sunsky guerrillas were visited by representatives from the Presidential Human Rights Council. Concurring that the social significance of Sunsky Bor was greater than its investment value, the PHRC representatives also <a href="http://president-sovet.ru/presscenter/news/read/4041/">noted</a> that the environmental watchdog Rosprirodnadzor, which granted Saturn Nordstroy permission to move specimens of Red Book-listed plants from the territory of the proposed quarry in August 2015, <a href="http://president-sovet.ru/presscenter/news/read/4041/">had done so unlawfully</a>. </p><p dir="ltr">During the PHRC’s final visiting session, Governor Aleksandr Khudilainen publicly promised PHRC chair Mikhail Fedotov that a “reasonable solution” to the problem would be found.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Parfenchikov decides</h2><p dir="ltr">However, it wasn’t Khudilainen who solved the problem. In February 2017, Artur Parfenchikov, appointed acting governor by the Kremlin, arrived in Karelia. Unexpectedly for many, the former prosecutor of Petrozavodsk set about promoting open dialogue on many of the region’s social problems. </p><p dir="ltr">It became very clear that if Parfenchikov could solve the Sunksy Bor problem and extinguish a couple of other hotspots of civil protest – and no matter if he were engaging in grandstanding or motivated by personal conviction – this would stand him in good stead for the upcoming September elections.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_Волонтер_у_костра_в_лагере_партизан_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_Волонтер_у_костра_в_лагере_партизан_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Volunteer near the campfire in the guerrilla camp. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>The Sunsky guerrillas were in luck: the acting governor came to a decision before his enthusiasm for transparency waned together with his readiness to engage in dialogue with the public. On 17 March, 2017, a month after his appointment, Artur Parfenchikov announced that Saturn Nordstroy had voluntarily relinquished its rights over the Yuzhno-Sunsky deposit. Details of the deal negotiated between the local authorities and the developers remain unknown to this day – not that this matters to Suna’s pensioners, who’ve succeeded in their main objective: the forest has been saved, and there shall be no quarry.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Suna’s activist pensioners want the forest they’ve wrested from the developers to be more than just a nature monument</p><p dir="ltr">The guerrilla camp, which in the space of nine months had metamorphosed from a lone tarpaulin tent into a site fitted out for permanent winter occupation and continuously manned by local residents and volunteers from Petrozavodsk and Kondopoga, was finally dismantled after the official Karelian government website <a href="http://www.gov.karelia.ru/gov/News/2017/03/0320_21.html">reported</a> that the ministry had revoked the quarry development license.</p><h2 dir="ltr">The forest is saved. What now?</h2><p dir="ltr">In early April 2017, the following was <a href="https://vk.com/sunskibor?w=wall-130754213_1371">posted</a> on the guerrillas’ VKontakte page: </p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">“Friends, we won! We’ve saved Sunksy Bor, resolving the problem through our coordinated efforts. But we’ve resolved just a single problem! Squaring the circle will be beyond us, of course. But it’s within our power to make life around us better! And this is what we want to achieve. We, the residents of Suna, want very much to develop our village, to make it better in terms of its social organisation, in terms of residents’ employment, in terms of ecology. We want to clean up the banks of the Suna. We’re ready to get to work.”</p><p dir="ltr">Nine months have passed since then. During the screening of Extremists, Tatyana Romakhina explained that the former guerrillas and the environmentalists who helped them defend the forest are working in two directions at once. The environmentalists – members of an NGO called SPOK (Karelia Regional Nature Conservancy) – are helping collate documentation so as to establish a “nature monument” on the site of the aborted quarry. The already-completed project substantiation document underscores the social and environmental importance of Sunsky Bor, and a map of the nature monument’s proposed boundaries has also been put together.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_Партизаны_отмечают_победу_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_Партизаны_отмечают_победу_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The celebration of victory. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Meanwhile, Suna residents are in the process of establishing a local NGO with a view, among other things, to participating in grant programmes in support of local initiatives being implemented in the republic. Perhaps they’ll even take a stab at more ambitious projects.</p><p dir="ltr">“The village has plenty of problems to deal with: problems with roads, with lighting, with refuse,” says Tatyana Romakhina. “We want to live in a cosy, comfortable environment, which is why we’re creating an NGO. We need to attract money. We got together during the summer and put up new bridges across the stream. And we left the shelter standing on the site of our former camp along with supplies of firewood and a fire-pit.”</p><p dir="ltr">Finally, Suna’s activist pensioners want the forest they’ve wrested from the developers to be more than just a nature monument: they see it as a kind of pilgrimage site for anyone determined to stand up for their rights.</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/dmitry-okrest/fighting-impunity-in-moldova-and-transnistria">Fighting impunity in Moldova and Transnistria</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/asya-fouks/karelia-a-story-of-autocracy-and-resistance">Karelia: a story of autocracy and resistance</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/claudia-ciobanu/my-very-first-death-threat-life-and-times-of-russian-ecological-activist">My first death threat: the life and times of a Russian ecological activist</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/svetlana-anokhina/makhachkala-citizen-city">Makhachkala: citizen city </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/our-city-our-space-ekaterinburg-residents-come-out-against-plans-to-construct-new-church">Our city, our space: Ekaterinburg residents come out against plans to construct a new church</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/sergey-damber/letter-from-russias-end">Welcome to Gdov, where Russia comes to an end</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Anna Yarovaya Green Eurasia Cities in motion Russia Tue, 30 Jan 2018 23:34:37 +0000 Anna Yarovaya 115881 at https://www.opendemocracy.net No future in Karabash, one of Russia’s most polluted towns https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ivan-chesnokov/no-future-in-karabash <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>With its population dropping, this choking copper town in Russia’s Urals is struggling to survive. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ivan-chesnokov/karabash" target="_self"><em><strong>RU</strong></em></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/DSC06848.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/DSC06848.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>In the mid-90s, the annual volume of plant emissions into the atmosphere was more than 118 thousand tons of sulfur dioxide; per person in the city - about 7 tons. Photo: Ivan Chesnokov. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Karabash, a small town in Russia’s Urals, is known all over the world for its shocking environmental pollution. The copper-smelting plant has been polluting the ground and air of this company town since the beginning of the last century, and in the mid 1990s Russia’s Environment Ministry declared the town an environmental disaster zone.</p><p dir="ltr">Both residents and experts put Karabash’s high mortality rate from cancer and respiratory diseases down to the town’s copper plant. In the town’s early years, its population reached 50,000, but this number has gradually decreased to its current 11,000. Local authorities and plant management claim that the environmental situation is getting better, but residents don’t believe them. While 2017 may have been Russia’s Year of the Environment, there’s been no noticeable improvement in Karabash.</p><p dir="ltr">“I’ve long since given up drinking the tap water,” says Vladimir Kartashov, who has lived here all his life. “I go to a spring and fill up large bottles.” I’m sitting drinking tea with Vladimir and his friend Vyacheslav Serov in a well-worn kitchen in a typical five-storey block of flats. This neighbourhood is regarded as the newest in town: it has food shops, several cafes where you can have a meal for 200 roubles (£2.20) and a library. The flats are as far away from the smelting plant as possible — until a few years ago they were safe from toxic emissions, but this is no longer the case.</p><p dir="ltr">“Sometimes I sit here in the kitchen or the living room in the evening and I can feel gas seeping through the closed windows,” says Kartashov. “If you let a few drops of car oil [contaminated by copper pollutants] drop on a hot car exhaust pipe, you can taste it at the back of your throat.”</p><h2 dir="ltr">A hundred years of fever</h2><p dir="ltr">Karabash, which in Turkic languages means “black peak”, was founded at the end of the 19th century, near the Sak-Elga River. At first gold was mined here, but soon they also found copper ore, and in 1910 they closed down two of the early copper works and built a new smelting plant that is in operation to this day. Only a few years after its opening, the company was already providing a third of all Russia’s copper.</p><p dir="ltr">Over the decades a proper town grew around the plant — a town with schools, a nursery school and a population of 50,000. But the longer the plant operated, the worse the environmental situation became. Production continued at the same level, but no one thought about building waste treatment facilities.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/DSC06685_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/DSC06685_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Karabash city arose from the copper and copper smelting. Photo: Ivan Chesnokov ©</span></span></span>The process for producing copper from its ore creates a lot of toxic gases containing heavy metals (lead, arsenic, sulphur, mercury). Emissions of these harmful substances into the local environment were not monitored, and for many years effluent was simply dumped in the Sak-Elga. According to <a href="http://www.president-sovet.ru/presscenter/news/read/4138/">Russia’s Presidential Council on Civil Society and Human Rights</a>, 100 hectares of land have been contaminated and deposits of iron, zinc and sulphuric acid have been leaching into the river from the slag heaps on the edge of the town. By the 1990s, 14m tonnes of waste had been dumped there.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">A cross was erected on the “bare” mountain, with the words “Save and protect” written in large white letters on its lower slopes</p><p dir="ltr">Trees stopped growing on the mountain around the plant and the earth turned black. People began to call this place the “bare mountain”. The area around the copper works looks like a post-apocalyptic landscape, with its dead foliage, orange river (thanks to the copper and other substances in its water) and polluted lake. All the fish died, and the locals stopped hearing birdsong around the plant. A cross was erected on the “bare” mountain, inscribed with the words “save and protect” in large white letters.</p><p dir="ltr">In 1989, the authorities finally closed the copper works, leaving a considerable part of the population unemployed. The socio-economic situation in Karabash, already bad, got even worse. After a few years, the plant re-opened under a new owner, as Karabashmed Ltd., but in 1996 the Russian environment ministry declared it an environmental disaster zone: the plant’s annual atmospheric emissions contained over 118,000 tonnes of sulphur dioxide — about seven tonnes for every local resident. (Sulphur dioxide irritates the mucus lining of the nose and throat and has a harmful effect on teeth. Excessive exposure can lead to weakness, dizziness and a hacking cough, and in worst cases to bloody mucus, shortage of breath and loss of consciousness).</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/DSC06502.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/DSC06502.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>According to the city authorities, one workplace at the smelting plant gives from 3 to 5 new jobs in related industries and services in Karabash. Photo: Ivan Chesnokov ©</span></span></span>In the first half of the 2000s the plant acquired a new owner — the Russian Copper Company (RMK), which is <a href="https://www.novayagazeta.ru/articles/2017/10/10/74101-stop-gok">co-owned</a> by two Cypriot offshore companies, Pyracanta Holdings Limited and Tilia Holdings Limited, and produces 30,000 tonnes of crude copper a year.</p><p dir="ltr">According to company management, it has also installed new cleaning facilities and its level of harmful emissions has fallen twenty-fold. Research <a href="http://www.president-sovet.ru/presscenter/news/read/4138/">carried out in 2011</a> to ascertain the quantity of heavy metals and arsenic in the atmosphere, water and ground shows, however, that the situation hasn’t particularly improved. The plant’s long production history has led to 60% of Karabash being polluted by mercury, while ground and water pollution levels are horrific. The concentration of arsenic is 279 times the permitted level; for copper it’s 368 times and 300 times for lead, while the concentration of copper in the water is 600 times the permitted level. There are also no monitoring stations to check air quality in the town. Recommendations by the Presidential Council on the development of civil society and human rights state that:</p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">In 2015 the town had one of the highest death rates from all causes in the country, and in 2014 the highest death rate in the Chelyabinsk region was recorded there. In 2014 Karabash also had the highest death rate for young people in the region. Investigations revealed, among other things, that a considerable number of children had a raised metal content (lead, arsenic, cadmium) in their hair, and a higher than average amount of cadmium in their blood.</p><h2 dir="ltr">A burnt out town</h2><p dir="ltr">Karabash’s “private sector” consists of some small wooden houses, and Karabashmed’s main chimney towers above their roofs. Vyacheslav Serov, who moved here ten years ago when he married a local woman, knocks on the gates and doors of the houses, introducing me to residents who can talk about their problems.</p><p dir="ltr">“Things used to be really bad,” says a middle aged woman. “The whole district was shrouded in gas; we were afraid to go out of our houses. Now there are fewer emissions, but whenever the gas reaches us, everything in the garden dies – vegetables, potatoes, even the chicks.”</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/DSC06587_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/DSC06587_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="329" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Every third citizen of Karabash is connected with the copper smelter. Photo: Ivan Chesnokov ©</span></span></span>Pensioner Vasily Mikhailovich agrees: none of the neighbours drink tap water; they all go to the spring. One lad, though, chops wood in the garden beside his house. “What’s it like living here, with the copper works?” I ask him. “See for yourself,” he says, “the gas is burning out the garden.”</p><p dir="ltr">Everybody we talk to says the same thing: the locals don’t have to pay ground rent, since the soil is so polluted, and after complaints about air quality the plant is paying compensation — an average of 3,000-5,000 roubles [£39-64] per person. But neither the money nor the numerous research projects by independent organisations and experts can help people leave the poisoned town.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Neither compensation, nor the numerous research projects by independent organisations and experts can help people leave the poisoned town</p><p dir="ltr">“How can people move elsewhere for work if the average monthly wage here for people who don’t work for the company is only 10,000 roubles [£127] and no one wants to buy flats?” asks Irina Shabalina, the former editor-in-chief of the Karabash Worker newspaper. Not, she says, that company workers earn a lot more: the average is 15,000-20,000 roubles a month.</p><p dir="ltr">Shabalina has chronic pharyngitis and her child has bronchial asthma, and she blames it on Karabashmed. She has a constant burning sensation in the back of her throat and says she often covers her face with a scarf on the street — the gas makes breathing impossible. She periodically brushes white flecks of chemical compounds from her clothing.</p><p dir="ltr">In 2015, discontent with the smelting plant led to a rally attended by 500 people. On one side, Shabalina tells me, were the irate residents; on the other, plant employees. One lot were yelling, “Shut the plant down, you bastards!” while the others responded with, “Who’s going to feed you then?” Plant employees, however, told her anonymously that the gases produced by the smelting machinery caused respiratory tract problems.</p><h2 dir="ltr">A modern factory?</h2><p dir="ltr">Ten percent of Karabash residents work at the smelting plant. If you take family members into consideration, it works out that one person in three has connections with the company. Over the years whole dynasties have arisen: someone’s grandfather worked there; someone else’s mother; a third person’s entire family.</p><p dir="ltr">The company consists of a plant producing crude copper — up to 130,000 tonnes of it a year — and an enrichment plant for slag processing. RMK, Karabashmed’s owner since 2004, has over the years invested 18 billion roubles (£231 million) in new technology and waste treatment facilities.</p><p dir="ltr">These facilities have included an installation for wet cleaning of the gas that escapes when the ore is mined, and another one for acid condensation. In 2015, this were joined by a plant that converts the toxic gas produced by the smelting process into sulphuric acid: before that, it was just released into the atmosphere. “The sulphuric acid plant is our most cutting edge facility,” Karabashmed’s chief chemist Vyecheslav Migal tells me. “It produces up to 640,000 tonnes of sulphuric acid a year. After treatment, only a few millionth parts of the gas remains. In other words, it is entirely reclaimed and none of it escapes into the environment.”</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/DSC06770_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/DSC06770_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>"Karabashmed" produces 130 thousand tons of crude copper per year. Photo: Ivan Chesnokov ©</span></span></span>The resultant sulphuric acid, Migal explains, is transported in tanks to companies that produce, for example, chemical fertilisers. And in 2017 an industrial effluent treatment plant started operation. “All our solvents are sent there for purification and the end product is clean water. It’s not drinkable, but still, we have closed the loop.”</p><p dir="ltr">Aleksandr Alferov, Karabashmed’s deputy social director, backs up Migal’s words, saying that the company now pays a lot of attention to environmental issues, and that thanks to all the new treatment technology, “trees have started to grow again on the bare mountain”. Thanks to RMK, the town now sports a health and fitness centre and a church, with a shopping and leisure centre under construction.</p><p dir="ltr">Not all the residents of Karabash are convinced of the need for these facilities. “It’s odd that they built the health and fitness centre right under the plant chimney,” says Vladimir Kartashov. And Irina Shibalina feels that the local people should have been asked whether they wanted the shopping centre. “Everyone’s on low wages: what would they go there for? But no one is asking us what we’d like.”</p><h2 dir="ltr">A trapped town</h2><p dir="ltr">So what can Karabash’s residents and main employer do to improve the town’s ecological situation? There’s different points of view on this question. The town’s mayor Oleg Budanov thinks that the land in Karabash is undergoing a natural process of purification. RMK, he tells me, is also proposing to recultivate a derelict disposal area of its Soviet-era enriching plant.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">The industrial waste storage facility is still a continual source of pollution of our air, soil and water</p><p dir="ltr">“The amount of effluent and industrial waste produced by the plant and the concentration of toxic substances in Karabash’s soil and bodies of water has been much higher than permitted levels,” Budyanov tells me. “And a large area has been turned into a human-made lifeless wasteland. The industrial waste storage facility is still a continual source of pollution of our air, soil and water.” However, the RMK project includes both technological and biological re-cultivation of Karabash’s spoilt land: “We should end up with a town square with landscaping and street furniture.”</p><p dir="ltr">Without the smelting plant, there would be no Karabash, concludes Budyanov. The company and town have a social partnership agreement. According to the mayor, over 10 months in 2017, RMK invested about 313m roubles (£4m) in Karabash. The cash provided a sports complex and refurbished a sanatorium, a nursery school, a school and a children’s home. “One job at the plant provides three to five new jobs in ancillary sectors and service industries. So there is a direct connection between the success and prosperity of the company and the development of small and medium businesses in the area.”</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/DSC06753_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/DSC06753_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="314" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>In 2017, the Russian Copper Companym, the owner of Karabashmed, invested about 313 million rubles in the development of the city. Photo: Ivan Chesnokov ©</span></span></span>Independent experts are, however, less optimistic. Ivan Blokov, Greenpeace programme head in Russia, points out that although the environmental picture has improved over the last 15 years, there are still huge issues to be resolved: “Even if the plant were to stop dumping in the river today, it would still be polluted. I’ve never seen anything like it. As for RMK’s promises, I can’t tell if they will keep them or not. But we need to bear in mind their behaviour over the controversial planned construction of the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia-andrei-talevlin/stop-gok-how-residents-of-chelyabinsk-are-">Tomino GOK</a>.”</p><p dir="ltr">Work on this plant, also in the Chelyabinsk Region, began in 2017, but local residents <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/aaron-pelei/chelyabinsk-copper-plant-conflict">protested</a> against it from the start, setting up a group with the snappy name of “Stop GOK” (GOK is the acronym for a mineral enrichment plant). But neither their warnings about serious environmental consequences, nor the daily picketing of the gubernatorial offices, nor 160,000 signatures on a petition stopped RMK. And regional governor Boris Dubrovsky supported the company. RMK’s founder Igor Altushkin has sufficient influence on the regional government to push his controversial projects through. In order to comply with all the environmental regulations connected with the GOK’s construction, the regional authorities (on Dubrovsky’s own initiative) decided to carry out an environmental audit. The competition for the job was won by Yekaterinburg’s Ural State Mining University, one of whose sponsors is RMK. And the auditors approved the project.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/DSC06794_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/DSC06794_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Even if the plant were to stop dumping in the river today, it would still be polluted. Photo: Ivan Chesnokov ©</span></span></span>Blokov doesn’t know what to offer his local community, to keep them in Karabash: “Perhaps work under a rotational system at the smelting plant? But it would still need to reduce its waste to permitted levels. And we would still have to isolate the slag-heaps, to avoid polluting the water and soil.” Blokov doesn’t have a clear solution to the problem.</p><p dir="ltr">The local residents are, it seems, reconciled to their fate. A few of the people I spoke to are intending to move elsewhere, but the rest don’t know where they would find the money to relocate.</p><p dir="ltr">“The whole place has sprung up before my eyes,” says Vladimir Kartashov. “There used to be gardens around the plant. Then everything started to die off — the vegetable plots, the trees on the mountain. And people were moved to a new housing estate. There used to be 50,000 people living here, and now there are just 10,000. Why? Because there’s no future in Karabash.”</p><p dir="ltr"><em>Translated by Liz Barnes</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia/russia-s-eco-activists-not-out-of-woods-yet">Russia’s eco-activists: not out of the woods yet</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/odr-editors/fighting-back">Fighting back, in the back of beyond</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/isabelle-magkoeva/we-ll-be-living-with-this-for-long-time">We’ll be living with this for a long time</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/our-city-our-space-ekaterinburg-residents-come-out-against-plans-to-construct-new-church">Our city, our space: Ekaterinburg residents come out against plans to construct a new church</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia-andrei-talevlin/stop-gok-chelyabinsk-copper-enrichment-tomino">Stop GOK: how residents of Chelyabinsk are resisting plans for a new copper plant</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/aaron-pelei/chelyabinsk-copper-plant-conflict">Chelyabinsk copper plant conflict reaches new (and sad) lows</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Ivan Chesnokov Green Eurasia Russia Thu, 18 Jan 2018 08:45:41 +0000 Ivan Chesnokov 115701 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Wake up and smell the ruthenium https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/violetta-ryabko/wake-up-and-smell-ruthenium <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p dir="ltr">Russia’s recent ruthenium scare, which went viral around the globe, brought a serious problem to light: the absence in Russia of proper and transparent monitoring of its environment.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/23755617_2003140366393440_4850371385289295458_n_0.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="322" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>"What have I done to you? I'm a good one!" Ruthenium responds to radiation-related panic in Russia earlier this autumn. Source: Facebook. </span></span></span>In early October, information about a leak of the radioactive isotope ruthenium-106 into the atmosphere appeared in western media.<a href="http://www.bfs.de/SharedDocs/Kurzmeldungen/BfS/DE/2017/1003-ruthenium-106.html"> Germany’s radiation watchdog</a> announced that the source of the leak was most probably in the southern Urals, and French experts confirmed that conclusion.</p><p dir="ltr">Russia’s state-owned nuclear corporation Rosatom, however, <a href="https://ria.ru/atomtec/20171011/1506611315.html">denied</a> the claim, saying that according to Roshydromet, the country’s environmental monitoring body, tests for particulate pollutants carried out between 25 September and 7 October failed to find any traces of Ruthenium, apart from a single instance in St Petersburg. </p><p dir="ltr">However, at the end of November, Greenpeace Russia received a response to a query it had sent Rosgidromet. This confirmed the discovery of ruthenium-106 in late September in the Chelyabinsk region, just to the east of the Ural mountains. The element was detected near the Mayak complex, a facility for reprocessing spent nuclear fuel. Ruthenium was also found in the atmospheres of Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, and the Krasnodar, Volgograd, and St Petersburg regions. </p><p dir="ltr">Ukrainian scientists also <a href="https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/detection-ruthenium-106-2017-meteorological-analysis-sources-ivan/">published </a>data about its presence in the Altai, Dubno, Kirov, and Yakutia regions. Roshydromet <a href="http://www.meteorf.ru/product/infomaterials/91/15078/?sphrase_id=134576">admitted</a> that in late September and early October atmospheric conditions were right for active movement of air masses, including pollutants, from the southern Urals towards the Mediterranean area and then northern Europe. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Instead of publicising the information, Rosatom lashed out at western media for reporting it</p><p dir="ltr">This news triggered an instant sensation, with Russia’s media simultaneously advancing all kinds of theories: it wasn’t Mayak at fault, but another Rosatom facility; the ruthenium could have come from a crashed satellite (although no satellites crashed at the time), and you can’t launch a satellite unnoticed; the source of the leak was in Romania, Kazakhstan, China… One theory held that it was an attempt to discredit Russia in the eyes of the world. Instead of releasing information about the accident to the public, Rosatom instead lashed out at western media for daring to report it. </p><p dir="ltr">A few days later, Rosatom invited journalists to a press trip where they could have a sniff of Ruthenium and discover how perfectly safe it was. More than 200 took up the offer, but only 17 were admitted. This triggered general anger, especially as the selection criteria were unclear. Then Rosatom created an advert showing a little cartoon lump of Ruthenium with big eyes, declaring how harmless it was: &nbsp;“What have I done to you? There’s nothing bad about me!” &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Rosatom’s website then <a href="http://www.rosatom.ru/journalist/news/uchenye-atomshchiki-sozdayut-komissiyu-dlya-ustanovleniya-istochnika-proiskhozhdeniya-ruteniya-106/">announced</a> that a commission would be established to determine the source of the radiation, but it is unclear when this would happen and who would do it. On 8 December the commission <a href="http://www.greenpeace.org/russia/Global/russia/report/2017/Press_conf.pdf">held a press conference</a>, where journalists were once again told that Mayak could not be the source of the emission, and were handed copies of the commission’s conclusion that the culprit had to be an unidentified satellite. Greenpeace <a href="https://act.greenpeace.org/page/17481/action/1">sent</a> a petition to the Russian General Prosecutor’s Office: by the next day it had been signed by more than 10,000 people.</p><h2>Under the carpet</h2><p dir="ltr">The hype around the ruthenium leak is that Russia has no transparent system for monitoring the state of its environment. </p><p dir="ltr">Radiation monitoring is overseen by <a href="http://www.meteorf.ru/">Rosgidromet</a>, which answers to Russia’s Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment. The Roshydromet site quotes monthly radiation figures prepared by the Taifun scientific development centre, but they are not very easy to find. Occasionally it publishes other information, but in reality, all you can see is background gamma radiation from a few automatically selected detector elements: you can’t discover anything about the presence of specific radionuclides. </p><p dir="ltr">Russia has an automated radiation monitoring system: in other words, all nuclear installations are surrounded by automatic sensors that measure a number of indicators, and Rosatom is responsible for reporting accidents. So, if an accident happens, staff are inevitably made aware of emissions. </p><p dir="ltr">Rosgidromet, on the other hand, is only responsible for measuring emissions, but it takes a very long time to process these measurements and in the case of a serious radioactive emission, the publication of the relevant data a month later won’t save anyone from its consequences. For example, we still don’t know what happened in late September near the ruthenium emission zone. And the reports that we do have contain incomplete and sometimes contradictory data, although in faraway France<a href="http://www.irsn.fr/EN/newsroom/News/Pages/20171009_Detection-of-ruthenium-106-in-the-air-in-the-east-and-southeast-of-Europe.aspx"> the list of monitoring stations</a> and the measurements around them appeared very fast.</p><p dir="ltr">In Russia, by contrast, no one plans to search for the emission’s source, on the supposed grounds that the concentration of ruthenium was too small to monitor. Yet by this logic, we can never learn any lessons from the incident at all. By the time an emission of a larger concentration is detected, it will be too late to look for its source.</p><h2>Keeping the public happy</h2><p dir="ltr">It looks as though Russia’s nuclear monitoring and information system is inadequate for the country’s needs. Immediately after the Chernobyl accident in 1986, the Soviet authorities set up a body now known as the federal nuclear and radiation safety authority, a powerful enough watchdog at the time, which even <a href="https://lenta.ru/news/2003/01/17/nuc/">managed to halt work at Mayak</a>. However, in 2004 this body became just a subsidiary arm of Rostekhnadzor, the federal environmental, industrial and nuclear supervision service, thereby losing some of its powers.</p><p dir="ltr">Meanwhile, Rosatom goes from strength to strength: it is now responsible for the development of Russia’s North Sea Shipping Route and is expected to acquire yet more functions. But are monitoring organs and systems growing at the same rate? Apparently the opposite is happening, and it’s a dangerous tendency.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/800px-techariver.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The river Techa outside the Mayak plant, Chelyabinsk region. Ecodefense, Heinrich Boell Stiftung Russia, Alla Slapovskaya, Alisa Nikulina via Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain.</span></span></span>The very fact that the source of the ruthenium is still officially unknown reveals, at best, the inadequacy of the current radiation monitoring and public reporting systems and at worst, Rosatom’s ability to lobby for secrecy and lying to the public. The precedents for further problems down the road have already been set.</p><p dir="ltr">In 1993, Russia experienced its <a href="http://bellona.org/news/nuclear-issues/radwaste-storage-at-nuclear-fuel-cycle-plants-in-russia/2003-03-siberian-chemical-combine-keeps-on-contaminating-underground-waters">first nuclear accident after the fall of the Soviet Union</a>. This took place at the Siberian Chemical Combine in Tomsk region, which released ruthenium-106. Greenpeace’s archive contains a telling document of the time: a report on the radiation situation compiled by the Commission of the State Committee on Civil Defence, Emergency Situations and Liquidating Natural Disasters. In the letter that accompanies it, Sergey Shoigu, the head of the committee, notes that “just like the Chernobyl disaster, the Atomic Ministry informed both the immediate area and the capital about the accident with a significant delay, which could have led to serious consequences.” That said, even when this delay had been noted, it wasn’t reflected in the Commission’s reports — “in order to calm public opinion”, according to Shoigu. </p><p dir="ltr">Books have been written about how the news of the Chernobyl disaster &nbsp;and the <a href="http://mentalfloss.com/article/71026/kyshtym-disaster-largest-nuclear-disaster-youve-never-heard">1957 Mayak accident</a> was kept secret. Time passes, but we still don’t know anything about the radiation situation in our own country. </p><p dir="ltr"><em>Translated by Liz Barnes.</em></p><p dir="ltr"><em><br /></em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tatyana-ivanova/belarus-s-chernobyl-taboo">Belarus’s Chernobyl taboo</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/vladimir-slivyak/sergey-kirienko-from-nuclear-to-political-power">Sergey Kirienko, from nuclear to political power</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/jan-haverkamp-iryna-holovko/towards-post-nuclear-ukraine">Towards a post-nuclear Ukraine</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/vladimir-slivyak/rosatom-climate-s-new-best-friend">Rosatom: climate’s new best friend</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Violetta Ryabko Green Eurasia Russia Thu, 21 Dec 2017 12:52:08 +0000 Violetta Ryabko 115444 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Russia’s Kuzbass coal region is on the verge of an ecological catastrophe https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/elizaveta-pestova/russias-kuzbass-coal-region <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>This corner of Siberia is famous for coal production and its local kingpin. Ecologists believe there are dark days ahead for the centre of Russia’s export coal industry.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><em><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_6e11bdb1f03df26d2aa4ed5fc369979c_1400x850.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_6e11bdb1f03df26d2aa4ed5fc369979c_1400x850.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Sergey Sheremetyev. Photo(c): Elizaveta Pestova / Mediazona. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>This article <a href="https://zona.media/article/2017/11/16/kuzbass">originally appeared in Russian at MediaZona</a>. We are grateful for their permission to publish a translation of it here.</em></p><p dir="ltr">By regional standards, the Kemerovo coal basin in southwestern Siberia (also known as the Kuzbas), is considered an industrially developed and heavily populated area. Its governor and local kingpin Aman Tuleyev has been dubbed by the press as both “the most effective governor in Siberia” and “one of the most authoritarian regional leaders in Russia”. He’s even been called “head of the Kuzbas Khanate”.</p><p dir="ltr">Tuleyev, 73, isn’t Russia’s longest serving governor (Yevgeny Savchenko has governed the southern region of Belgorod for 24 years), but he is definitely top dog. Tuleyev is just a year younger than his region, which was carved out of the Novosibirsk region in 1943: with the Donbas and its coal reserves occupied by German troops, the Kuzbas became critically important to the Soviet Union as a source of fuel. The scale of mining here has grown incrementally ever since. </p><p dir="ltr">Spichenkovo airport lies 25 km from the city of Novokuznetsk. The road is lined with private houses and large black hills — slag heaps left after the open cast mining of the area. The surface layer of soil is removed by bulldozers, revealing barren rock which is then crushed by powerful machines to expose the coal beneath. The waste rock, known as “tailings” is then piled into heaps. This method of coal mining has only been in use in Russia for the last 10-15 years: in Soviet times coal was extracted from deep mines. </p><p dir="ltr">The landscape around Novokuznetsk, seen from a plane, is like nothing on earth, its fields broken up by the enormous gray quarries, sometimes kilometres wide and up to 200m deep, left after the coal has been extracted.</p><h2 dir="ltr">“Either we don’t live here, or they don’t mine”</h2><p dir="ltr">The regional government and its loyal press don’t talk about the dangerous proximity of this mining activity to the towns of the area. Governor Tuleyev constantly <a href="http://gazeta.a42.ru/lenta/news/aman-tuleev-rasskazal-s-kakimi-rezultatami-kuzbass-vstrechae">sings the praises</a> of the coal industry, which <a href="https://neftegaz.ru/news/view/163862-Ugolnaya-promyshlennost-Kuzbassa-za-7-mesyatsev-2017-g-uvelichila-dobychu-na-9-do-1392-mln-t">increased its output by 9% </a>this year. So far, the only people to protest are the residents of the villages threatened by the sprawl of the mines: Sergey Sheremetyev from Alekseyevka and a few allies succeeded in halting operations by the Bungursky-Severny Excavation Company, a kilometre away from a residential area (rock fragments from the blasts were landing in people’s gardens). Mining was also halted in the picturesque village of Apanas, on the edge of the taiga.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">To my question about whether they had tried to dissuade or intimidate him, Sheremetyev just smiles and says it’s hopeless</p><p dir="ltr">“We fought them from 2010 until 2013,” says Sheremetyev. “We used all kinds of tactics: we lay under the excavators’ caterpillar tracks, we entered the explosion zone, we stopped them loading coal, and of course we wrote protest letters. Either we don’t live here, or they don’t mine — there are no other options.” To my question about whether they had tried to dissuade or intimidate him, Sheremetyev just smiles and says it’s hopeless. Now activists from Ananyino and Alekseyevka have started sharing their experiences with other people. They recently organised a protest on the occasion of <a href="https://www.americansecurityproject.org/russia-year-environment/">Russia’s Year of the Environment</a>, planting fir and cedar trees around the edge of an old open cast mine, and releasing young carp into the water that now fills it. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_9eb5a2a27ac8f3669e397970d04cd295.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_9eb5a2a27ac8f3669e397970d04cd295.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>"The profitable factory". Photo(c): Elizaveta Pestova / Mediazona. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Anton Lementuyev, a mining engineer and coordinator of the Ecodefense movement, tells me that locals are increasingly unhappy about the mining operations. The first protest rally took place in Novokuznetsk on 24 September, when people came together from several dozen villages. Yuri, one of its organisers, recalls the day: “The weather was dreadful — during the previous night they wrapped up the stage in netting, cordoned it off with tape and put a barrier around it. We had planned to speak there. Then, in the morning, they surrounded the site with buses and stationed a circle of cops round it as well.”</p><p dir="ltr">In early October, the protesters gathered in Gavrilovka, a village of 20 houses near Novokuznetsk. Five kilometres away, coal is being mined at the Stepanovsky open cast site — without the necessary documents, activists claim. Residents of other villages unhappy with what was going on joined those from Gavrilovka to protest. </p><p dir="ltr">The activists planned to block the road leading to the excavation site with a bulldozer, but at the last moment the people from Gavrilovka decided against it. Sheremetyev tells me that the night before, trucks arrived with free coal and villagers were promised that the one and only road in the village would be mended. In the end, a sparsely attended rally did take place, ending with the signing of a collective letter to the law enforcement bodies, demanding an official inspection of the Stepanovsky site. The site manager then admitted that not all the necessary formalities had been completed, but the local authority <a href="http://tayga.info/137188">ruled</a> that operations there were perfectly legal. <br class="kix-line-break" /></p><h2 dir="ltr">Quiet explosions in honour of the Birth of the Holy Mother of God</h2><p dir="ltr">Critics of the region’s coal industry are often reminded by the authorities that the mining operations provide jobs for the local population, says Anton Lemetuyev. Some 150,000 of the Kemerovo region’s 2.5m inhabitants are directly involved in the mining sector, and others work in its infrastructure and numerous industries connected with it. Lemetuyev tells me that the wages of many people living in the region “are linked to the amount of coal extracted and sold”.</p><p dir="ltr">“I’d rather find work 100km away than work in the mines,” Sheremetyev tells me with disgust. He works as a minibus driver in Novokuznetsk. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Lementuyev calls Kuzbas a “mono-region”: it seems to consist entirely of mine-towns, quarry-towns and power plant-towns</p><p dir="ltr">Lementuyev calls Kuzbas a “mono-region”: it seems to consist entirely of mine-towns, quarry-towns and power plant-towns. Official figures put the number of open cast mines at 120, but it’s difficult to work out the real figure: environmentalists believe there are quite a few sites where mining continues illegally. </p><p dir="ltr">There are 10 open cast mines in Kiselevsk, a district with 90,000 inhabitants. The quarry edges sometimes come right up to houses: like where English teacher Svetlana Kolomeychenko lives. Most houses in her street were demolished long ago, but Svetlana refuses to sell her plot to the mining company; she feels the compensation being offered is inadequate. </p><p dir="ltr">Behind the trees in her back garden is a steep drop, and beyond the drop is a disused open cast mine, where smoke rises from the coal from time to time. The windows of her house are always coated in a layer of black dust. She has a tear-off calendar where she notes the blasts: “25 September, 14.45: the explosions are quiet today, in honour of the Feast of the Birth of the Holy Mother of God.” More powerful explosions produce cracks in her walls. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_78249f75fd3dab483b9fd001bce8bd30.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_78249f75fd3dab483b9fd001bce8bd30.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Bachatsky open cast mine. Photo(c): Elizaveta Pestova / Mediazona. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Near Belovo, a town of 70,000 people 100km from Novokuznetsk, is the Bachatsky open cast mine, the largest in the region, which has produced several million tonnes of coal since 1949. The pit is 250m deep, black dust rises from it constantly and the massive BelAZ dump trucks look like children’s toys in its lifeless landscape. </p><h2 dir="ltr">“You can’t get rid of coal” </h2><p dir="ltr">Ecodefense campaigner Vladimir Slivyak believes that the Kemerovo region is on the brink of an environmental disaster and social disintegration. The mining industry has been in decline for several years and the<a href="http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/blog/2016/04/parisagreementsingatures/"> EU countries signing the Paris climate agreement</a> in 2016 committed themselves to reducing their use of coal and phasing it out completely in the near future, leaving major coal producers with a financial shortfall. </p><p dir="ltr">Anton Lementuyev believes the local mining corporations are aware of the situation, but continue to operate with impunity thanks to sweeteners from the regional government: “they have no social responsibilities, which avoids a huge amount of outlay: they have abandoned any responsibility for rehousing, environmental obligations or just observing the law. Everything has been rigged to allow them to avoid paying for anything.” Thus, legal requirements are ignored so that firms can open mines near population centres, and the land is never cultivated afterwards. According to Lemetuyev, this is because opencast mining is cheaper, and by excavating near towns and villages they save a fortune on infrastructure. “Everything comes down to mining company profits,” concludes Slivyak.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_2520083.LR_.ru_.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_2520083.LR_.ru_.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Kemerovo governor Aman Tuleyev meets Vladimir Putin in Moscow, October 2014. Photo (c): Mikhail Klimentyev / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Kemerovo’s regional government denies that the world is moving away from coal-fired power stations because of their detrimental effect on the environment. “You can’t get rid of coal: it has been, is and will continue to be one of humanity’s most precious resources,” <a href="http://kemoblast.ru/news/prom/2016/02/19/aman-tuleev-ugol-nevozmozhno-otpravit-v-nokaut-ugol-byl-est-i-budet-odnim-iz-tsennejshih-bogatstv-chelovechestva.html">declared </a>Aman Tuleyev in February 2016. In an interview with TASS on the eve of Miners’ Day in August, the governor <a href="http://tuleev.kuzbass.tass.ru/">said</a> that “We have all had to make a colossal effort to turn Kuzbas from a jobless hole into Russia’s industrial backbone. For the last 20 years, our coal industry has gone through a complete cycle of rejuvenation, and has changed from a failing sector subsidised by the government to an economically effective one and become the first wholly privately owned sector of the Russian economy.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Most houses in the region still use coal for heating, and the government is in no hurry to lay gas pipelines to replace it</p><p dir="ltr">In the European part of Russia, Vladimir Slivyak tells me, coal accounts for only a small part of our energy use, “but Siberia and the Far East are a totally different story”: coal provides about 50% of energy here. “So environmentally-minded conversations about having to do something — lower waste emissions, develop different energy sources — are bad news in Kuzbass, because we’re so reliant on coal,” Slivyak adds that most houses in the region still use it for heating, and the government is in no hurry to lay gas pipelines to replace it. </p><p dir="ltr">While EU countries have been signing agreements on phasing out coal, the Russian government has been developing a plan to support its coal industry until 2030 and hopes to increase exports. According to Slivyak, the plan is “to use less gas and more coal. Why? Because gas is a valuable resource that can be much more conveniently and profitably sold to the west. And while there is certainly a demand for coal, if we look at reality, rather than government plans, it’s clear that a serious growth in its export is unlikely.” </p><p dir="ltr">According to environmental specialists’ figures, one and a half million tonnes of pollutants and about half a million cubic metres of contaminated effluents are annually released into the environment in Kuzbas. Anton Lemetuyev of Ecodefense gives me an example: over the last few years the water in the river Aba, which flows through the centre of Novokuznetsk, has turned black. And 300-350 tonnes of redundant rock are annually deposited next to open cast mines — this waste occupies a large area and, according to environmentalists, is toxic.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_ea56d56984430cab412556b1f9a4e74b.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_ea56d56984430cab412556b1f9a4e74b.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The cut in Alekseyevka. Photo(c): Elizaveta Pestova / Mediazona. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Coal for the Kuzbas also has an effect on the environment of other parts of Russia. In the far eastern ports of Vanino, Sovietskaya Gavan and Nakhodka, for example, a tense situation has <a href="https://ecodefense.ru/2017/07/20/van/">arisen</a> over coal shipments. The port workers unload coal in the open, releasing toxic dust into the air. The environmentalists explain that, as far as atmospheric pollution is concerned, the local residents may as well be<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gMoH5FiAhIE"> living in an open cast mine</a>. Local campaigners are trying to get a ban on the open shipment of coal, but so far with little success. </p><p dir="ltr">“It’s not like we have mutants wandering the streets of Novokuznetsk or Kemerovo,” says Slivyak, “but if you look at the figures, even the official ones that are probably understated, you can see that there is an environmental catastrophe. Living here is just bad for your health. It’s difficult to find a single indicator in environmental or health statistics that would correspond to the Russian average. They are all much worse, and the cost is enormous.” </p><p dir="ltr">Slivyak believes that the coal export figures will inevitably continue to fall, so local people will start losing their jobs and then any concern about the environment will fly out the window: “The local authorities are doing all they can to turn a blind eye to the situation, and will continue to do so until someone in a hard hat appears and starts doing something.”</p><p dir="ltr"><em>Translated by Liz Barnes.</em></p><p dir="ltr"><em><br /></em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>“<a href="https://www.novayagazeta.ru/articles/2017/08/09/73398-wiki-kuzbassbashi" target="_blank">Kuzbassbashi</a>” Ilya Azar’s profile of Kemerovo region’s strongman Aman Tuleyev for <em>Novaya Gazeta</em> (in Russian)</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/svetlana-bolotnikova/kuban-some-men-want-to-watch-world-burn">In Russia, some men want to watch the world burn</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia/russia-s-eco-activists-not-out-of-woods-yet">Russia’s eco-activists: not out of the woods yet</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/aaron-pelei/chelyabinsk-copper-plant-conflict">Chelyabinsk copper plant conflict reaches new (and sad) lows</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia-vladimir-slivyak/when-you-buy-coal-you-have-moral-right-to">“When you buy coal, you have a moral right to ask where it came from”</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/daniel-voskoboynik/russia-tinderbox-in-struggle-for-safe-climate">Russia: the tinderbox in the struggle for a safe climate</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Elizaveta Pestova Green Eurasia Russia Thu, 23 Nov 2017 20:46:20 +0000 Elizaveta Pestova 114844 at https://www.opendemocracy.net From the boat race to Azerbaijani jails: how dirty gas sells itself to elites https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/jo-ram-pascoe-sabido/from-boat-race-to-azerbaijani-jails-how-dirty-gas-sells-itself-to-elites <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>A new report exposes the network of lobbying and hypocrisy that risks locking Europe into decades of unnecessary fossil fuel expansion.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/549093/gas.PNG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/549093/gas.PNG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="272" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></p><p>The European Investment Bank (EIB) is at COP23, the UN climate talks in Bonn, talking about financing climate solutions.</p> <p>Yet this week it is also facing mass protest over its possible multi-billion euro loan to the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP). The pipeline would transport Azerbaijani gas from the Turkish-Greek border to the heel of Italy. The $4.5bn TAP is the last leg of the BP-led Euro-Caspian Mega-Pipeline, or Southern Gas Corridor as the industry calls it. The entire Euro-Caspian Mega-Pipeline costs $45bn and is mired in human rights abuses, corruption scandals and numerous illegalities - but it’s still going ahead. </p> <p><a href="https://corporateeurope.org/sites/default/files/the_great_gas_lock_in_english_.pdf">New research</a> from Corporate Europe Observatory exposes the web of lobbying and PR that has allowed the pipeline to to get this far, roping in prestigious London universities and top politicians along the way.</p> <p>The Trans-Adriatic Pipeline’s shareholders include oil and gas majors BP and Azerbaijani state-owned SOCAR (1), along with gas pipeline builders and operators from Italy (Snam, 20%), Belgium (Fluxys, 19%), Spain (Enagás, 16%) and Switzerland (Axpo, 5%).</p> <p>But construction is being held up by communities along the pipeline whose livelihoods are being threatened. In Greece, farmers have been organising themselves through the courts and on the ground, while in Italy local communities have been physically putting themselves in the way of the diggers. The military has just <a href="https://www.facebook.com/MovimentoNoTAP/posts/709886585881673">locked down two local villages</a> to ensure construction begins. In Azerbaijan, local activists and journalists opposing TAP and the entire Southern Gas Corridor have been <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ilgar-mammadov/open-letter-from-inmate-of-southern-gas-corridor">thrown in jail</a> on trumped up charges. Azeri President Aliyev has been keen to silence dissent and quash any hint his corrupt regime is rigging elections and violating human rights.</p> <p>The recent Azerbaijani <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/sep/06/southern-gas-corridor-is-the-missing-piece-of-azerbaijani-laundromat-puzzle">Laundromat scandal</a> exposed the regime's use of tax havens and money laundering to fund its efforts to curry favour with European politicians and other figures – buying their silence and political support with gifts and bribes. Less notorious are the softer approaches; the campaigns to make Azerbaijan and the entire Southern Gas Corridor acceptable in the eyes of the political and economic elites in national capitals and with the European Commission. The latter is lending substantial political as well as economic support to the mega-pipeline. </p> <p>A key player is <a href="http://teas.eu/">The European Azerbaijan Society</a> (TEAS), an Azeri lobby group with offices around Europe. Headed up by the son of an Azeri Minister and member of President Aliyev's inner circle, TEAS is teaming up with think tanks, lobby groups and academic institutions to organise high-level events to build credibility around the Southern Gas Corridor.</p> <p>One TEAS collaborator is the prestigious King’s College London. Alongside BP and the consortium TAP AG, TEAS is an <a href="https://www.kcl.ac.uk/sspp/departments/warstudies/research/groups/eucers/newsletter/newsletter66.pdf">official partner and supporter</a> of the university's European Centre for Energy &amp; Resource Security (EUCERS). In January 2014 they organised the <a href="http://www.ibde.org/component/content/article/240-programme-european-energy-forum.html">European Energy Forum</a>, putting ambassadors and ministers from TAP countries on panels alongside friendly academics, think tanks, and top executives from BP and TAP AG. The supportive European Commission was not just a speaker, but also sponsored the event's networking session. The keynote was delivered by Michael Fallon, the UK's then-Minister for Energy. Two months later in Parliament his government <a href="http://teas.eu/press-release-uk-foreign-secretary-emphasises-azerbaijan%E2%80%99s-role-ensuring-energy-security">publicly championed</a> Azerbaijan as a European gas supplier.</p> <p>TEAS also targets UK decision makers through organising and sponsoring cultural and sporting events, such as the iconic <a href="http://teas.eu/press-release-teas-supports-iconic-oxford-cambridge-university-boat-race">Oxford-Cambridge University Boat Race</a> in 2014 or the jazz events organised during the <a href="http://teas.eu/press-release-over-400-conservatives-get-groove-teas-jazz-reception">Conservative</a>, <a href="http://teas.eu/press-release-over-200-labourites-attend-exciting-teas-jazz-reception">Labour</a> and <a href="http://teas.eu/press-release-over-200-libdems-get-swing-teas-jazz-reception">Liberal Democrat</a> party conferences.</p> <p>TEAS is just one channel used by the consortium TAP AG to win support. The combined lobbying budget of TAP AG and its shareholders exceeded €6m in 2016, with 26 lobbyists on the payroll. This secured them more than 30 meetings between late 2014-2017 with Vice-President Maros Šefčovič and his cabinet, the European Commission's Southern Gas Corridor champion.</p> <p>More examples are <a href="https://corporateeurope.org/sites/default/files/the_great_gas_lock_in_english_.pdf">given in the report</a>, but the gas industry in general is a major player in Brussels, convincing the EU that gas is a 'clean' fuel (despite its methane emissions making it <a href="https://corporateeurope.org/sites/default/files/the_great_gas_lock_in_english_.pdf">as bad for the climate as coal</a>). If the gas industry and it’s PR bedfellows get their way, the result will be a completely unnecessary gas infrastructure building programme, with TAP just one of many new projects. In fact, European gas demand has <a href="http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/Natural_gas_consumption_statistics">fallen 13% </a>since 2010 while liquified natural gas (LNG) infrastructure is being used at <a href="https://alsi.gie.eu/#/">less than 25%</a> of its capacity. </p> <p>The new pipelines and gas infrastructure will lock Europe into 40-50 more years of fossil fuels and the social and environmental consequences it entails. Gas expansion is not something the EIB should be funding. Around Europe groups are calling on the public bank to not fund TAP or any new gas infrastructure. Given their posturing at COP23 around climate solutions, pulling out of gas should be a no-brainer.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/jake-wood/making-inevitable-impossible-winning-at-fossil-fuel-frontlines">Making the inevitable impossible – winning at the fossil fuel frontlines</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/jo-ram/principles-down-pipeline">Principles down the pipeline</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ilgar-mammadov/open-letter-from-inmate-of-southern-gas-corridor">A letter from an inmate of the Southern Gas Corridor</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk Can Europe make it? oD Russia uk Pascoe Sabido Jo Ram Green Eurasia Azerbaijan Wed, 15 Nov 2017 14:57:25 +0000 Jo Ram and Pascoe Sabido 114677 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Chelyabinsk copper plant conflict reaches new (and sad) lows https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/aaron-pelei/chelyabinsk-copper-plant-conflict <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>A copper mining complex in one of Russia’s most polluted regions has been given the go-ahead — and is fraught with intimidation at the local level. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/aaron-pelei/gok-stop" target="_blank"><em><strong>RU</strong></em></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Iwanttobreathe.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Iwanttobreathe.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>''I want to breathe", almost half of the region’s residents are against the project, and fear the environmental impacts. Photo: Vk.com</span></span></span>Despite the open protests by ecologists and locals, it seems the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia-andrei-talevlin/stop-gok-how-residents-of-chelyabinsk-are-/feed">Tomino copper mining complex</a> is going ahead. This month, Russia’s largest extractor of copper ore received permission to build in the Chelyabinsk region, in the southern Urals. The project’s designers believe that this mining and refinement plant will bring billions of roubles to the regional budget through taxes, create new jobs and raise the investment potential of the region as a whole. However, almost half of the region’s residents <a href="https://wciom.ru/index.php?id=236&amp;uid=115579">are against the project</a>, and fear the environmental impacts.</p><p dir="ltr">The project design proposes a full-cycle complex in Tomino, some 12km south of Chelyabinsk. This will make it the largest such factory in Russia today. As the Russian Copper Company (RMK) reports, there’s enough ore reserves at Tomino to last for roughly 50 years. On a yearly basis, that would translate to roughly 28m tonnes going through the complex. Indeed, RMK is currently preparing a site of more than 3,000 hectares for construction, with more than half a million dollars committed.</p><p dir="ltr">Currently, this site is occupied by a forest, which previously enjoyed the status of a protected territory, and offered some protection to one of Russia’s most polluted cities. However, in 2013, the regional government removed this protected status, without much in the way of public discussion or the necessary decisions in the regional bureaucracy.</p><p dir="ltr" class="mag-quote-center">The authorities’&nbsp;attitude to Chelyabinsk residents is already provoking open resistance. Rallies against the Tomino complex have been held every few months in recent years</p><p dir="ltr">Indeed, it is the felling of this forest and possible pollution of the Shershnev reservoir, the only source of drinking water for the city, which has generated a wave of resentment in the south Urals. Likewise, there are concerns regarding the drilling and blasting method of extraction. Some people believe that this will send tonnes of dust into the air on a daily basis, which will then drift into the city limits.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/thumb_uploads_images_BlogPost_3714_5ebf05e3516f7d1b62687d4b751cd895___0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The tree-felling operation at Tomino has already started, despite protests by residents. Source: Stop GOK.</span></span></span>These risks have been confirmed by ecological analyses, including those conducted by the Chelyabinsk governor’s office. Off the back of these reports, RMK has been recommended to rework the projects further. Boris Dubrovsky, the regional governor, promised that construction will only begin after everything has been agreed. But the official opening of the Tomino complex <a href="https://www.russianpressa.ru/ecology/razrabotka-tominskogo-mestorozhdeniya-oficialno-zapushhena">took place on 11 July 2017</a> (albeit, without Dubrovsky in attendance); the forest felling and preparation work had begun a few days before.</p><p dir="ltr">Only at the end of August 2017 this year did Dubrovsky <a href="https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/3390889">state his support for the project openly</a>: “The storm around the Tomino complex doesn’t suit its scale. Strictly speaking, there are emotions, and then there’s the practicality of life. This is about investment, this is about jobs. And if a business follows all the rules, then what grounds or risks, apart from emotions, do we have to permit or not permit the construction?”</p><h2>“This is about investment, this is about jobs”</h2><p dir="ltr">The governor’s opinion contradicts many of his constituents, who, according to an <a href="https://wciom.ru/index.php?id=236&amp;uid=115579">official poll</a> by the All-Russian Opinion Research Center, are against it in 51% of cases. When municipal deputies conducted their own survey, they found that more than 70% of people living in direct proximity to the site (Tomino and the nearby Korkino district) were against it. Russia’s Presidential Human Rights Council also recently <a href="https://wciom.ru/index.php?id=236&amp;uid=115579">recommended</a> RMK not to start construction without the necessary decisions in place. However, as yet no one has presented new project plans (which are supposed to deal with the risks) to the public. &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">The authorities’&nbsp;attitude to Chelyabinsk residents is already provoking open resistance. Rallies against the Tomino complex have been held every few months in recent years, and the Stop GOK movement has the clearest and most active position on the issue. According to its leader Vasily Moskovets, RMK’s project is unconstitutional, and the local authorities are, in effect, repeating the unlawful activities of the project’s backers.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/thumb_uploads_images_blogpost_3909_ac37fea7858c6395f04e879ff558b785_ (1).jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="367" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Gamil Asatullin at a solitary picket against the copper plant, Chelyabinsk. Image: Activatica.</span></span></span>Local officials regularly refuse to permit Stop GOK from holding rallies or try to permit them in unpopular locations. In particular, the authorities have used various pretexts to refuse rallies during spring and summer this year. </p><p>For instance, for an <a href="http://chelyabinsk.74.ru/text/news/343565469552640.html">unsanctioned rally this past Sunday</a>, the authorities deployed a significant number of police and equipment, in order to deter and intimidate participants. This resulted in a small number of participants, several of whom were detained both during and after the protest in relation to a criminal investigation. Gamil Asatullin, a Stop GOK participant and local political activist, was recently arrested on charges that he attempted to burn down the mining complex site. Asatullin was <a href="https://zona.media/article/2017/09/19/gok-stop">arrested by a group of FSB and anti-extremism officers</a>, and the investigation is likely to involve several more activists of the Stop GOK movement.</p><p dir="ltr">Sadly, this isn’t the first time those against the Tomino complex have been declared criminals or foreign agents pursuing commercial and political interests. For instance, Felix Panov, a representative of Russia’s Civic Chamber, recently <a href="http://pravdaurfo.ru/news/155681-v-obshchestvennoy-palate-rf-stop-gok-priznali">claimed</a> that the ecological component of locals’ demands is secondary: “We can conclude that, despite its ‘humane direction’, environmentalism is being used here as a means of influencing public opinion, to make people antagonistic towards any state projects and projects, including those that are useful.”</p><p dir="ltr" class="mag-quote-center">Despite the difficulties of getting the message out, public actions against the development of the Tomino site regularly gather hundreds of people</p><p dir="ltr">Attacks on Chelyabinsk’s ecological activists can also be found in the local and federal press. In June this year, local TV Channel 31 <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VpSSbcUGIO8">broadcast</a> a documentary film which called Stop GOK a “political sect” that was trying to bring down the region’s economy. “They present themselves as ecologists and researchers. But as a rule, they aren’t. These activists are involved in ecological extremism and are controlled and financed by foreign organisations,” the voice-over claimed. The region’s main print and online media have a similar opinion. This is why people involved in the movement consider social media groups to be the only source of information on the potential risks of the Tomino plant.</p><p><iframe frameborder="0" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/VpSSbcUGIO8" height="259" width="460"></iframe><em>"The imposters", a recent film broadcast on regional television, "exposes" Chelyabinsk activists for pursuing foreign interests.</em></p><p dir="ltr">Despite the difficulties of getting the message out, public actions against the development of the Tomino site regularly gather hundreds of people. These people aren’t only concerned with the ecological risks, but the outflow of capital and people from the south Urals. <a href="https://vecherka.su/articles/society/126702/">According to Oleg Vitkovsky</a>, president of the Ural Economic Union, over the past few years, 150,000 people have left the region&nbsp;— and the main factor for emigration has been the environmental situation.</p><p dir="ltr">In turn, the people who move to Chelyabinsk for work are mostly from neighbouring regions or former Soviet republics, and travel mostly for low-skilled labour. In any case, it seems likely that the Tomino complex will not find itself with a labour shortage — over the next three years, it plans to hire 1,200 people. Most people are willing to forego principles, including dissatisfaction with the environmental state of the region, to find work in an increasingly difficult market.</p><h2>Catastrophe zone</h2><p dir="ltr">Chelyabink’s ecological problems are no secret. The city suffers from poor weather conditions several months a year. You can feel the industrial smog all year round. At this time of year, the city is covered in mist, visibility is reduced, and the air reeks of chemicals.</p><p dir="ltr">The south Urals has already found itself at the bottom of Green Patrol’s ecological rating <a href="http://www.greenpatrol.ru/ru/stranica-dlya-obshchego-reytinga/ekologicheskiy-reyting-subektov-rf?tid=282">three years running</a>. People passing through notice the air immediately. Russia’s Minister of Ecology Sergey Donskoy <a href="http://irinagundareva.com/news/sergey-donskoy-nazval-chelyabinsk-v-chisle-samyih-gryaznyih-gorodov-rossii.html">stated</a> in 2016 that Chelyabinsk leads Russia in terms of hard particles released into the atmosphere, and it is joined by towns nearby, Magnitogorsk and Karabash. Last year, Vladimir Soloviev, a prominent TV presenter, <a href="http://chelyabinsk.74.ru/text/newsline/155770280988672.html">called</a> Chelyabinsk an “ecological catastrophe zone”.</p><p dir="ltr" class="mag-quote-center">“I believe the chances of stopping construction are high. Governors in our region change often”</p><p dir="ltr">Perhaps <a href="http://econadzor.com/analytics/news/2430.html">amendments</a> to Russia’s ecological legislation will change this; they’re due to take effect in January 2018. This legislation will ban the construction of potentially harmful enterprises (such as Tomino) without an initial state ecological survey.</p><p dir="ltr">Meanwhile, RMK has already started construction, and is ready to reach its performance indicators in terms of extraction and refinement in the coming years — though it still hasn’t stated whether it will consider the results of critical ecological surveys. Currently, Russian legislation gives these surveys only the status of non-binding recommendations.</p><p>Despite recent defeats in the struggle against the Tomino complex, people involved in Stop GOK are sure that the final decision hasn’t been made just yet. “I believe the chances of stopping construction are high,” <a href="https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/3390889">believes</a> Vasily Moskovets. “After all, Governors in our region change frequently.”</p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia-andrei-talevlin/stop-gok-chelyabinsk-copper-enrichment-tomino">Stop GOK: how residents of Chelyabinsk are resisting plans for a new copper plant</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/our-city-our-space-ekaterinburg-residents-come-out-against-plans-to-construct-new-church">Our city, our space: Ekaterinburg residents come out against plans to construct a new church</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/svetlana-anokhina/makhachkala-citizen-city">Makhachkala: citizen city </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/odr-editors/fighting-back">Fighting back, in the back of beyond</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/claudia-ciobanu/my-very-first-death-threat-life-and-times-of-russian-ecological-activist">My first death threat: the life and times of a Russian ecological activist</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Aaron Pelei Green Eurasia Cities in motion Russia Fri, 22 Sep 2017 05:20:03 +0000 Aaron Pelei 113523 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Georgia’s highlanders against hydropower https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ana-maria-seman/hydropower-project-georgia <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>As the Georgian government moves ahead with its plans for increasing the country’s hydropower capacity, local communities are being sidelined in the process of compensation payments.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/33107055270_a7149bc31e_z.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Locals working on their land to produce their food, Svaneti. (c) Bankwatch. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Earlier this summer, I visited Georgia’s Svaneti region together with colleagues from <a href="https://bankwatch.org">Bankwatch</a>. Svaneti, located high in the Caucasian mountains, borders the breakaway territory of Abkhazia, and is home to some of the most pristine rivers in the Caucasus. As a team of civil society members, we travelled there to talk with local people and analyse the quality of consultations over future development projects on their lands.</p><p dir="ltr">Together with the surrounding forests, Svaneti’s Nenskra and Nakra rivers have existed in a symbiotic bond with local communities for centuries. This strong interdependence between people and nature is visible everywhere in Svaneti — a constant reminder of the important role that local communities must play in designing infrastructure projects.</p><p dir="ltr">Yet in recent years, Svaneti has been transformed into a battleground between communities and the Georgian government with its plans for building large hydro power plants. The threat has united Svan people who are struggling to conserve what is left of their cultural heritage and the biodiversity of the region.</p><h2>Public funding</h2><p dir="ltr">The Georgian government’s ambition to build<a href="https://bankwatch.org/our-work/projects/hydropower-development-georgia"> dozens of new hydro power plants</a> (HPPs) in the Svaneti region has caught the attention of international financiers. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the European Investment Bank (EIB), the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) have all expressed interest in financing the planned 280MW Nenskra HPP, the most advanced project in the government’s pipeline. Up to 75% of the project costs <a href="https://bankwatch.org/our-work/projects/nenskra-hydropower-plant-georgia">could come from international public sources</a> and with the <a href="http://www.ebrd.com/work-with-us/projects/esia/nenskra-hpp-portage.html">loan approval date</a> coming up on 15 November for the EBRD, there is little time to act.</p><p dir="ltr">But while the dam is supposed to ensure energy security for Georgia during winter and eliminate imports from Turkey, locals and activists are opposing the project, which they view as a threat to Svan culture, the biodiversity of the region and the safety of local communities given the area’s seismic instability.</p><p dir="ltr">Seeing the awe-inspiring Svaneti region, the forests and rivers that will vanish for the Nenskra HPP, it is easy to understand these concerns, the anger and the feeling of hopelessness that locals express. Capturing water from these two serene rivers, the impacts of the project would stretch for dozens of kilometres, from the transmission lines to the power house, the site of the dam and over and across the mountains along the future water intake tunnel from the Nakra river. If the dam plans are implemented, it will get Nakra river down to 10% of its current flow and Nenskra to 5%. The project will affect numerous pasture lands and summer grazing areas for animals and its reservoir will flood hectares of forest.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">If realised, this project will strip over 200 people, some of whom already living in poverty, of their pasture lands and livelihoods</p><p dir="ltr">A biodiversity expertise commissioned by Bankwatch identified several species of wild protected animals in the region including Eurasian lynx, brown bear, Persian leopard, booted eagle among many whose habitats will be disturbed by the future dam. Moreover, the region is experiencing annual mudflows and landslides and is well known for its geological instability, something people fear might be emphasized when the dam is built. Locals have also expressed great concerns over the impact the the dam will have on the humidity levels in the villages, causing numerous health problems as was the case of the Enguri HPP built in the region during soviet times.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/33490337175_aaedf20dee_o.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/33490337175_aaedf20dee_o.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Hiking trail in Svaneti mountains. Photo: Bankwatch / Flickr. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>The project promoter is JSC Nenskra, a Georgian company established by Korean K-Water with a 10% share of a Georgian state owned company. JSC Nenskra has already benefitted from several deals with the Georgian government, among others <a href="https://bankwatch.org/sites/default/files/Nenskra-LALRP-11Sep2017.pdf">receiving forest land for one dollar contracts</a> (see page 20). The locals we spoke to and who have used this land for centuries told us they were not even aware of the deal.</p><h2>Patronising perception of local culture</h2><p dir="ltr">JSC Nenskra has committed to compensating the rightful owners for all pasture land and assets that will be lost due to the project. But during our visit and discussions with affected people, we discovered major flaws in the company’s assessment of the number of people that will be affected, their assets as well as the compensation they are entitled to. The shortcomings, which we have collected in a <a href="https://bankwatch.org/publications/failing-local-communities-land-assessment-and-livelihoods-restoration-plan-nenskra-dam">report</a>, are proof and consequence of a lack of proper consultations with local communities.</p><p dir="ltr">The majority of people living in the two valleys own cattle that graze on summer pastures, lands which are inherited since generations and co-owned by up to five families. Customary law still dominates the region and people share both pasture and other assets such as summer cabins. During our discussions with affected households, we discovered that the project developer failed to map all the rightful users of these lands and assets. Instead, the company included single users in the compensation scheme, thus leaving behind numerous other co-users. This is the case for all the households we interviewed and from the assessment of the project documentation it seems it has been the practice for all the pasture lands that will be lost. In addition, a number of individual owners of land and cabins from the Nakra valley have been completely left out of the compensations scheme.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/33107062370_749173de39_z.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="318" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Khaishi villagers discussing Nenskra HPP. (c) Bankwatch. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>These systemic gaps in how JSC Nenskra assessed people’s land rights reveals not only the poor quality of public consultations, but also a patronising perception of local culture and livelihoods. Our visits to the region have left no doubt that the company has failed to recognise locals’ dependence on their land and the way their communities are functioning, based on strong internal rules of sharing and inheritance.</p><p dir="ltr">The poor quality of consultations is also reflected in the unjust amounts of compensation. As detailed in our<a href="https://bankwatch.org/publications/failing-local-communities-land-assessment-and-livelihoods-restoration-plan-nenskra-dam"> report</a>, the project documentation does not thoroughly assess the economic situation of affected households. The company’s assessment does not take into consideration the number of cattle that a family owns and which of these families would lose access to pasture and therefore to fodder. It also does not account for the numerous internally displaced people in the communities, or acknowledges the impact of changes in logging activities. In sum, the company has overlooked major aspects of the socio-economic profile of locals which are crucial for a just compensation scheme.</p><p dir="ltr">Moreover, the company is still delaying an assessment of the impacts of facilities associated with the hydropower plant such as transmission lines and a waste disposal site. Needless to say that also the consultations with affected communities has not happened yet.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Many still fear to speak out about the project and have asked for confidentiality during our interviews</p><p dir="ltr">While the project documents made available by JSC Nenskra do not contain information on the location of these associated facilities, cadastral plans obtained from the Georgian authorities show that the location has already been agreed on. Local residents, who have signed letters demanding to be consulted about the locations of these facilities and the compensation they are entitled to, are understandably outraged.</p><p dir="ltr">Many still fear to speak out about the project and have asked for confidentiality during our interviews, afraid there might be repercussions on their families or jobs. A change in the logging licence system from 2015 has restricted the possibility for locals to obtain licences, forcing many into the illegal logging and timber sales business.</p><p dir="ltr">But the threat of losing parts of their identity along with the development of the project drove more than 300 people to sign a <a href="http://greenalt.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Collective_letter_2017.pdf">letter </a>this June expressing their opposition to the project and their disappointment with the company’s failure to take account of customary law and local culture. And some are still taking the risk of openly opposing the project — in August, Bankwatch <a href="https://drive.google.com/file/d/0Bx-fjdZ4WfAIMkVTMGNRV3ROT2s/view">witnessed</a> a large group of locals stepping out from the last round of public consultations held by the company.</p><h2>International standards</h2><p dir="ltr">Assessments of expropriation and compensation are not the residents’ own ideas, but international standards that JSC Nenskra has to respect to receive international public finance. Yet countless breaches of these standards are evidence that the Nenskra hydropower project is a serious threat to the local Svan communities.</p><p dir="ltr">If realised, this project will strip over 200 people, some of whom already living in poverty, of their pasture lands and livelihoods. The project must not go ahead until the project company is conducting individual assessments in order to have a full picture of the socio-economic situation and the fair amounts of compensations.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">When banks’ clients lack the capacity and willingness to understand the contexts in which they operate, the irreversible disruption of the fabric of entire communities is inevitable</p><p dir="ltr">Multilateral development banks have so far delayed their approval date for loans for the Nenskra project in light of the numerous environmental and social concerns. With Georgia’s hydropower sector marked by controversies and major errors in the past, international investment ought to tread more carefully with approving any more projects.</p><p dir="ltr">When banks’ clients lack the capacity and willingness to understand the contexts in which they operate, the irreversible disruption of the fabric of entire communities is inevitable. &nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/kate-horner-igor-vejnovic/river-defenders-gather-forces-in-georgia">River defenders gather forces in Georgia</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tatuli-chubabria/how-can-we-politicise-labour-rights-in-georgia">How can we politicise labour rights in Georgia?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/mari-nikuradze/left-in-dark-inside-georgia-s-chiatura-mines">Left in the dark: inside Georgia’s Chiatura mines</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ana-maria-seman/nuclear-transboundary-consultations-are-test-for-public-participation-and-">Nuclear transboundary consultations are a test for public participation and transparency across Europe</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/peter-liakhov/armenia-before-goldrush">Armenia: before the goldrush</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/vladlena-martsynkevych/hatching-discontent-in-ukraine">Hatching discontent in Ukraine</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Ana-Maria Seman Green Eurasia Georgia Caucasus Wed, 20 Sep 2017 20:56:27 +0000 Ana-Maria Seman 113484 at https://www.opendemocracy.net A new Chernobyl at your doorstep? https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/lidia-kurasinska/new-chernobyl-at-your-doorstep <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Three decades after the Chernobyl nuclear accident in Ukraine, Belarus is building its first nuclear power station. Concerns about the project’s safety aren’t deterring the authorities.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Belarus_NPP.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Belarus_NPP.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Bad timing: Belarus’s first nuclear power plant at Astravets is being built not long after the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster. Photo: Belta.by. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>Speaking near the site of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster on the 31st anniversary of the accident this April, Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenka <a href="http://www.dw.com/en/ukraine-belarus-leaders-mark-chernobyl-anniversary/a-38604092" target="_blank">remarked</a> that “both Belarusians and Ukrainians know that the Chernobyl catastrophe knows no borders”, in reference to the fact that 70% of the radioactive dust created in the 1986 chemical explosion descended on Belarus. Following the same logic, the authorities of neighbouring Lithuania are trying to raise the alarm about Belarus’s construction of its first nuclear power plant, which they believe to be the next nuclear disaster in waiting.</p><p>One of the major complaints concerns the choice of location. Set near the small town of Astravets, less than 50km from Vilnius, the site also falls within an earthquake-prone area. Lithuanian authorities <a href="https://www.urm.lt/default/en/news/lithuanias-foreign-minister-chernobyl-catastrophe-reminds-us-of-importance-of-nuclear-safety-standards" target="_blank">allege</a> that Belarus did not conduct a cross-border environmental impact assessment, in breach of the <a href="http://www.unece.org/env/eia/welcome.html" target="_blank">Espoo Convention</a>, and that in an event of a large-scale accident at the nuclear plant, the Lithuanian capital, as well as a third of the country’s population, could face catastrophic consequences.&nbsp;</p><h2>Chain reactions&nbsp;</h2><p>Fears of a nuclear accident at Astravets are not baseless — they have been fuelled by a string of technical mishaps at the construction site, and a Soviet-like culture of secrecy.&nbsp;</p><p>According to Mikhail Mikhadyuk, the Deputy Energy Minister of Belarus, there have been 10 incidents, including three fatalities, since construction began in 2013. Mikhadyuk claimed it was a “<a href="http://belarusfeed.com/belarus-and-lithuania-talk-belnpp-construction-10-incidents-3-deaths-replacement-of-reactor-vessel/" target="_blank">reasonable figure</a>” given the scale of the project. However, the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry alleged that there were <a href="https://www.urm.lt/default/en/news/lithuanias-foreign-minister-discusses-issues-related-to-astravets-npp-with-iaea-director-general-" target="_blank">six incidents in 2016 alone</a>. One incident on 10 July 2016, when a <a href="https://charter97.org/en/news/2016/7/27/215441/" target="_blank">330-tonne reactor casing fell from a height of between two and four metres</a>, drew particular condemnation. The accident was only acknowledged by the Belarusian authorities after it was reported in the local press two weeks later. Initially, the Russian state nuclear agency Rosatom, the main contractor for the project, denied the shell had been damaged, and agreed to replace it only following a media uproar. The handling of the incident drew comparisons with the Chernobyl catastrophe, where first reports of the disaster didn’t emerge until 36 hours after the explosion, and led to concerns about transparency and safety of the project.&nbsp;</p><p>Linas Linkevicius, Lithuania’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, <a href="https://urm.lt/default/en/news/minister-linkevicius-it-is-very-difficult-for-rosatom-to-earn-confidence-by-hiding-the-incidents-at-the-astravets-nuclear-power-plant-" target="_blank">noted at the time</a> that “the fact that we find out about the incidents from their website or press (…) indicates a tendency to either hide certain events or try to understate them once they become apparent. For this reason, it becomes very difficult to earn confidence.” As part of Lithuania’s accession agreement with the EU, it agreed to start shutting down its own nuclear power plant at Ignalina from 2004.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">This culture of secrecy, in which the project has been shrouded since its inception, cannot continue unchallenged&nbsp;</p><p>According to Andrey Ozharovsky, a Russian nuclear engineer and member of the Belarus Anti-Nuclear Campaign, Minsk has been <a href="http://greenbelarus.info/articles/17-03-2017/zayavlenie-ekologicheskoy-obshchestvennosti-po-povodu-zhestokogo-zaderzhaniya-i" target="_blank">trying to silence activists and members of the public opposed to the construction of the plant</a>. In an interview with openDemocracy, he claimed that the Belarusian government has tried to orchestrate public hearings on the project by preventing activists from joining in, and refusing to give the floor to those who managed to get in. Ozharovsky, who has been arrested twice in relation to his activism and <a href="http://spring96.org/en/news/55029" target="_blank">banned from entering Belarus for 10 years</a>, noted that the activists who attempted to raise awareness of the dangers of the project have faced harassment and intimidation from the state.&nbsp;</p><p>Trust in the safety of the project has been undermined further following the publication of an <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v0UL5WF3b2s" target="_blank">investigative TV programme</a> about Rosatom by Belsat, an independent Belarusian news channel headquartered in neighbouring Poland. Belsat revealed that, in 2012, the Russian nuclear corporation took over Atommash Volgodonsk, a Soviet-era nuclear equipment giant, after it went bankrupt and was privatised. The move was intended to allow Rosatom to start producing its own equipment. The nuclear reactor for the Astravets plant (also referred to as BelNPP) was the first the revived Atommash produced in 30 years.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Contamination_Zone_31.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Contamination_Zone_31.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A warning sign on a road leading to the Chernobyl fallout contamination zone, in the vicinity of the Belarus-Ukraine border, 2006. Photo CC-by-2.0: Ilya Kuzniatsou / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>An article on the company’s own website <a href="http://www.aemtech.ru/en/mediacenter/news-aemtech/reactor-vessel-for-the-first-byelorussian-npp-was-delivered-to-the-site.html" target="_blank">appears to confirm</a> Belsat’s findings. It says that “during the post-Soviet period the enterprise almost lost its competences in manufacturing equipment for nuclear industry. Atommash was incorporated in the machine-building division of the State Corporation ‘Rosatom’ in 2012. The recovery program of the production facilities for manufacturing of nuclear power plants equipment then has been launched at the plant.”&nbsp;</p><p>On its website, Rosatom <a href="http://www.rosatom.ru/en/rosatom-group/engineering-and-construction/modern-reactors-of-russian-design/index.php?sphrase_id=126994" target="_blank">claims that VVER-1200</a>, the reactor built for Astravets, “is a flagship nuclear reactor and a core product of Rosatom's integrated offering”. The company states that “many modifications have been made to reactor internals (core barrel, core baffle, protective tube unit and sensors) to prevent accidents and extend the service life to 60 years” and that “VVER-1200 combines reliability of time-proven engineering solutions with a set of active and passive safety systems compliant with post-Fukushima requirements.” The reactor blocks will also be contained by an outer containment shell made of concrete and steel.&nbsp;</p><p>However, Ozharovsky stressed that he believes that new, untested reactors cannot be branded safe, despite manufacturers’ assurances, and pointed to an <a href="http://bellona.org/news/nuclear-issues/2017-01-russia-fixes-a-reactor-it-initially-refused-to-say-was-broken" target="_blank">unexpected technical fault</a> that shut down a brand new VVER-1200 at the Novovoronezh Nuclear Power Plant in Russia. Ozharovsky also noted that both <a href="http://www.atomstroyexport.ru/about/projects/current/tyanvan_3_4/" target="_blank">China</a> and <a href="http://www.atomstroyexport.ru/about/projects/current/kkudankulam/" target="_blank">India</a> refused to buy the VVER1200, the type destined for Astravets, for their own nuclear power plants, instead choosing units that had been previously tested.&nbsp;</p><h2>Good-neighbourliness&nbsp;</h2><p>To sweeten the deal, Minsk was offered a <a href="http://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/country-profiles/countries-a-f/belarus.aspx" target="_blank">Russian credit line of up to $10 billion</a> to finance the construction. Under the terms of the agreement, the loan from Moscow will provide 90% of the funding necessary to complete the construction, with Belarus having to foot only 10% of the bill. Russia will also be the sole supplier of fuel once the plant becomes operational. Although Belarusian authorities claim that the sale of energy from BelNPP will give the impoverished country a financial boost, there are fears that the project is being used by Russia to expand its influence in eastern Europe.</p><p>The Lithuanian authorities maintain that the Astravets plant is “<a href="https://www.urm.lt/default/en/news/statement-by-the-ministry-of-foreign-affairs-on-astravets-nuclear-power-plant-under-construction-in-belarus-" target="_blank">a geopolitical project devoid of any economic logic</a>”, given that Lithuania and Poland, both of which are wary of growing Russian leverage, have ruled out purchasing energy from the BelNPP in a bid to further synchronise their energy systems with Europe. The Latvian government, however, recently stated that the country will not introduce legislation prohibiting the purchase of electricity from Astravets. With other neighbouring countries still weighing their options, a collective refusal to purchase energy would undermine the project’s profitability given that one of the two units of the plant is intended to produce for export.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Belarus_AES_Mockuo.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Belarus_AES_Mockuo.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="295" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A mockup of the planned Astravets nuclear facility in western Belarus. Photo courtesy of Interfax / Fair Use. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>According to <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/author/vladimir-slivyak" target="_blank">Vladimir Slivyak</a>, co-chairman of Ecodefense, a Russian environmental organisation, the main incentive behind the project might not have been a financial one. Speaking to openDemocracy, he said he believes that “the original idea behind the Astravets plant was to replace Russian gas consumed in Belarus by nuclear energy. As Russia wanted to sell more to the west, Moscow decided to build a two-reactor plant in Belarus: one would replace gas supplies from Russia, and the other would produce for export. But now, with Gazprom selling less abroad and with Belarus’s neighbours threatening boycott, the profitability of this enterprise is questionable.”&nbsp;</p><p>Slivyak added that “as with other Russian nuclear power deals, this one is widely believed by campaigners to be a geopolitical project aimed at making Baltic states dependent on the Russian supply. Once the Baltics resist, the whole project becomes useless.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center">“Once the Baltics resist, the whole project becomes useless”&nbsp;</p><p>As part of its campaign to draw international attention to the violations of standards in the construction of BelNPP, Lithuania <a href="https://wetransfer.com/downloads/b49dfc8c8d299bc214aa130ddbf0b11520170807194026/e1b217" target="_blank">drafted a resolution</a> to be adopted during the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly session, held on 5-9 July 2017 in Minsk. The draft urged the international community to demand that “transparent and independent transboundary environmental impact assessment is made and that risk and safety assessments (so called stress-tests) are carried out or the construction of the nuclear power plant should be suspended”. The resolution also called for an end to human rights violations and a moratorium on the use of the death penalty in Belarus.&nbsp;</p><p>Despite collecting the required number of signatures, the draft resolution was removed from the agenda at the initiative of Swedish Socialist MP Kent Harstedt. However, the <a href="https://cohen.house.gov/sites/cohen.house.gov/files/documents/Swedish%20Resolution.pdf" target="_blank">Resolution on the Situation in Eastern Europe</a>, criticising the human rights records of the governments of Belarus, Russia and Azerbaijan, authored by another Swedish MP, Christian Holm Barenfeld, was adopted, fuelling <a href="https://belarusinfocus.info/international-relations/minsk-deflected-harsh-criticism-over-npp-and-agreed-discuss-human-rights" target="_blank">speculation</a> that Lithuania’s criticism of the BelNPP was a more sensitive issue for Minsk than the condemnation of its human rights violations, which could be deflected more easily.&nbsp;</p><p>According to Virginijus Sinkevičius, head of the Lithuanian delegation to the OSCE PA session, these assumptions are unwarranted. Sinkevičius told openDemocracy that he was surprised by the fact that Lithuania’s draft resolution was rejected, but he stressed that this meant the country needed to step up its efforts to galvanise the international community into action: “The EU must stick together on this question because the border the Astravets nuclear power plant is built on is not only a Lithuanian border — it is also an EU border.”</p><p><a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/author/jan-haverkamp" target="_blank">Jan Haverkamp</a>, an expert on nuclear energy, believes Belarus’s failure to consult its neighbour before choosing the location for the plant was a grave omission — and one that will override Belarus’s efforts to show that it takes safety seriously. In an interview, Haverkamp stressed to me that Russia wants to been seen as able to build nuclear power stations outside of its borders, and the construction of the Astravets plant is being closely watched by Finland and Hungary, as both countries have signed agreements with Rosatom for the construction of their own reactors.&nbsp;</p><h2>Dicing with déjà vu&nbsp;</h2><p>The fate of BelNPP draws parallels with the Kaliningrad Nuclear Power Plant, located in the Russian province just six kilometres from the Lithuanian border and 60km from Poland. Plans to complete the construction of the plant, which began in 2010, were <a href="https://www.osw.waw.pl/en/publikacje/analyses/2013-06-12/russia-freezes-construction-nuclear-power-plant-kaliningrad" target="_blank">quietly shelved three years later</a>, after it emerged that both Germany and Poland, two of the biggest potential markets, ruled out purchasing energy from the unit. At the time, Polish media branded the project a Russian attempt at gaining energy and geopolitical dominance.</p><p>Concerns about growing Russian influence and a lack of accountability were raised further after Belarusian authorities <a href="http://belsat.eu/en/news/belarus-bars-meps-from-visiting-astravets-npp-construction-site/" target="_blank">refused to grant permission</a> for a European Parliament delegation to visit the BelNPP construction site in April. Rebecca Harms, a German politician and member of the European Parliament, wrote on her website that the Belarusian ambassador in Belgium declined the request for administrative reasons, and <a href="http://rebecca-harms.de/post/refusal-of-meetings-in-minsk-regarding-nuclear-safety-43913" target="_blank">noted</a>: “We are disappointed that the visit has been postponed. We are ready to travel to Minsk and Astravets at any time if authorities are willing to meet us and to facilitate the visit on site.”&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/PA-31086398.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/PA-31086398.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenka gives a speech on the anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 2017. (c) NurPhoto/SIPA USA/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>In a sign of growing concern over the safety of the project, Frans Timmermans, the Deputy Head of the European Commission, <a href="https://charter97.org/en/news/2017/7/3/255104/" target="_blank">urged Belarus to conduct a stress test at the Astravets site</a> under the supervision of international experts. In June, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe <a href="http://assembly.coe.int/nw/xml/XRef/Xref-XML2HTML-en.asp?fileid=23935&amp;lang=en" target="_blank">adopted a resolution</a> calling to suspend the construction of the plant due to “numerous violations of international nuclear safety standards.”&nbsp;</p><p>Despite the fact that BelNPP is <a href="https://www.urm.lt/default/en/news/statement-by-the-ministry-of-foreign-affairs-on-astravets-nuclear-power-plant-under-construction-in-belarus-" target="_blank">in breach of four articles of the Espoo Convention</a> and the date of the planned launch of the first unit is set for November 2018, the recent Meeting of the Parties to the convention, which took place in Minsk, concluded without any decision regarding the project. Due to a <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/dana-marekova/nuclear-safety-in-europe-decision-making-behind-closed-doors" target="_blank">lack of consensus</a> over this and other issues, it was decided that an extraordinary meeting would be called next year. Ironically, the unproductive summit fell on the 20th anniversary of the entry into force of the convention.&nbsp;</p><p><span class="mag-quote-center">Belarus’s own experience has shown that a nuclear accident can have far-reaching consequences with a cross-border impact</span></p><p>In the meantime, the EU must continue to take decisive action to address the grave nuclear safety breaches on its eastern flank, as well as the <a href="http://greenbelarus.info/articles/17-03-2017/zayavlenie-ekologicheskoy-obshchestvennosti-po-povodu-zhestokogo-zaderzhaniya-i" target="_blank">allegations of harassment and intimidation against activists and members of the public critical of BelNPP</a>. Given that the first unit is scheduled to become operational in 2019, and the second one a year later, the response must come promptly. The culture of secrecy, which the project has been shrouded in since its inception, cannot continue unchallenged, or else Europe might face another nuclear catastrophe. Belarus’s own experience has shown that a nuclear accident can have far-reaching consequences with a cross-border impact, and the safety risk posed by the BelNPP must be seen as a continental threat — not just a local dispute on the European periphery.</p><p>With the Chernobyl catastrophe still within living memory, Europe must not lose one more generation to a nuclear tragedy.&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/vladimir-slivyak/rosatom-climate-s-new-best-friend">Rosatom: climate’s new best friend</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia/russia-s-eco-activists-not-out-of-woods-yet">Russia’s eco-activists: not out of the woods yet</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/daniel-voskoboynik/russia-tinderbox-in-struggle-for-safe-climate">Russia: the tinderbox in the struggle for a safe climate</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tatyana-ivanova/belarus-s-chernobyl-taboo">Belarus’s Chernobyl taboo</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia-vladimir-slivyak-nailya-ibragimova/atomic-energy-and-polit">Atomic energy and political power in Russia</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/dana-marekova/nuclear-safety-in-europe-decision-making-behind-closed-doors">Nuclear safety in Europe: decision-making behind closed doors?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/vladimir-slivyak/sergey-kirienko-from-nuclear-to-political-power">Sergey Kirienko, from nuclear to political power</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Lidia Kurasinska Green Eurasia Belarus Thu, 10 Aug 2017 05:09:06 +0000 Lidia Kurasinska 112758 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Nuclear safety in Europe: decision-making behind closed doors? https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/dana-marekova/nuclear-safety-in-europe-decision-making-behind-closed-doors <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>European citizens don’t want to be left out of decision-making over nuclear power. But a recent meeting of the Espoo Convention reveals how concerns over reactor life-time extensions are being sidelined.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Ostrovets-NPP-(Belarus-AEC).jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="300" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>An artists impression of Ostrovets Nuclear Power Plant. Source: Belarus AEC.</span></span></span>After Fukushima, you might think that nuclear power is a thing of the past. Or that our focus on climate is the only issue of public concern when it comes to the energy sector. &nbsp;Yet the recent <a href="https://www.unece.org/index.php?id=45098#/">Meeting of the Parties</a> to the Espoo Convention, which deals with environmental impact assessments across borders, was hi-jacked by ongoing disputes over reactor construction and lifetime extension. In Minsk, 200 participants representing the 45 states who are members to this UN Convention held heated discussions over problematic cases, such as Hinkley Point C (UK), Ostravets (Belarus) and a number of old Ukrainian reactors <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/iryna-holovko-dana-marekova/new-life-for-ukraine-s-aging-nuclear-power-plants">going through their lifetime extensions</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">This dispute has arisen largely because the rules on who has a say when decisions regarding nuclear operations are made are unclear. Which countries and their citizens should be notified and involved in decision-making on a new nuclear installation such as Hinkley Point C? And how about extending the lifetime of old reactors, like the Yuzhnoukrainsk power plant in south Ukraine? These are questions to be addressed in the framework of the <a href="https://www.unece.org/env/eia/eia.html">Espoo Convention</a>.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">The recent Meeting of the Parties to the Espoo Convention was an unfortunate display of the influence that politics and the nuclear lobby have over decisions with severe impacts on health and environment&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">But are we really solving the dilemma of whether nuclear operations can have a significant transboundary impact, which should, according to the Espoo Convention, trigger communication across borders with potentially affected parties? Or are we witnessing a political game, fueled by self-centered interests of nuclear positive countries and the nuclear business, which is trying to remodel itself by “climate-neutral marketing” of its product?</p><p dir="ltr">The recent Meeting of the Parties to the Espoo Convention was an unfortunate display of the influence that politics and the nuclear lobby have over decisions with severe impacts on health and environment. One of the most important tasks of the Meeting of the Convention parties, which convenes every three years, is to endorse draft decisions on non-compliance. These are prepared carefully and over the course of few years by the Convention’s Implementation Committee. Such decisions, despite being tailored to each specific case of challenged non-compliance, should have general implications across similar cases, reflecting the principal of an equal treatment. Endorsed decisions should bring needed clarity — in this case clarity concerning rules for nuclear decision-making.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Unfortunately, the Minsk meeting has torn the draft decisions apart with last minute revisions, which were agreed behind the closed doors of “coordination meetings” and “ad hoc working groups”. Civil society members, whom this (and some other) UN environmental convention assigns a special role, were closed out from all key deliberations. At some point, shortly before midnight on the penultimate day of the Meeting, most participants lost track of a number of parallel meetings and groups.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">At the end of this political show there were too many revisions proposed to be seriously considered. All decisions were postponed for an extraordinary meeting to take place in the course of the next year — just when the clarity on how to proceed with all the nuclear decision-making concerning old and new nuclear installations is much needed. Confusion continues, which lowers efficiency of the Convention on nuclear issues. The main purpose of the Convention — to be an instrument for a more inclusive decision-making leading to a better protection of environment — was abandoned.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">To end on a hopeful note, there are three almost positive developments resulting from the Meeting. First, the mere acknowledgement that there is a lack of clear rules for nuclear decision-making. In Minsk, this became obvious and the issue finally “came out of the closet”. Second, delegations as well as other participants seemed to have agreed in principle that when a state is making a decision on a nuclear project, they should send notification to potentially affected countries, and that the fact that a severe accident can cause widespread impacts has to be taken into account.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">European citizens don’t want to be left out of decision-making. It is important to renew our trust in political governance to feel that our interests are duly accounted for and represented</p><p dir="ltr">Thirdly, on the topic of extended operations of old nuclear units past their officially designed lifetime, the Meeting created a working group to clarify the need for transboundary environmental assessments. This particular issue generated significant interest among different mostly EU countries. By expressing their interest to be members of this working-group, states have acknowledged the relevance of this issue. This is hardly surprising: Europe is heading into a decade when 93 nuclear reactors will be (or not) up for their lifetime extension. And one does not need to be a nuclear scientist to understand increased risks associated with any aging technology, let alone nuclear.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Nuclear safety is a matter of high concern and relevance to all of us. We have a right to be asking questions related to nuclear operation, to receive good quality answers and demand highest possible safety measures. This is all possible in the frame of the Espoo Convention on the environmental impact assessment in transboundary context. What we need now is to make it work. The international working group created in Minsk should make it crystal clear that lifetime extensions of nuclear reactors require broad engagement and public participation across borders. Resistance of some governments and the European Commission to this logical solution to nuclear decision-making is dangerously illogical. If “everything is ok and safe” as we are being assured, then why is wider public participation on decisions with immense potential impact generating so much opposition?&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">European citizens don’t want to be left out of decision-making. It is important to renew our trust in political governance to feel that our interests are duly accounted for and represented — on nuclear issues, democracy from behind the closed doors can have fatal consequences.</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/jan-haverkamp-iryna-holovko/towards-post-nuclear-ukraine">Towards a post-nuclear Ukraine</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/iryna-holovko-dana-marekova/new-life-for-ukraine-s-aging-nuclear-power-plants">New life for Ukraine’s aging nuclear power plants</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ana-maria-seman/nuclear-transboundary-consultations-are-test-for-public-participation-and-">Nuclear transboundary consultations are a test for public participation and transparency across Europe</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/democraciaabierta/elisabeth-cardis/chernobyl-accident-in-ukraine-30-years-after">The Chernobyl accident in Ukraine, 30 years after</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia Dana Marekova Green Eurasia Mon, 03 Jul 2017 12:11:36 +0000 Dana Marekova 112049 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Rosatom: climate’s new best friend https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/vladimir-slivyak/rosatom-climate-s-new-best-friend <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u555493/16997887_792496857571205_2274024806176290572_n.jpg" alt="16997887_792496857571205_2274024806176290572_n.jpg" width="80" /></p><p dir="ltr">As Russia’s economic crisis continues to hit budgets, the country’s state nuclear corporation is going green to raise funds on the international level.&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/32ec630f.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Alexei Likhachev, head of Rosatom, at the St Petersburg Economic Forum 2017. Source: <a href=https://www.forumspb.com/en/2017>ForumSPB</a>. </span></span></span>The recent <a href="https://www.forumspb.com/">St Petersburg International Economic Forum</a> was widely covered by the Russian media, partly because of the eye-catching debates in which president Vladimir Putin himself took part. In the general flood of news from the forum, the presentation given by Alexei Likhachev, the <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/vladimir-slivyak/sergey-kirienko-from-nuclear-to-political-power">recently appointed head of Russia’s state nuclear corporation</a>, has made few waves.</p><p dir="ltr">But Likhachev’s <a href="https://www.gazeta.ru/business/news/2017/06/10/n_10160975.shtml">speech</a> is significant in that it reflects a principally new approach to promoting Russian nuclear power plants on the international scene. Russia’s nukes will now be advertised as essential to mitigating climate change.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Rosatom is one of the <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/vladimir-slivyak/sergey-kirienko-from-nuclear-to-political-power">most important instruments for promoting Russia’s geopolitical interests in other countries</a>. The issue with nuclear power is that when a client country buys a plant, it becomes dependent on fuel supplies, servicing agreements and specialists from the providing country. In almost every case, Russia stimulates interest in these technologies by providing major loans towards plant construction costs. And the list of states where Rosatom is planning to build reactors (among them Belarus, Hungary and Iran) is generally friendly to the Russian regime.&nbsp;</p><h2>Friends in need</h2><p dir="ltr">This is the first time that Rosatom has made climate change central to its advertising strategy — unlike its western counterparts, who got hooked on the idea of nuclear power as “climate’s best friend” almost two decades ago. There was a serious message (albeit chiefly an economic one) behind those slogans: at that point, the nuclear energy industry in the west had been in a state of stagnation for many years. Power station construction had ground to a halt almost everywhere, partly due to high costs and partly due to the unresolved issue of nuclear waste.</p><p dir="ltr">Increasing concerns about climate change gave the nuclear industry a lifebelt: nuclear reactors, after all, emit hardly any greenhouse gases. However, it was very quickly discovered that this is only half the truth. Berlin’s Öko-Institute <a href="http://www.rachel.org/lib/nuke_ghg_emissions.060224.pdf">calculated</a> that if you look at the complete fuel cycle (from extracting uranium to storing and reprocessing radioactive waste), the emission levels of nuclear power plants were close to those of modern gas technology. The main reason for this is the enormously energy intensive process used to enrich uranium. Attempts to solve the economic problems of the nuclear industry at the expense of climate change have stimulated new research, which has led to an interesting conclusion — the use of nuclear power is an <a href="https://wiseinternational.org/sites/default/files/NM806-climate-nuclear.pdf">incredibly inefficient way of lowering greenhouse gas emissions</a> at a global level.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Russia’s public purse has been seriously hit by its economic crisis, and perhaps this is the reason behind Rosatom’s present reincarnation as a “climate-friendly” body</p><p dir="ltr">The main limitation of nuclear power is the fact that it is used almost exclusively to generate electricity, which accounts for <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar5/syr/AR5_SYR_FINAL_SPM.pdf">less than 25% of global human-made greenhouse gases</a>. Doubling the production of nuclear energy would reduce the emission of these gases by a mere six percent, and then only if they were replacing coal fired power stations. And there would be no benefit at all if it replaced a <a href="https://wiseinternational.org/sites/default/files/NM806-climate-nuclear.pdf">combination of renewable energy and energy conservation</a>. In that situation, to produce the same six percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions would require around 500 new reactors on top of the existing ones, as well as more new reactors to replace those being decommissioned: according to the International Atomic Energy Agency nearly 200 existing reactors <a href="https://www.iea.org/publications/freepublications/publication/WEO2014.pdf">will be out of service by 2040</a>.</p><p>A large modern nuclear reactor costs between five and 15 billion dollars to build, depending on type and manufacturer. This is obviously an enormous amount of money, which doesn’t solve the problem at hand. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate change (IPCC) <a href="http://www.wri.org/blog/2013/09/5-major-takeaways-ipcc-report-global-climate-change ">believes</a> that in order to avert the most catastrophic consequences of climate change, emissions need to be cut by at least a half by mid-century. So the question is not about new reactors at some stage in the future, but about a strict time limit on their construction. Nuclear power plants take longer to build than any other power stations (about seven to ten years on average) and some reactors, such as the<a href="http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/NN-Russias-BN-800-unit-enters-commercial-operation-01111602.html">&nbsp;Russian BN-800</a>, the&nbsp;most powerful fast-breeder reactor in the world,&nbsp;have taken around 30 years to come online.</p><p>The western nuclear industry’s most serious attempt to raise international finance on the back of the climate change issue was made at the UN-sponsored Hague Climate Change Conference in 2000. It was not a success. Since then, nuclear experts have concentrated their efforts on lobbying national governments — also, as we can see, without success: not a single country has decided to adopt nuclear power as the central element of their anti-climate change policy.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Usina_Nuclear_em_Novovoronezh,_Rússia_02.jpg" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Novovoronezh Reactor No 3, Russia. CCA 3.0 Flávia Villela/Agência Brasi. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>In 2017, Rosatom decided to seize the nuclear-climate flag from the weakening hands of their western colleagues. It was evidently not just a question of Russian nuclear specialists rushing to deal with the challenges of the day, nor was it an attempt to start a trend. They made a fundamental change in their international self-promotion strategy simply because their old approach to selling reactors wasn’t working. Rosatom never tires of pointing out that its portfolio contains dozens of contracts for new power stations all over the world and is worth a total of 100 billion dollars.</p><p>But for some reason, reactors are actually only being built in three or four countries, and numerous agreements signed years ago remain only on paper. In the last six months alone, Vietnam <a href="http://theconversation.com/vietnam-cancels-nuclear-reactor-deal-a-lesson-for-south-africa-69230">pulled out of a contract</a> and a court in South Africa <a href="https://www.ft.com/content/ce7d0fdc-2a7d-11e7-bc4b-5528796fe35c">ruled</a> that a contract with Russia for the development of nuclear power infringed its constitution. And in Russia itself, many more reactors have been planned than built. The irresistible spread of Russian nuclear power plants throughout the world seems to have been put on hold, and something needs to change. So why not change your image? Anyone who refuses to purchase a Rosatom facility will become an enemy of the climate like Donald Trump.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">The state corporation doesn’t need to apply for finance itself — the developing countries buying from it, short of cash and technology to mitigate the consequences of climate change, will do that</p><p>Despite its climate change “coming out”, Rosatom is unlikely to be able to sell any more reactors. It will take some time even to fulfil those contracts that are already signed and sealed. And it’s highly unlikely that <a href="http://uk.reuters.com/article/russia-rosatom-turkey-idUKL8N1JG1L2">all the orders in its portfolio will ever be completed</a>. If there is anything behind Rosatom’s new advertising campaign, it is the hope that Russia will be able to access international finance for the fight against climate change. The UN and<a href="http://unfccc.int/paris_agreement/items/9485.php"> 2016 Paris Agreement</a> are putting together special funds for precisely this purpose.</p><p> In other words, Rosatom will try to do what its western counterparts did back in 2000. The state corporation doesn’t need to apply for finance itself — the developing countries buying from it, short of cash and technology to mitigate the consequences of climate change, will do that. And perhaps Rosatom won’t even need to finance the construction of nuclear power plants by borrowing from the Russian state budget, as it mostly did until now — although it will have to invest some money.</p><p>Russia’s public purse has been seriously hit by its economic crisis, and perhaps this is the reason behind Rosatom’s present reincarnation as a “climate-friendly” body. And the fact that nuclear energy is too expensive and inefficient for its stated goals is neither here nor there, it’s just a question of survival.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/vladimir-slivyak/sergey-kirienko-from-nuclear-to-political-power">Sergey Kirienko, from nuclear to political power</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia/russia-s-eco-activists-not-out-of-woods-yet">Russia’s eco-activists: not out of the woods yet</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia-vladimir-slivyak-nailya-ibragimova/atomic-energy-and-polit">Atomic energy and political power in Russia</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/iryna-holovko-dana-marekova/new-life-for-ukraine-s-aging-nuclear-power-plants">New life for Ukraine’s aging nuclear power plants</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/daniel-voskoboynik/russia-tinderbox-in-struggle-for-safe-climate">Russia: the tinderbox in the struggle for a safe climate</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Vladimir Slivyak Green Eurasia Wed, 21 Jun 2017 09:04:19 +0000 Vladimir Slivyak 111799 at https://www.opendemocracy.net My first death threat: the life and times of a Russian ecological activist https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/claudia-ciobanu/my-very-first-death-threat-life-and-times-of-russian-ecological-activist <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Last month, Yaroslav Nikitenko received his first death threat. The veteran campaigner speaks on environmental activism in Russia today.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Nikitenko_Graffiti.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Nikitenko_Graffiti.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="403" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>“Shut the hell up, or...” reads this graffiti outside the activist’s apartment. “Yaroslav Nikitenko lived here”, reads the gravestone. Photo courtesy of Yaroslav Nikitenko.</span></span></span>On 12 April, Yaroslav Nikitenko woke up to a frightening sight by the entrance of his apartment: graffiti reading “Shut the hell up or…”, the phrase accompanied by a drawing of a gravestone bearing Nikitenko's name. It was encircled by black crosses.</p><p>Nikitenko, a 29-year old physicist working at the Institute for Nuclear Research at the Russian Academy of Sciences, had spent the last months campaigning against the building of a luxury residential complex at 21 Zhivopisnaya street. It’s a great location, by the Moskvoretsky pine forest, on the banks of the Moscow river. Of course, such a project attracts powerful people. And Nikitenko is sure that his campaign against this project is the reason behind this death threat.&nbsp;</p><p>Nikitenko is a seasoned activist, having fought alongside the renowned ecological protester Evgenia Chirikova to oppose a <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/yevgenia-chirikova/battle-for-khimki-forest" target="_blank">planned Moscow-St Petersburg highway through the Khimki forest</a> in northwest Moscow. Although the highway was built, and Chirikova left the country after harassment, the hard-fought campaign against it encouraged further civic activism in Russia. In 2012, Nikitenko was detained for ten days after taking part in an opposition protest.&nbsp;</p><p>These days, Nikitenko’s involved with the ongoing <a href="http://www.politico.eu/article/thousands-in-moscow-protest-plan-to-demolish-soviet-era-apartments/" target="_blank">struggle against the demolition of Moscow’s Soviet-era housing stock</a>. But the graffiti was a watershed moment: this was Nikitenko’s first death threat. He spoke to <em>openDemocracy</em> about the local campaign against the residential complex at 21 Zhivopisnaya street, and the personal cost of publicly-minded activism.</p><p><strong>Yaroslav, this must have been a terrifying experience. How would you describe your feelings right now?&nbsp;</strong></p><p>I'd never received a threat like this in my life, so this was very strange and unexpected. Whenever I get involved in some public campaign, I am always aware that there are risks, that it’s dangerous. I don't feel safe because I know that many activists just get beaten up on the street while they walk home after protesting. And now, I feel even less secure.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">The police began an investigation, but said that the graffiti with the death threat was “not life-threatening”</p><p>But I just want to live my normal life, not to hide anywhere. As soon as I saw the graffiti, I called the police and filed a complaint. They documented the evidence and began an investigation. Unfortunately, they also refused to open a case against those who did it, saying that the graffiti was “innocent” and “not life-threatening”.</p><p>I believe that as the people who threatened me saw the public response to their act (the death threat was covered extensively by Russian media), they won’t dare to do more. It's not in the interest of powerful people that society at large learns too much about their methods of intimidation.</p><p><strong>Tell us more about what started it all: the campaign you’re involved with to stop the residential complex at 21 Zhivopisnaya street.</strong></p><p>The residential complex is being built in the Moskvoretsky Park, a natural pine forest on the banks of the Moscow river. It’s a beautiful place (“Zhivopisnaya ulitsa” literally means “picturesque street”) which many people use for recreation – they go there to walk with their children, for example.</p><p>There is a plot of land where a horse-riding school used to be, which was leased out some years ago to a private company called Capital Group. In 2000 (and once more a few years later), the company tried to get permission to construct a residential building there. The municipality refused, as the general plan of Moscow doesn't allow for high-rise buildings in Moskvoretsky Park, which is a specially protected natural area. The specific plot of land at 21 Zhivopisnaya street is also recreational and sports zone, so it’s subject to further restrictions.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Nikitenko_Speech_3.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Nikitenko_Speech_3.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="257" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>“Ecology concerns us all. It’s the right of free citizens to drink clean water and breathe fresh air.” Yaroslav Nikitenko at a rally in 2015. Image still via YouTube / Zuban. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>But last year, the plot was taken over by another company, OOO Stroitel (a subsidiary of a company belonging to Viktor Vekselberg, one of Russia's richest oligarchs). Moscow mayor Sergey Sobyanin very quickly gave all the permissions necessary to construct the building.</p><p>As I was involved in the local campaign to halt construction, we held several events, including bringing a petition to the city administration of some 14,000 signatures, asking for construction to be prohibited and to preserve the natural park.&nbsp;</p><p>To be precise, the building isn’t inside the protected forest, but it is surrounded by it on three sides. As a result, communication routes to the building may require felling pines trees or developing the riverbank. There’s also the threat of increased anthropogenic load on the park. As they are legally prohibited from building on it, the company insists that they’ll leave the embankment alone. But experience says otherwise; we've already seen the law violated in the case of another building just ten minutes away.</p><p><strong>Yet the company does have the legal permission to build here, in at least some areas. Can you do anything from a legal point of view?&nbsp;</strong></p><p>That’s right, they have been granted permission to construct the building, but even that’s illegal in itself. We have not even attempted to challenge the construction permit in court, because courts, especially in Moscow, are extremely corrupt. Many groups who try to defend their rights via this route end up losing, and then everybody tells them “they're wrong” because some [corrupt] court ruled against them.&nbsp;</p><p>The head of the company constructing this building (Elitkompleks, of which OOO Stroitel is a subsidiary) is a man who used to work in the Moscow city administration and then set up his own construction business. With that in mind, it's pretty possible he still has connections inside the municipal authorities.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">We have neither fairly functioning courts nor laws which are consistently applied, but we do have protests. And the authorities seem afraid of them</p><p>What’s undeniable is that the company doesn't have permission to build auxiliary infrastructure in the protected nature park, which they are already doing. The Moscow environmental prosecutor actually sued the company before a Moscow court because of this, demanding that the part of access road that was built inside nature park be removed. We are still waiting for a final ruling.&nbsp;</p><p>That this prosecutor took action against the residential complex at all is quite extraordinary. But even they had a hard time doing it - despite being government officials, they had to appeal twice to get the case to progress.&nbsp;</p><p><strong>So, the building is already under construction, the courts are not to be trusted and powerful interests seem determined to make this project a success. Why do you keep fighting?</strong></p><p>There is no reason to stop fighting! We have even seen cases – some in Moscow – where a completed but illegal building was torn down after authorities finally decided to take action. This building on 21 Zhivopisnaya street is illegal for many reasons. It’s contradictory to the general plan of Moscow, it’s being built without the proper safety requirements, and without any public hearings.&nbsp;</p><p>This autumn, we’ll have elections for municipal deputies for Moscow's districts. Who knows, maybe upon seeing the opposition, the party in power might decide to halt this project because of political risks? There are many possibilities to stop this.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/108_350.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/108_350.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="275" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Information about the planned building at 21 Zhivopisnaya Street, whose construction is opposed by local residents and activists such as Nikitenko. Photo courtesy of Obshchaya Gazeta. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Our first campaign set its sights on the mayor of Moscow, but he was very unresponsive and didn’t seem interested in taking action. Now we’re taking it higher, and are addressing the president of Russia with our petitions. After all, he is the guarantor of our constitutional rights. At least, technically speaking.&nbsp;</p><p>If something changes in Moscow or in Russia, it doesn’t happen simply because of illegalities, it happens because of people’s protests. We may not have laws which are respected or even normally functioning courts, but we do have protests and the government is afraid of them.</p><p><strong>You’ve been at this for many years. How has being an activist in Russia changed since you started out?</strong></p><p>I became an activist in 2008 when I was finishing my university studies and had more free time. Back in 2008, there were much fewer activists in Russia than today. Our civil society was small. Now there are many more of us, but still not enough.&nbsp;</p><p>Everyone chooses the level of risk they can take. It’s most dangerous for those who organise and lead protests, but less so for the majority of activists, though they may come under pressure, for example, at work.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">If I had to offer advice… perhaps I’d recommend that every activist learn martial arts</p><p>Back in the 2000s, the actions taken against activists were more dangerous; we know of many politically-motivated murders from those days. Today, many activists and journalists have been <a href="https://themoscowtimes.com/articles/why-people-in-russia-are-painting-their-faces-green-57509" target="_blank">attacked with bright green paint</a> or even antiseptic. So, while there is a crackdown underway against civil society, there appears to be less physical danger. It could be that actions against activists are more visible nowadays, due to immediate coverage on the internet.&nbsp;</p><p><strong>What makes activism in Russia different than that in other countries?&nbsp;</strong></p><p>Immensely corrupt legal and law enforcement systems. Laws may say one thing, but they’re applied selectively, and we have little recourse through the courts anyway. Our case on Zhivopisnaya street is a good example; even though a state regulatory body declared that operations to install an electricity cable for the building were illegal, works continued nevertheless the following day. The police took no action to stop them.</p><p><strong>Do you feel that the death threat you received will deter young people from activism? What advice would you give them?</strong></p><p>I don’t think young activists need my advice. The impulse for activism comes from within; from yourself and your own values. The many causes we fight across Russia are all unique, so demand unique responses. But if I had to offer advice… perhaps I’d recommend that every activist learn martial arts. That might come in useful in our lives.&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia/russia-s-eco-activists-not-out-of-woods-yet">Russia’s eco-activists: not out of the woods yet</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/odr-editors/fighting-back">Fighting back, in the back of beyond</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/our-city-our-space-ekaterinburg-residents-come-out-against-plans-to-construct-new-church">Our city, our space: Ekaterinburg residents come out against plans to construct a new church</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/svetlana-bolotnikova/kuban-some-men-want-to-watch-world-burn">In Russia, some men want to watch the world burn</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/artur-asafyev/these-hills-are-ours">These hills are ours</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/viktoria-lomasko/green-shoots-of-russian-grassroots-activism">The green shoots of Russian grassroots activism</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Claudia Ciobanu Green Eurasia Cities in motion Russia Tue, 30 May 2017 14:20:19 +0000 Claudia Ciobanu 111264 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Nuclear transboundary consultations are a test for public participation and transparency across Europe https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ana-maria-seman/nuclear-transboundary-consultations-are-test-for-public-participation-and- <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p dir="ltr">Over the next three years, 30 nuclear reactors across Europe will reach their retirement age. Making the decision-making process over their future open and transparent is crucial.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/1024px-Rivne_NPP_-_2011.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="282" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The 2014 decision on extending the lifetime of Rivne Nuclear Power Plant in western Ukraine gave European governments a pretext for avoiding public scrutiny. CC BY 3.0 Yanat / Panoramio. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>One month ago, the Ukrainian government took an unexpected step. It invited neighbouring governments to participate in consultations regarding lifetime extension of nine of its nuclear reactors.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">For more than four years Bankwatch and other civil society groups have been calling on Ukraine to recognise its obligations under the Espoo Convention (which provides a framework for environmental impact assessment in a transboundary context) and carry out public consultations. But at a time when public trust in government institutions across Europe is at a record low and given the major inconsistencies in the practice of transboundary consultations on nuclear issues, this is only the start of a test for public participation and transparency in Europe’s nuclear sector. </p><p dir="ltr">The upcoming Meeting of Parties (MOP) to the Espoo convention in June will be the battleground for anti-nuclear government to set clearer rules for applying the convention.</p><h2>Not a box-ticking exercise</h2><p dir="ltr">Ageing nuclear reactors are fast becoming a serious threat across Europe. In addition, rather than devising energy transition strategies and allocating &nbsp;the financial resources needed for decommissioning of outdated reactors, &nbsp;governments inside and outside the EU, often pushed by the nuclear industry’s lobbyists, choose to extend the lifetime of nuclear reactors beyond the expiration date of their licences.</p><p dir="ltr">Of Belgium's seven nuclear units, three (Doel 1 and 2 and Tihange 1) have been <a href="http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/NP-Agreement-on-extending-lives-of-Doel-units-3007155.html">granted</a> 10-year life extensions. This move has sparked harsh reactions from neighbouring Germany over the lack of transboundary consultations, taking the Belgium government to <a href="https://www.heuking.de/en/news-events/latest-news/20160721-rhineland-palatinate-joins-legal-action-against-tihange-2-reactor.html">court</a>. Close by, both the Netherlands and the Czech Republic are being investigated by the Implementation Committee of the Espoo convention for the lifetime extension of Borselle and Dukovany nuclear reactors without consulting neighbouring states. On Europe’s eastern flank, Ukraine has already <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/iryna-holovko-dana-marekova/new-life-for-ukraine-s-aging-nuclear-power-plants">prolonged</a> the operations of six reactors beyond their original lifetimes without conducting any transboundary consultations.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">No less than 30 nuclear reactors across Europe will reach their retirement age over the next three years. The inconsistent application of the Espoo Convention procedures for decisions on extending their lifetimes is thus a serious concern</p><p dir="ltr">But this is not just about these four countries. No less than 30 nuclear reactors across Europe will reach their retirement age over the next three years. The inconsistent application of the Espoo Convention procedures for decisions on extending their lifetimes is thus a serious concern. In fact, the Convention's implementation committee already ruled in 2013 that Ukraine extending the lifetime of two reactors (Rivne 1 and 2) was in breach of the international treaty due to the lack of environmental impact assessments and transboundary consultations.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">When other governments saw Ukraine subsequently ignoring the ruling, continuing with lifetime extensions for four more nuclear units, they took it as justification for avoiding public scrutiny in decisions on lifetime extensions for their own reactors. This has led to a situation where since the Rivne decision in 2014, five new cases of incompliance have piled on the table of the Espoo implementation Committee, all following complaints from civil society and potentially affected countries.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">The irregular application of the Espoo Convention is one of the subjects on the table for next month’s meeting of parties (MOP) to the convention. The situation in Ukraine has garnered particular interest in light of the large number of reactors with licences extended and the very limited progress made on ensuring public participation in lifetime extension decisions since the Rivne decision at the previous meeting. Ukraine’s notification on transboundary consultations received in late April by the governments of Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, Poland and Belarus, although an important first step, shows just that — the poor quality of environmental documentation and lack of guidance on how to apply the convention to nuclear lifetime extensions. The notification, supported by a handful of documents limited to non-technical summaries of environmental impact assessments (EIAs), is unclear about the purpose and the activity that is subject to transboundary consultations. As such it looks like little more than a lip service, in turn making neighbouring governments and citizens into rubber stamps for Kiev’s reckless nuclear energy enterprise.</p><p dir="ltr">Rather than allowing citizens and governments in neighbouring countries to have a say on the final decisions on nuclear units’ lifetime extensions, the Ukrainian notification only invites comments on some vague aspects of &nbsp;electricity production in Ukraine. This effectively renders the whole process meaningless. What’s more, of the nine reactors in question, four have already had their operation licenses extended, thus casting serious doubts over the point of these consultations.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">The Ukrainian government still has to bring more clarity on the connection between the outcome of consultations and the decision-making processes on lifetime extensions which have already been granted in Ukraine</p><p dir="ltr">The periodic Safety Reviews of the relevant nuclear units, the reports on safety upgrade measures, full EIAs for each reactor, are only some of the documents that have to be provided to the public for consultation and which are missing from the documents submitted for consultations by Ukraine. Transparency is a key condition to ensuring meaningful public participation as well as the timeliness of consultations, which ought to take place before the decisions on lifetime extension are made.</p><p dir="ltr">For civil society groups monitoring the situation as well as neighbouring governments that are currently commenting on the notification, the Ukrainian government still has to bring more clarity on the connection between the outcome of consultations and the decision-making processes on lifetime extensions which have already been granted in Ukraine. More clarity and additions need to be brought as well to the documentation which should be in line with the requirements of the EU directive on environmental impact assessment. Public participation in the decision-making on lifetime extension must not be a box-ticking exercise, but a genuine opportunity to consider alternative strategies, environmental sustainability as well as financial means for decommissioning of the plants, sooner or later.</p><p dir="ltr">The parties to the convention, including the representatives from the European Union, will not have the option of undermining the calls for more clarity, as was done at the previous MOP due to political pressure, and will have to endorse clear recommendations for how the convention should be applied to lifetime extensions.</p><p dir="ltr">These recommendations should be clear on the obligation to apply the convention to lifetime extension decisions, on the environmental documentation that has to accompany the notifications which needs to be in line with EU EIA directive and on the timeline and forms of consultations with the public, national and European. This is absolutely crucial for setting the grounds for current and future decision-making processes and for governments to not get away with sloppy consultation processes. &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/iryna-holovko-dana-marekova/new-life-for-ukraine-s-aging-nuclear-power-plants">New life for Ukraine’s aging nuclear power plants</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/jan-haverkamp-iryna-holovko/towards-post-nuclear-ukraine">Towards a post-nuclear Ukraine</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia-vladimir-slivyak-nailya-ibragimova/atomic-energy-and-polit">Atomic energy and political power in Russia</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia Can Europe make it? oD Russia Ana-Maria Seman Green Eurasia Tue, 30 May 2017 11:17:10 +0000 Ana-Maria Seman 111228 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Russia’s eco-activists: not out of the woods yet https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia/russia-s-eco-activists-not-out-of-woods-yet <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>It’s Russia’s Year of Ecology. But as these activists tell us, campaigning on environmental and urban issues is far from a walk in the park. <em><strong><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/odr-editors/krugliy-stol-eco-aktivism" target="_blank">RU</a></strong></em></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/enviromental activism 1.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/enviromental activism 1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="298" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>“Forest” reads this piece of corrugated iron during an ecological protest in Moscow, 2012. Photo courtesy of Ecological Watch on North Caucasus. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>Across Russia, from Kaliningrad to Makhachkala, people have been taking to the streets to save parks, historic buildings and reservoirs. Residents of high-rise developments take the initiative to clean up their buildings. Mothers plant flowers in children’s playgrounds and fight for the right to bring their children’s pushchairs into cafes.&nbsp;</p><p>The city is increasingly seen as something that belongs to them, and not to the local authorities. But these apparently innocent initiatives — clearing rubbish or looking after green spaces — often trigger a swift reaction from the powers that be. Those seeking to improve their urban environment encounter resistance from the officials and threats from business: their actions frequently at odds with short term political or commercial interests.&nbsp;</p><p>What does the urban environmental movement look like across Russia’s regions? What problems do activists face? And how is their activity connected with the anti-corruption protests that have taken place all over Russia in recent weeks? With the help of the <a href="http://eu-russia-csf.org/en/home/" target="_blank">EU-Russia Civil Society Forum</a>, oDR’s editors discussed these questions with members of environmental NGOs — <strong>Anna Fadeeva</strong> (<a href="http://www.grany-center.org/" target="_blank">Grani, Perm</a>), <strong>Dmitry Shevchenko</strong> (<a href="https://www.facebook.com/ewnc.russia/" target="_blank">Environmental Watch on North Caucasus</a>) and&nbsp;<strong>Yelena Bobrovskaya</strong> (<a href="https://interrasibir.com/about-us/" target="_blank">Interra</a>, Krasnoyarsk).</p><p><strong>The last few weeks have seen mass anti-corruption protests all over Russia. To what extent do you feel they have reflected the interests of your organisations, of urban enhancement and environmental initiatives? Do you feel part of all this? Is it anything to do with you?</strong></p><p><strong>Dmitry Shevchenko</strong>: Definitely. Our work closely echoes Alexei Navalny’s recent film “<a href="https://fbk.info/english/english/post/304/" target="_blank">Don’t call him Dima</a>”, the expose of Russian PM Dmitry Medvedev’s allegedly corrupt affairs. In 2008-2010, we were involved in protecting the Utrish nature reserve on the Black Sea coast, where the <a href="https://dimon.navalny.com/" target="_blank">“Dar” Foundation</a>, whose head is a friend of Medvedev, planned to build another palatial residence for him, under the guise of a sanatorium and health spa.</p><p>When we say that we protect nature reserves, we mean that we protect the public’s right to a healthy living space. In 99% of cases, anything to do with infringements of rights or legislation is connected with corruption. So whatever we get involved in, we have to deal with corruption in one way or another. And when we were trying to save Utrish, it was less a question of protecting the reserve as such, than of stopping the biggest act of corruption in the history of Russia.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Whatever we get involved in, we’re dealing with corruption in one way or another</p><p><strong>Anna Fadeeva</strong>: Of course, all our work at Grani, a centre for civic analysis and independent research which supports NGOs, is closely connected with corruption.&nbsp;</p><p>Take oil spills, for example.<a href="http://lukoil-lubricants.com/about/" target="_blank"> Lukoil</a> creates subsidiaries which acquire various reservoirs for toxic waste, then presents itself as a squeaky clean eco-friendly organisation. Projects like this obviously can’t be conducted legally. And there are plenty more examples in various sectors connected with environmental issues and waste production. </p><p>But I can’t see how participating in protests can resolve these issues. I realise that it feels good to know that there are a lot of us, that we have support and that we’re not alone. But I can’t see how just meeting up and looking each other in the eyes can make any real difference.</p><p><strong>Elena Bobrovskaya</strong>: At Interra, which works in the area of civic education, we’re not directly involved in fighting corruption. But we held a “No Black Sky” demo in Krasnoyarsk that attracted as many people as the one last Sunday. Naturally, when we discuss environmental issues in our educational projects we try to inform the young people who come to them about the corruption factor in environmental problems.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/2016-11-03_Roza-hutor_DSC08859.preview.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/2016-11-03_Roza-hutor_DSC08859.preview.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="323" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Illegal logging in the Aibga mountain range. Age-old oak and chestnut trees were felled in this rural area outside Krasnaya Polana during the construction of the Roza Khutor ski range. Photo courtesy of Ecological Watch on the North Caucasus. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p><strong>What has changed in environmental activism in your regions and cities over the last ten years or so? And what communities are most active now?&nbsp;</strong></p><p><strong>Dmitry Shevchenko</strong>: Civil society is less developed than average in our region. Over the last 20 years, a political system has been built in Krasnodar that has aimed to establish control over every aspect of local life, and this has, of course, included suppressing any political opposition.&nbsp;</p><p>Krasnodar lacks the right infrastructure for grassroots activism or NGO activity, because there’s no sort of political opposition whatsoever. With the local legislative assembly consisting of United Russia and a few odd Communists, there’s nobody for us to work with — even though the population of the region is 5.5 million.&nbsp;</p><p>For a long time, NGOs were the last hope for civil society in the region since the authorities couldn’t easily control them. In the last few years they’ve been more persistent, especially since the forced closure of the <a href="http://kommersant.ru/doc/2617329" target="_blank">Southern Region Resource Centre</a> in Rostov-on-Don and the prosecution of its Director of Grant Programmes, <a href="http://www.rightsinrussia.info/interviews/mikhailsavva" target="_blank">Professor Mikhail Savva</a>, who has been forced to emigrate to Ukraine.&nbsp;</p><p>Now the region doesn’t have a single resource centre for NGOs and grassroots activists, a single strong regional human rights organisation or a single independent online media platform. As a result, we have very little opportunity to engage with the public.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">The authorities themselves triggered the protests with their idiotic behaviour&nbsp;</p><p>Protests are on the rise now in Krasnodar, especially after the last rally on 26 March. About 100 people were arrested, and about 20 of them have been given prison sentences of between three and 15 days. Several members of our organisation were among those arrested, and lots of people at the rally were involved in things like the protection of urban green spaces, planning, waste and so on.&nbsp;</p><p>It’s worth saying that in our region, however strange it might seen, it was the authorities themselves who triggered the protests with their idiotic behaviour. Sochi, for example, was totally dead in terms of activism. But after the 2014 Winter Olympics, with their massive toll on the local environment and innumerable infringements of its residents’ rights, activism sprang into life. And this didn’t happen thanks to some NGOs or someone else, but the actions of the authorities themselves. Or take Krasnodar, the largest city of the region, with a population of over one million and no activism whatsoever. I remember trying to get a “Stop carving up Krasnodar” campaign off the ground back in 2010-2011. We organised a city-wide rally, and only 20-25 people showed up. There was zero interest.</p><p>The big breakthrough came in 2014, when the city authorities decided to fell all the trees along the main drag, Krasnaya Ulitsa, and plant some tiny Italian shrubs at 40,000 roubles (£543) apiece. They even started carrying the project out. And people who had otherwise had taken no interest in protest activity took to the streets. They forced City Hall to cancel the project — the trees along one block were felled and it stopped there. It was a great victory for civil society in our city, and sparked a very noticeable rise in activism.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/2014-05-24_Vstrecha-po-vyrubke-na-Krasnoy_00002.preview.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/2014-05-24_Vstrecha-po-vyrubke-na-Krasnoy_00002.preview.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A public meeting with the head of Krasnodar’s city administration on the subject of tree felling along Krasnaya Ulitsa. May 2014. Photo courtesy of Ecological Watch on the North Caucasus. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p><strong>Elena Bobrovskaya</strong>: In Krasnoyarsk at the moment there’s rapidly growing interest in everything connected to family life and an inclusive society.&nbsp;</p><p>Urban planning is also big issue. There were massive disputes, and it’s worth saying that the public were very active in open discussions. The fact that nobody believes that these public consultations on urban planning actually work is another matter. But there are individual groups (cyclists, for example) who were really active and managed to get cycle lanes included in the plan. They were very effective at collecting signatures and working with the planners. The next project is for the development of Krasnoyarsk’s riverside, which includes plans for public areas, and both the architectural community and environmental activists are getting involved in that.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Environmental activism is turning from an activity pursued in your spare time into a professional occupation&nbsp;</p><p>There are also big developments around public transport. This is a really sensitive issue, as the city holds the national record for cars per head of population and traffic jams, while public transport is almost non-existent. </p><p>This year, Almaty, Kazakhstan, will host the World University Winter Games. In Russia, we like to hold these so-called “Universiades” [student olympics - ed.] on an almost olympic scale. So there was a huge public protest around tree felling and forests potentially losing their protected status in order to build ski runs. These were serious concerns, and the sports clubs got involved, which for us was a very positive thing. Local ski clubs wanted to protect their usual runs, rather than having enormous new structures whose cost-effectiveness was doubtful.&nbsp;</p><p>On the other hand, the city wants to be seen as open for business, so all kinds of grand projects are welcomed by some and do attract public approval.&nbsp;</p><p><strong>Anna Fadeeva</strong>: I feel there aren’t so many now who are involved in environmental activism in their spare time, or on weekends. Those who are still involved are becoming more professional, and are finally beginning to think about their effectiveness. In other words, environmental activism is turning from an activity pursued in your spare time into a professional occupation.</p><p>Our agenda still includes the question of landscaping river valleys. Perm stands on a number of small rivers and streams, and their banks tend to attract waste tipping. Activists have been cleaning them up for years now, turning them into parks and public spaces. We recently started opening viewpoints on the slopes of these small valleys, where anyone can come and enjoy their beauty: reclaim the river banks, if you like. There are also ideas and projects to do with how the public can reclaim them further with the help of art installations and festivals.&nbsp;</p><p>We also have an environmental scheme where people don’t just refuse plastic bags or sort their recycling, but take part in our “boomerang bag” project where supermarkets have reusable bags on display for shoppers. Smart, creative stuff like that.&nbsp;</p><p><strong>Dmitry Shevchenko</strong>: Our problem is that the authorities try to hijack any positive developments — the cyclists’ movement is one example. They have to have the public in their pockets. Sometimes we have to oppose not the authorities so much as the public that dances to their tune.</p><p>The city’s urban development plan is a pretty confrontational business, too — and public officials naturally want to push their version, which lacks any provision for a comfortable life and green spaces for residents. They’ve conjured up public committees whose members happen to be connected with the city administration – civic activists involved in businesses connected with municipal contracts.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">The authorities have a real need to have the public in their pockets&nbsp;</p><p>Take the Kuban Cossack Host, which receives a direct subsidy from public funds without any selection process. There is a special budget set aside for organisations like this, and the Cossack community often plays the role of a simulated general public. When colleagues from abroad visit us and we’ve shown them our projects, the Cossacks turn up and say, “no foreigners here”. There’s also a pseudo-Orthodox crowd who appear when needed to criticise things that supposedly harm the Church.&nbsp;</p><p>So, it’s difficult for us to voice the needs of ordinary people who suddenly discover a tower block being built by the lakeside where they like go walking on weekends. These are the kind of residents the authorities want to shut up with the help of their pocket public. This public appears to order and says that “everything is fine, let’s build a park somewhere else, and let them build their tower block here.”&nbsp;</p><p>Urban activism is also not always positive; we also have “doghunters”, who kill stray dogs while the authorities turn a blind eye. They apparently do it for good reasons, but don’t realise that it’s illegal, unethical, and, moreover, dangerous to local people.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_03040289.LR_.ru_.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_03040289.LR_.ru_.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="326" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Vladimir Putin inspects a model of planned buildings for the 29th World Winter Universiade [student olympics - ed.], due to be held in Krasnoyarsk in 2019. Photo (c): Alexey Nikolsky / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p><strong>2017 is the Year of Ecology in Russia. How do your cities appear to be responding to this issue? And how do they allow you to be involved in marking the year, if you would like to?&nbsp;</strong></p><p><strong>Dmitry Shevchenko</strong>: In my region, every initiative connected with the Year of Ecology is very formalised. The regional government could, for example, instead have run a large environmental project engaging with the public, or created a new nature reserve.&nbsp;</p><p>But the year is passing in a series of semi-closed conferences; the most recent one took place two weeks ago, an environmental forum chaired by Duma member Nikolai Valuyev. Sofia Rusova, a member of our organisation, tried to attend it, to distribute leaflets about the need to protect the <a href="http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/900" target="_blank">“Western Caucasus” World Natural Heritage Site</a>, which includes the <a href="https://translate.google.co.uk/translate?hl=en&amp;sl=ru&amp;u=http://www.zapoved.ru/catalog/40/%2525D0%25259A%2525D0%2525B0%2525D0%2525B2%2525D0%2525BA%2525D0%2525B0%2525D0%2525B7%2525D1%252581%2525D0%2525BA%2525D0%2525B8%2525D0%2525B9-%2525D0%2525B3%2525D0%2525BE%2525D1%252581%2525D1%252583%2525D0%2525B4%2525D0%2525B0%2525D1%25252" target="_blank">Caucasian State Nature Biosphere Reserve</a> which we are involved in protecting. She wasn’t allowed in, so she unfurled her banner at the door. A forum security officer came out, tore it up and called the police. That’s the Year of Ecology summed up for you.&nbsp;</p><p><span class="mag-quote-center">Russia’s Year of Ecology is passing in a series of semi-closed conferences, not in any public campaigns<span>&nbsp;</span></span></p><p><strong>Anna Fadeeva</strong>: Our local government bodies also have plans to celebrate the Year of Ecology, but there’s nothing exciting or impressive there: just a few events in schools and so on.</p><p>Nevertheless, as there’s some formal acknowledgement of the environment being an issue of discussion, various official bodies and organisations are showing their interest. For example, in my work I’m sometimes involved with libraries, and their directors keep asking me whether I have something connected with the environment for them. “We’re currently doing a project about environmentally hazardous areas in the Perm Region; we’re putting together an exhibition”, I tell them. “No problem”, they reply. “We’ll use it”.&nbsp;</p><p><strong>What have your organisations achieved recently?</strong></p><p><strong>Dmitry Shevchenko</strong>: We’re always amazed at how much we’ve achieved. Last year, for example, we succeeded in persuading the regional government to abandon a senseless project to widen the Rostov Highway. They wanted to cut down all the trees lining the road and make it run literally under people’s windows. But there’s a really nice green corridor there, five kilometres long; the locals planted the trees with their own hands. The whole thing was to be demolished and covered in asphalt.&nbsp;</p><p>The campaign took an enormous effort: we had to keep a vigil and hold back the bulldozers with residents’ help, and run a mass awareness and information programme. The project was abandoned on the orders of the then governor, who told them to find other options for improving traffic flow.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Every year we look back at what we’ve done and we’re always amazed at how much we’ve achieved&nbsp;</p><p>Last year we also managed, again with help from local residents, to stop an attempt to build high rises around the Karasun lakes in Krasnodar. One tower block has already been constructed. Two weeks ago a court banned the project, the development was declared illegal and the site ordered to be returned to the city — a serious victory for the residents.</p><p>Often we’re unable to stop projects that are just getting off the ground, but here we had a completed building and a large sum invested. And that’s not the only one.</p><p>In some local areas, the residents show an increasing level of activism, and they often get results. Our aim as an NGO is to be involved in things that members of the public can’t do by themselves. In Krasnodar, for example, we’re trying to sort out a piece of woodland that happens to be inside the city boundary. As part of its urban development plan, the city wants to designate it as a so-called “city wood”, which would allow it to be felled and so on. It’s a big problem, as it comprises 800 hectares of land and it’s essential to be an expert on the issue and to have knowledge of the appropriate legislation and the procedures for transferring land from one category to another. An ordinary city dweller would have difficulty negotiating all this.&nbsp;</p><p><strong>Anna Fadeeva</strong>: We have a piece of woodland in the centre of Perm, the Chernyavsky Forest, and there was a plan to move the city zoo there. But the combined efforts of the local people and NGOs, including ours, succeeded in saving it as woodland. It’s still a continual cause for concern; as a result various organisations and others concerned about the environment have come together in a Green coalition.&nbsp;</p><p><strong>Elena Bobrovskaya</strong>: Our work is in education, so there’s always a delayed effect. I see how people who have taken part in our projects have started thinking differently and seeing both the environment and the urban space in another way.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/csf_europe lab.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/csf_europe lab.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Employees of various NGOs attend a Europe Lab summit for civil society actors in Vukovar, Croatia, 2016. Photo courtesy of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p><strong>What does being part of the Civil Society Forum mean for your environmental, urban planning and educational programmes? What does the Forum give you?&nbsp;</strong></p><p><strong>Dmitry Shevchenko</strong>: Being part of the Forum is a big honour and a big asset to our organisation. We have very few opportunities, even within Russia, to meet with colleagues and discuss common themes, not to mention the general situation we find ourselves in, which deteriorates by the year. The EU-Russia Civil Society Forum is one of the few unique spaces where we can meet with colleagues from Europe, and from a wider variety of NGOs from Russia whose experience we can learn from.</p><p>It also gives us the chance to take part in discussions outside our own specialist areas. I can bring my environmental expertise to the table, while other organisations focus on exposing corruption and lobbying in their own EU countries. You get a real cumulative effect, like, for example, the <a href="https://oef.org.ee/en/news/article/the-eesc-and-csf-meeting-in-brussels-support-to-russian-civil-society-important-more-than-ever/" target="_blank">report by the group on trans-border corruption</a> that was presented to the EU Commission in Brussels in 2015. This discussed the issue of European money being invested in socially and environmentally irresponsible projects on Russian territory. And this is a problem for not just Russia, but EU countries as well.&nbsp;</p><p><strong>Elena Bobrovskaya</strong>: Let me tell you about a project going on at the moment – “Schools - NGOs: bridges to cooperation”. It’s all about interaction between informal civic education, the non-profit sector and official educational structures. It’s an enormous step towards developing a network. For me personally, the most crucial thing about the project is this cooperation between sectors – at the moment you often have an NGO, even in education, doing its own thing, and a school doing its thing, and they end up slagging each other off. It’s important to find points of contact, which we all badly need. </p><p><em>oDR thanks the <a href="http://eu-russia-csf.org" target="_blank">EU-Russia Civil Society Forum</a> for its help in preparing this edited discussion. Look out for our next round table discussion on corruption in Russia here soon.</em></p><p><em>Translated from Russian by Liz Barnes</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/svetlana-anokhina/makhachkala-citizen-city">Makhachkala: citizen city </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/odr-editors/fighting-back">Fighting back, in the back of beyond</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/svetlana-bolotnikova/kuban-some-men-want-to-watch-world-burn">In Russia, some men want to watch the world burn</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/our-city-our-space-ekaterinburg-residents-come-out-against-plans-to-construct-new-church">Our city, our space: Ekaterinburg residents come out against plans to construct a new church</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/viktoria-lomasko/green-shoots-of-russian-grassroots-activism">The green shoots of Russian grassroots activism</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Editors of OpenDemocracy Russia Green Eurasia Russia Regions Thu, 04 May 2017 13:33:36 +0000 Editors of OpenDemocracy Russia 110613 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Hatching discontent in Ukraine https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/vladlena-martsynkevych/hatching-discontent-in-ukraine <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p dir="ltr">In Ukraine, big agriculture uses unscrupulous methods to manufacture consensus for expansion and marginalise local communities — often with the support of international donors.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/DSC06181.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Cherkasy oblast. Credit: Nils Ackerman, Lundi13/NECU, 2016.</span></span></span>The trip south from Kyiv to the villages of Cherkasy oblast takes several hours by bus over often bumpy roads, but I don’t mind — the idyllic countryside and expansive views of <a href="https://www.britannica.com/science/Chernozem-FAO-soil-group">chernozem</a>, the black soil that Ukraine is famous for, provides some respite from the concrete and hustle of the capital. Indeed, the country’s 30 million hectares of fertile and high-yielding soil is the reason why Ukraine is known as “the breadbasket of Europe”, and right now agriculture is <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-10-14/that-boom-you-hear-is-ukraine-s-agriculture">booming</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">The Maidan protests of 2014 ushered in an era of government reforms that have been a boon to agriculture, marked by a free trade agreement with the EU and a loan of $17 billion from the International Monetary Fund to support further reforms. The agricultural sector’s resilience is evidenced by the fact that, while most of the economy reeled after the Russian invasion of the Donbas region, this was the only sector to record growth in 2014. The World Bank has <a href="https://www.brookings.edu/blog/future-development/2016/03/03/unleashing-the-potential-of-agriculture-in-ukraine/">suggested</a> that Ukraine offers a “big chance” to push for further deregulation and open up the country’s land resources to the agribusiness industry.</p><p dir="ltr">At present, a dozen or so large agribusiness holdings own a fifth of the country’s most fertile land. While a moratorium on land sales is in place to prevent further consolidation of agricultural ownership, pressure from corporations and international investors is likely to mean that the ban will be lifted.</p><p dir="ltr">This is why I travel so frequently to Cherkasy. People here have long made a living as smallholding farmers, but the intensification of large-scale agribusiness is threatening their very way of life.</p><h2>Help from abroad</h2><p dir="ltr">One threat to Cherkasy oblast is the industrial poultry farms of Yuriy Kosiuk, the billionaire chief executive of Myronivsky Hliboproduct (MHP). MHP, the country’s largest agricultural conglomerate, enjoys more than a 50% share of Ukraine’s domestic market for poultry, and is the leading exporter of Ukrainian poultry products.</p><p dir="ltr">MHP has <a href="http://bankwatch.org/news-media/blog/images-and-graphs-large-scale-agribusiness-ukraine-and-local-communities">received</a> more than half a billion euros worth of development investments for its expansion from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation and the European Investment Bank. This means that the company must adhere to the international standards established in within those respective bank policies. But instead the poultry producers association, together with other associations of agricultural producers, successfully lobbied president Petro Poroshenko to <a href="http://en.interfax.com.ua/news/economic/380464.html">veto</a> the new law on Environmental Impact Assessment, which had to be adopted by Ukraine in 2016 as part of conditions to the Association Agreement with the EU.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">The support from international financiers and the state budget enables MHP’s aggressive plans for expansion throughout Ukraine</p><p dir="ltr">The company enjoys generous state subsidies and conditions, too. MHP has been among the VAT refund big beneficiaries until 2017, though due to conditions imposed by the IMF, the scheme <a href="http://concorde.ua/en/research/daily/mhp-could-receive-up-to-uah-bln-in-state-in-2017-16087/">switched to direct state subsidies</a>. MHP will qualify for around one billion UAH (around $38m) out of four billion UAH for all agricultural producers. These conditions and privileges contradict Ukraine’s and the Cherkasy region’s agriculture and rural policies and development plans —&nbsp;where the development of small- and medium-sized enterprises is a claimed priority. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">The support from international financiers and the state budget enables MHP’s aggressive plans for expansion throughout Ukraine. The plans for new poultry production facilities in Cherkasy oblast bring me here to support locals — they are fighting for their rights to a safe and clean environment, and a lifestyle based on small household farming. People have appealed to the company, to local and national authorities, to the President Poroshenko, but instead of dialogue and consultations they were faced with neglect, intimidation and retaliation.</p><h2>MHP and Chyhyryn</h2><p dir="ltr">The most recent conflict between MHP and residents of Cherkasy oblast came in February 2017 when 70 representatives from the historic town of Chyhyryn <a href="http://bankwatch.org/news-media/blog/campaign-update-protestors-take-kyiv-demand-action-agribusiness-giant-encroaching-th">made the trip to Kyiv</a> in order to protest against the planned expansion of poultry facilities in their town. &nbsp;One of the protestors was Nina Martynovska, a deputy village council in Chyhyryn rayon, who joined because she believes that their concerns are falling on deaf ears: “We’ve complained to decision-makers at all levels of the government, including the president of Ukraine, so many times that we’ve lost count.”</p><p dir="ltr">The relationship between MHP’s subsidiary Peremoha Nova and the community in Chyhyryn, however, has not always been so confrontational. When the company first arrived in Chyhyryn in 2015, local attitudes towards MHP were neutral. The project MHP proposed for Chyhyryn focused on expanding its parent poultry flock facilities, including brigades for 100,000 adult chickens, three brigades for 110,000 young repair chickens, and one brigade for roosters. The project would bring about one million chickens in total to the area.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/DSC06111.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Credit: Nils Ackerman, Lundi13/NECU, 2016.</span></span></span>But due, in part, to the way in which the project was first communicated to the community, Chyhyryn residents grew weary of MHP. The company initially received tacit co-operation from the village council chairwoman to negotiate individually with landowners without community level consultations. The company secured lease contracts for a period of 49 years — essentially to circumvent the federal moratorium on any further land sales — to receive the land necessary for its expansion. The lease period and the payments made up front to the landowners essentially amounted to selling local lands to MHP, thus dividing the community between people who cashed in through the settlements and people in favour of remaining in control of their livelihoods.</p><p dir="ltr">The public meetings and discussions about the expansion that MHP was obliged to organised were plagued with controversy. Attempts to prevent community members from freely participating and the<a href="http://necu.org.ua/chyhyrynschyna-povstaye-proty-nashoyi-ryaby/"> physical attacks</a> on others who tried to enter consultations happened in several locations.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">The failure of MHP to engage communities in meaningful consultations has been a concern to its international financiers</p><p dir="ltr">When the company released a preliminary environmental assessment for consultation in late 2016, there was substantiated feedback from the community not to continue with the project. For its part, MHP seemed to have little interest in what residents had to say — it didn’t bother to collect the feedback left at the administration offices for more than a month afterwards.</p><p dir="ltr">The failure of MHP to engage communities in meaningful consultations has been a concern to its international financiers. In May 2016, the EBRD published a monitoring assessment summary report that concluded that “additional effort needs to be made with regards to appropriate information disclosure, transparency of information and also ensuring grievances are responded to and managed appropriately, including any grievances which are not formally submitted using the company’s Grievance Form”. At that time, the bank made recommendations for improvement of MHP’s performance with regards to transparent and meaningful stakeholder engagement and consultation. A year later, real progress is hard to detect, so this time around the IFC has hired consultants to help the company deal with stakeholder engagement.</p><p dir="ltr">In spite of the lack of feedback on the environmental assessment, the<a href="http://necu.org.ua/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/16-01-17EBRD-MHP-response-EIA.pdf"> MHP expansion plans pose a number of problems</a> for the residents of Chyhyryn. A sanitary protection zone has not been established in accordance with Ukrainian law, meaning that people could still be located within areas exposed to excessive levels of pollution from poultry facilities. Nor does the assessment make clear the potential impacts on potable water in Chyhyryn. The amounts of wastewater that will need purification and treatment is another area which the assessment fails to cover. In addition, there is still a lack of clarity about how emissions from the brigades will be attended to, so air pollution should cause concern for locals.</p><p dir="ltr">As of today, local farmers rented the lands on which MHP (Peremoha Nova) relies on. There is a threat that the arrival of a big player with long-term contracts of 49 years for land leases will have a negative impact on competition between businesses and will lead to economic displacement of small farmers from these lands.</p><h2>A cautionary tale</h2><p dir="ltr">While the future of MHP’s expansion in Chyhyryn remains in limbo, another community in Cherkasy oblast provides a cautionary tale. Before MHP pursued its plans in Chyhyryn, the company had tried for several years to expand its operations in the village of Moshny, 100km northwest of Chyhyryn. But residents there put up a fierce resistance and are now in frequent contact with those in Chyhyryn to support their struggles.</p><p dir="ltr">In November 2014, the managing director of Peremoga Nova, a subsidiary of MHP, informed the Moshny village council that it planned to build 144 poultry rearing houses at the edge of the village.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">People in Cherkasy aren’t only engaged in resistance, they’re also looking for alternatives</p><p dir="ltr">What happened next in Moshny has echoes with the situation in Chyhyryn. While the managing director of MHP assured villagers that the expansion project would not proceed without broad community support, the company began making secret deals with residents to lease their lands so that construction could move ahead. Ultimately, this approach was unsuccessful and over the next few months, instances of harassment, threats and pressures to lease lands continued. Concerns about the environmental impacts also share a number of similarities to the Chyhyryn project, including issues related to the protection of drinking water and the assurance of a sanitary zone around the facilities.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/DSC05921.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Kateryna Oprieenko. Find out more about how Kateryna is countering the alliance between investment banks and agricultural businesses <a href=http://stories.bankwatch.org/home-to-roost>here</a>.</span></span></span>One of the leading figures of resistance in Moshny is <a href="http://stories.bankwatch.org/home-to-roost">Kateryna Onopriienko</a>, who has been a frequent traveller to Chyhyryn and supporter of their movement. She has been a frequent target of harassment and intimidation. As a former member of the local rayon council, Onopriienko suffered attacks on her integrity — for instance, when leaflets were distributed designed to discredit her in the eyes of the community.</p><h2>Stronger together</h2><p dir="ltr">If there is a silver lining in MHP’s push into Cherkasy, it is the possibility for interaction between communities like Chyhyryh and Moshny and the promise it holds for strengthening their struggles through solidarity. To be an activist like Kateryna Onopriienko, you don’t just need to be brave. You need to understand the specific dynamics of rural living and the pressures you’re likely to face, including physical assaults and beatings. What this means is that people involved in the resistance to MHP provide support in a variety of ways to their counterparts.</p><p dir="ltr">Activists in Chyhyryn and Moshny regularly communicate by phone, attend joint protest rallies at state administration buildings or local councils and share knowledge about the most effective methods of appealing their case to decision-makers and MHP officials alike. Through continued support via trainings and campaign tactics, the villagers have been empowered to continue their fight against Ukraine’s largest agricultural conglomerate.</p><p dir="ltr">But people in Cherkasy aren’t only engaged in resistance, they are also looking for alternatives. Tourism can play a key role in the the development of these rural areas, so that people learn to value their lands as an asset to build on in the long term. This would also help defeat some of the short-termism offered by the mirage of employment at the industrial poultry facilities (where the process automatisation reaches 85%) or the quick cashout of a one-time payment for land.</p><p dir="ltr">I will continue to visit and support the communities in Cherkasy. In the future, I hope these visits will be for the development of their own, self-determined initiatives.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/vitalii-atanasov/faded-glory-ukraines-miners">Undermined: how the state is selling out Ukraine’s coal workers</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/denys-gorbach/that-obscure-object-of-desire-reforms-labour-code-and-progressive-agenda-in-">#DontFuckWithUs: labour reforms and the progressive agenda in Ukraine</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/jan-haverkamp-iryna-holovko/towards-post-nuclear-ukraine">Towards a post-nuclear Ukraine</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/igor-burdyga/where-now-for-ukraine-s-brave-new-journalism">Where now for Ukraine’s brave new journalism?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/iryna-holovko-dana-marekova/new-life-for-ukraine-s-aging-nuclear-power-plants">New life for Ukraine’s aging nuclear power plants</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Vladlena Martsynkevych Green Eurasia Ukraine Thu, 16 Mar 2017 08:14:22 +0000 Vladlena Martsynkevych 109469 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Armenia: before the goldrush https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/peter-liakhov/armenia-before-goldrush <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>A British mining company has struck gold in southern Armenia. What’s in it for the locals? <em>Updated 3 February with reply.&nbsp;<strong><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/peter-liakhov/amulsar-ru">Русский</a></strong></em></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Gndevaz_1.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Gndevaz_1.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="276" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The small village of Gndevaz in Armenia’s Vayots Dzor province will soon be home to Lydian International’s Amulsar gold mine. The reception is mixed. Photo by Peter Liakhov.</span></span></span></p><p><strong>Read Lydian International's response to this article&nbsp;<a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/lydian-international/lydian-international-response-to-armenia-before-goldrush">here</a>.</strong></p><p>“Is this what we fought a war for?” Victoria exclaims, exasperated, jabbing the table with her finger.</p><p>Victoria is in her early 60s, with blonde hair and a fiery gaze. For decades now, she has worked as a school teacher in the southern Armenian town of Jermuk. “They will ruin this place!” she bemoans. Then, more quietly, adds: “What will we do with all our books when we have no choice but to leave?” </p><p>“They” are Lydian International, a mining company based in the UK. In several months’ time, they will begin construction of the Amulsar Mine – a project which, when fully operational, will be the single largest mining operation in Armenia. Amulsar has been promoted as important step in the country’s economic development; some in Jermuk hold high hopes for a better life. But for many others, there are deep misgivings: a fear that the mine will irreparably damage the little they do have. </p><p>Environmentalists are also up in arms against the mine. They argue that the Amulsar will not only impact Jermuk and the surrounding villages. Rather, because of the mine’s proximity to key water resources, all of Armenia may be at risk. In a country rife with corruption, what safeguards will there be?</p><h2>Deep waters</h2><p>A bucolic spa-town nestled in the hills of Vayots Dzor province, Jermuk was renowned not only across Armenia, but all over the former eastern bloc. </p><p>Home to unique hot springs and mineral waters, the town boasted hotels and sanatoriums which were eagerly visited by residents of all the Soviet republics as well as other socialist states. “Back in those days, we were one of the jewels of the USSR, the town was always bustling!” reminisces Makedon, Victoria’s husband. “Even in the winter, the hotels and sanatoriums would be at 90% capacity.”</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/8098007474_5d2fcc6656_z.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>CC BY-NC 2.0 RAFFI YOUREDJIAN / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Much like the rest of Armenia, hard times came to Jermuk following the fall of the Soviet Union. Alongside mass deindustrialisation and a collapse of state services, Armenia was embroiled in a bloody war with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh. Tens of thousands died, and Armenia’s already meagre resources flowed into the war effort. With conflicts raging in Georgia and the north Caucasus, and a blockade by Turkey and Azerbaijan, Jermuk was no longer an accessible tourist destination.</p><p>In the years since the war, the town somewhat recovered. With a population of almost 5,000, Jermuk has eight major hotels and sanatoriums. Compared to other Armenian towns, it has good infrastructure: well-paved roads, neatly tended parks and a fair amount of tourist amenities. </p><p>It is in the midst of Jermuk’s slow but steady recovery that Lydian International enters the scene. In 2006, the newly-founded international mining company began an exploratory process 12km away from Jermuk. Shortly thereafter, the company submitted a risk assessment and requested approval for mining; the Armenian government gave the go-ahead. </p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_00043547.LR_.ru_.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_00043547.LR_.ru_.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="312" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Mineral water springs 2,000 metres above sea level in Jermuk, during its heyday as a Soviet resort town in 1979. (c) Oleg Makarov / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>However, Lydian did not begin to dig. They reapplied several more times over the years, each time requesting permission for a larger and more intensive operation. Excluding the final risk assessment published in spring 2016, some of these earlier risk assessments were <a href="http://www.armecofront.net/en/news/case-of-amulsar-gold-mining-by-lydian-international/" target="_blank">technically in violation of Armenian law</a>, as they did not designate Jermuk or the nearby village of Gndevaz as “affected communities” which needed to be consulted.</p><p>Final approval was granted in 2016. Construction began last year (the groundbreaking ceremony took place in August) and the Amulsar Mine will begin operating in 2018. Each year, 10m tonnes of ore, containing 7.8 tonnes of gold would be removed from the earth. The mine is to remain operational for 11 years, closing in 2029. </p><h2>Jermuk returns to the soil</h2><p>Vazgen Galstyan is president of the Jermuk Development Center, a local NGO. For years, Galstyan and his colleagues have worked with businesses and local government in Vayots Dzor to promote ecologically sustainable tourism. A soft-spoken man, Galstyan’s voice grows hard when he talks about Amulsar. “In my view, it is quite simple,” he tells me. “Tourism and mining are fundamentally incompatible.” </p><p>Even if the Amulsar Mine was 100% eco-friendly, something which Galstyan believes to be “absurd” and “totally impossible,” he still thinks the mine will bring grave harm to Jermuk’s tourism. “Who wants to visit a health spa next to a mine?” He adds that the mere association with Amulsar, even though the mine has not yet opened, has already reduced visitor numbers. If construction continues as planned, it will be nothing less than “a disaster”, Galstyan predicts.</p><p><span class="mag-quote-center">Amulsar is being developed at a time of growing unrest in Armenia. It wouldn’t be the first such project to provoke public outrage and protest</span></p><p>In its <a href="http://www.ebrd.com/work-with-us/projects/esia/dif-lydian-amulsar-gold-mine-extension.html" target="_blank">Social Impact Assessment</a>, Lydian International recognises the consequences of the inflow of construction workers, and later, miners, for the social fabric of Jermuk. The company cites the “four m’s” (“men, money, mobility and mixing”) as having the largest impact. That is, the influx of single men with disposable income could lead to the development of the sex trade and adjacent “vice” industries in Jermuk, as well as an increase in sexually-transmitted diseases and HIV. </p><p>Lydian promises programmes such as safe-sex education and condom distribution to mitigate such risks. But many involved in the tourism industry are simply not convinced. They fear what will happen to their businesses once Jermuk becomes a mining town. One local resident who works in the tourism industry, and requested not to be identified, told me simply that “there will be single men with money. We all know exactly what kind of businesses will be established to serve them and what reputation they will bring to our city.” </p><p>The local government’s response to these concerns is unknown. Despite my repeated approaches, Jermuk mayor Vartan Hovhannisyan was unavailable for comment. </p><h2>We are our mountains</h2><p>Environmentalists working with local NGOs such as Ecolur and Armecofront argue that the greatest dangers of Amulsar are more than simply economic, and that the risks extend far beyond Vayots Dzor province. </p><p>In a <a href="http://www.armecofront.net/en/news/amulsar-mine-it-is-absolutely-unacceptable-to-endanger-lake-sevan-for-any-gold-in-the-world-video/" target="_blank">statement</a> given to <em>Civilnet</em> in November 2016, geologist Armen Saghatelyan said that the greatest risk of the Amulsar mine is the damage it could do to the surrounding water system including Lake Sevan, the largest freshwater lake in the Caucasus and in Armenia. Saghatelyan points out that the Amulsar mine abuts the Kechut reservoir, which feeds directly into Lake Sevan, and that the sulfidic nature of the mine risks the acidifying the water in the reservoir — and eventually Lake Sevan itself.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Lake_Sevan.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Lake_Sevan.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="273" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Ecologists fear that the Amulsar mine risks polluting Lake Sevan, the largest freshwater body of water in Armenia and the south Caucasus. CC-by-NC-ND-2.0: Kerarno / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Sevan provides not only drinking water and a place to swim in the heat of the summer, but is a large contributor to the Armenian economy. It’s a major source of irrigation for the country’s agriculture and source of 90% of the fish, and 80% of the crayfish caught in Armenia. </p><p>There are concerns about dust containing toxic heavy metals affecting nearby agriculture. The Amulsar mine and treatment facility are a stone’s throw from various apricot groves and chicken farms which export abroad.</p><p>Anna Shahnazarian, an environmentalist based in the Armenian capital Yerevan, adds that “any contamination of agricultural products would mean an end to the livelihoods of the villagers. Their land would become useless. They would have no choice but to leave.” </p><h2>The prospectors’ perspective</h2><p>Lydian and its supporters insist that all these fears are unfounded. The company has been endorsed by representatives of the <a href="http://www.azatutyun.am/a/25000084.html" target="_blank">UK</a> (2013) and <a href="https://iwpr.net/global-voices/campaigners-dubious-about-armenian-gold-mine" target="_blank">US embassies</a> (2015), who gave their support for the mine and mentioned the positive impact it would have on Armenia. In a statement to me, Lydian International wrote:</p><p><span class="blockquote-new">“Lydian is committed to the protection of human life, health and the environment. We have undertaken a number of industry-leading measures to ensure that the necessary mitigation measures are in place… We believe that the Amulsar project will be properly managed and that it will be a safe and modern mining operation similar to those that exist in countries like Canada, the US, Australia and Sweden.”<br /></span><br />In a 2015 <a href="https://iwpr.net/global-voices/campaigners-dubious-about-armenian-gold-mine" target="_blank">report</a> by IWPR, Didier Fohlen, then executive vice-president of Lydian, is quoted saying that there is no scientific foundation to the fears of environmentally damaging leaks or spills. </p><p>The “heap-leach” process used at Amulsar — wherein the gold ore is crushed, collected on a heap-leach pad, and sprayed with cyanide to create a gold-cyanide solution from which the gold is later separated — operates on a closed circuit, and will not leave toxic waste after the mine’s closure. Consequently, Folen said there is no chance of direct waste discharge into the environment.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/1024px-429_Djermouk_canyon_à_l&#039;entrée_de_la_ville_vu_du_pont.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Jermuk Canyon. СС A-SA 3.0 Moreau.henri / Wikimedia Commons. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>On its <a href="https://www.lydianarmenia.am/en/news/view/amulsar-questions-and-answers.html" target="_blank">website</a>, Lydian claims that the ore in the mine is oxidic rather than sulfidic, and thus presents little danger to Lake Sevan (though they recognise that nearby rocks do indeed contain sulphides). The company also states that: “the heap-leach facility and runoff from the barren rock storage facility and the pits will be designed, built and managed to ensure that no contaminants are leaked into the wider natural environment. Thus not only Sevan, but all surrounding natural receptors — soil, water and air will be strictly protected.” Moreover, to help mitigate impacts on local flora and fauna, Lydian along with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) are financing a <a href="http://www.ebrd.com/work-with-us/projects/esia/dif-lydian-amulsar-gold-mine-extension.html" target="_blank">biodiversity offset programme</a> and water treatment facility.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Lydian’s response is glowingly optimistic, but it rests on little more than the company’s word. As the legacy of mining in Armenia has shown, that doesn’t count for much</p><p>As for the dust, Lydian claim that the dust produced during the mining process would travel a maximum of 1,000 metres — not far enough to affect agriculture or cause any health issues for nearby residents. </p><p>From Lydian’s perspective, the Amulsar mine is a win-win project. According to their <a href="http://www.lydianinternational.co.uk/projects/amulsar/economic-impact" target="_blank">calculations</a>, over the 11 years that the mine operates it will contribute roughly $488 million USD to the state budget through taxes and royalties. The total contribution to Armenia’s GDP each year will be around $185m USD, or 1.4% of Armenia’s total GDP. </p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Yerevan_Fruit.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Yerevan_Fruit.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="272" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Fruit sellers in a poor suburb of Yerevan, 2013. CC-by-NC-ND-2.0: Carsten ten Brink / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>The Amulsar mine will deliver one of Armenia’s rarest resources: jobs. Lydian estimates it will employ roughly 1,300 people during the two years of construction (2016-2018) and 770 permanent workers while it remains operational. In their statement to <em>openDemocracy</em>, Lydian stressed that they do not believe the mine will harm Jermuk’s tourist economy, saying that “there are a number of examples of major tourism destinations successfully coexisting alongside prosperous mining industries,” citing Colorado Springs, USA, the Greek Island of Milos, and Sardinia as examples.</p><p>Lydian’s response is similar to public statements they’ve made in the past. It’s glowingly optimistic and fairly thorough — however, it rests on little more than the company’s word. As the legacy of mining in Armenia has shown, a company’s word doesn’t count for much. In the context of institutional and legislative frameworks (or lack thereof) bad or dishonest behaviour by mining companies often not only goes unpunished, but is even incentivised. </p><h2>All carrot and no stick</h2><p>Mining is the largest industry in Armenia, and likely its most corrupt. Currently, 460 mines operate in Armenia (roughly one mine per 5,600 citizens) and in recent years, mining has provided over 50% of Armenia’s exports. But Armenian citizens have seen little material benefit from these activities, as mining employs only one percent of the workforce and contributes only three percent to national GDP. </p><p>Georgi Derlugiuan, a sociologist at NYU Abu Dhabi, argues that mining is not necessarily a bad industry. Given the right circumstances, it can help develop a national economy. However, Armenia does not have the legislative or social structures in place to ensure that it will.<br /><br /><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Alaverdi_Smelting.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Alaverdi_Smelting.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="273" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Pollution from the copper smelting plant at Alaverdi in Armenia’s Lori Province, owned by oligarch Valery Mejlumyan’s Vallex Group. CC-by-SA-3.0: Sara Anjargolian / Wikimedia Commons. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>“Any large-scale extractive activities, such as mining, create lucrative rents which are often appropriated by elites,” Derluguian tells me. “They are also subject to diminishing returns as resources are inevitably exhausted. When they are, the absentee owners simply go elsewhere.”</p><p>“The ‘resource curse’ is avoidable,” adds Derluguian. “But, it requires a strong state with popular commitments: strong enough to enforce the rules, make mining companies pay, and effectively redistribute those financial gains.”<br /><br />Sadly, Armenia is not “strong state” with “popular commitments.” A 2015 report for the European Union Action to Fight Environmental Crime (EFFACE) — a collaboration between 11 European universities and think tanks, coordinated by the <a href="http://ecologic.eu/" target="_blank">Ecologic Institute</a> — notes that environmental concerns fall by the wayside where profits are at stake.</p><p>Then there’s legislation. The Armenian government charges some of the <a href="http://efface.eu/sites/default/files/EFFACE_Environmental%20crime%20in%20Armenia_A%20case%20study%20on%20mining.pdf" target="_blank">lowest fees</a> for exploiting natural resources in the world, and after a <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/armine-ishkanian/neoliberalism-mining-and-politics-of-plunder-in-armenia" target="_blank">2012 legislative change promoted by the World Bank</a>, doesn’t even charge companies for cleaning up after mining operations cease. This means that dealing with rocks, tailings and other hazardous waste becomes a burden for Armenian taxpayers. Waste is often left untouched, polluting the environment, destroying arable land and poisoning Armenian citizens. </p><p><span class="mag-quote-center">Large-scale extractive activities like mining create lucrative rents for elites. Avoiding this requires a strong state with popular commitments, and Armenia isn’t one of them</span></p><p>A vivid example of the industry’s toxic nature is the recently opened molybdenum and copper mine in Teghut, northern Armenia. The facility, operated by Teghout CJSC, a subsidiary of Vallex Group (controlled, in large part, by oligarch Valery Meljumyan), was opened in 2014. This project has led to <a href="http://www.azatutyun.am/a/26757299.html" target="_blank">massive deforestation</a> (attempts to reverse the damage <a href="http://ecolur.org/en/news/teghout/teghut-forest-intensively-cut-down-reforestation-works-failed-photos/8645/" target="_blank">failed</a>), <a href="http://ecolur.org/en/news/teghout/shnogh-river-will-never-be-the-same/7241/" target="_blank">pollution</a> of the Shnogh river and <a href="http://ecolur.org/en/news/mining/social-and-environmental-problems-escalating-in-teghout/8412/" target="_blank">loss of land and agricultural capacity for nearby residents</a>. Teghut mine sparked one of the largest environmental protest movements in recent Armenian history, with demonstrations staged repeatedly in Yerevan, popularised by numerous Armenian celebrities. </p><p>This sad history notwithstanding, Armenia has signed several treaties on mining with the EU, most notably the Aarhus Convention, which, theoretically speaking, prohibits the kind of criminal behaviours seen in the industry. Yet the EU has done little to ensure that Armenia’s government abides by the stipulations of the treaties it has signed. And why would it? Armenia’s lax regulations and corrupt government have been a boon for European mining companies, providing relatively easy profits with the cost often little more than <a href="http://efface.eu/sites/default/files/EFFACE_Environmental%20crime%20in%20Armenia_A%20case%20study%20on%20mining.pdf" target="_blank">the occasional bribe to the right person</a>. </p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Teghut_Protest.jpeg" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="274" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Armenian environmentalists in Yerevan protest the planned copper and molybdenum mine in Teghut, 2012. Photo CC: Save Teghut Initiative / Facebook. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>The winners and losers of mining in Armenia are easy to distinguish. With the aid of local oligarchs, international mining companies get unrestricted access to Armenia’s mineral wealth and contracts to the tune of billions of dollars. The roughly 10,000 miners in Armenia are also winners in their own way — a small group of everyday citizens whose wages are worth roughly twice those of the average Armenian.</p><p>Fate is less kind to those Armenians whose land has been poisoned or whose health has been damaged by pollution, or those who simply lament the slow transformation of their country into one large tailings pond. They are the victims of corrupt and neocolonial collusion. </p><h2>Meet the collateral damage</h2><p>Lydian International told me that they’ll break the legacy of “mismanagement” in Armenia’s mining sector, bringing a “new approach to mining and setting a benchmark for sustainable investment in the country.” By following the “best international practices” and having an “industry-leading approach”, they’ll ensure that the people of Jermuk and the surrounding region would have nothing to lose. But there have already been losers.</p><p>The village of Gndevaz is barely a kilometre away from the site reserved for Amulsar’s heap-leach facility. Until Lydian bought it, the area was a large apricot grove, where, according to Tehmine Yenoqyan, a journalist, activist and documentary filmmaker who has a home in the village, ten percent of the population owned some land. Tehmine says that after Lydian purchased the grove, all who had land there received compensation; handsome sums by Armenian standards. Yet the grove was primarily owned by the three wealthiest families in the village. Most villagers received nothing.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/IMG_8388-1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Gndevaz village, Jermuk. Photo by Peter Liakhov.</span></span></span>Beyond the grove, much land in Gndevaz, once a prime location for a beautiful summer home, is now worthless. Land values have plummeted due to the nearby cyanide heap-leach pad. Besides, who’ll buy vegetables or meat from a village so close to a poisonous industry? Even if the mine was safe, why would consumers take the risk?</p><p>This is one of the reasons why, in April 2015, Tehmine, along with nine other Gndevaz residents and two Yerevan-based environmental NGOs filed a lawsuit to the Armenian government requesting that, due to the environmental risks, the construction of the Amulsar mine must be stopped. Since then, the case has been rejected by the lower courts, and the plaintiffs have submitted an appeal, which is still pending. </p><h2>All that glitters… </h2><p>Lydian’s claims to being a responsible and transparent company are key to understanding if its assurances about the mine’s economic and environmental impact are made in good faith. Unfortunately, it seems that Lydian, rather than representing a break from Armenia’s mining tradition, could be just another a sad continuation. </p><p>As with previous mining projects, Armenian politicians at the highest levels of state have connections to Lydian. For instance, Armen Sargsyan, a former prime minister (1996-1997) and current Armenian Ambassador to the UK, served on the Lydian International board of directors in 2013. Similarly, at a local level, respondents in Jermuk report the meddling of government and business elites; they say they fear reprisals such as loss of work or revocation of a business license if they speak out publicly against the Amulsar mine. However, respondents didn’t name who, at the local level, has material interests in the project.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">“The moment anything goes wrong, we will rise up. I know in my heart they’ll never finish building this mine.”</p><p>One local speculated that Ashot Arsenyan, a regional oligarch and director of the Jermuk Group, must have a stake, but offered no concrete evidence. “All I know is that the powers-that-be want that mine built,” he said.</p><p>The <a href="http://www.lydianinternational.co.uk/news/2014-news/195-lydian-international-announces-further-investment-by-international-finance-corporation-and-the-european-bank-for-reconstruction-and-development" target="_blank">support and financial investment</a> Lydian enjoys from the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the EBRD is little consolation. A <a href="http://projects.huffingtonpost.com/projects/worldbank-evicted-abandoned/how-worldbank-finances-environmental-destruction-peru" target="_blank">recent report</a> by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and the Huffington Post described the IFC’s projects as “high-risk, where harm is a likely outcome” and that in recent years “(this is) the kind of investment the World Bank Group increasingly favours: large, destructive and fraught with risk to the environment as well as to people who live [nearby].”</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Sargsyan_Serzh_EPP.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Sargsyan_Serzh_EPP.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="277" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Armenia’s president Serzh Sargsyan, 2013. CC-by-2.0: EPP / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>The report also details gold mining projects that, like Amulsar, use heap-leaching technology and reveal that, contrary to the rhetoric of “zero waste,” they have actually caused significant environmental damage.</p><p>EBRD has also been dogged by scandal, with recent reports by <a href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2014/03/05/european-development-bank-backward-step-rights" target="_blank">Human Rights Watch</a> and <a href="https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/EUR70/006/2014/en/" target="_blank">Amnesty International</a> condemning it for insufficiently protecting the rights of communities living near their projects. In Armenia, the EBRD has supported Dundee Precious Metals’ mine at Shahumyan, southern Armenia, since 2005. The mine, often subject to <a href="http://bankwatch.org/bwmail/56/armenia-gold-mining-problems-cast-shadow-over-renewed-ebrd-financing" target="_blank">pay disputes</a>, suffered a further scandal in 2012 when the Geghanush Tailings Facility had a <a href="https://ecolur.org/en/news/mining/decision-on-initiating-criminal-case-on-dundee-precious-metals-kapan-tailing-pipe-breakdown-appealed/5185/" target="_blank">series of tailing leaks</a> resulting from poorly constructed pipes. </p><h2>Before the goldrush</h2><p>Most of the workers have not yet arrived on site, but full-on construction of the Amulsar mine is expected to begin in a few months’ time, with operations commencing in 2018. </p><p>The mine is being developed at a time of growing unrest in Armenia. In August 2016, there were clashes with police, as thousands came out in support of Sasna Tsrer, an <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/thomas-de-waal/armenia-s-crisis-and-legacy-of-victory" target="_blank">armed group that seized a police station</a> and called for the release of political prisoners and the resignation of president Serzh Sargsyan. The previous year, over 10,000 people blocked Baghramyan Avenue, Yerevan’s main artery, to <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/karena-avedissian/electrified-yerevan" target="_blank">protest an increase in electricity prices</a>.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_right caption-medium'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Amulsar_Mining_Protest_0.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_medium/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Amulsar_Mining_Protest_0.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="240" height="268" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-medium imagecache imagecache-article_medium" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Dig Armenia dry: a poster by the Armenian Ecological Front. Image via ArmEcoFront / Facebook. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>Six years ago, there were large demonstrations against operations in Teghut. With Jermuk and Lake Sevan possibly threatened, the emergence of similar protests concerning Amulsar is likely. </p><p>Perhaps there is even the chance of cross-border cooperation between environmental activists in Armenia and Georgia. (Lydian International is attempting to open a <a href="http://www.lydianinternational.co.uk/projects/kela" target="_blank">gold mine at Kela</a>, in the country’s west.)</p><p>Locals in Jermuk and Gndevaz regretted that no movement has yet arisen, but hope that this summer will be a flashpoint. </p><p>There have already been demonstrations against Amulsar (including a well-publicised <a href="http://asbarez.com/110308/prince-charles-greeted-by-protesters-in-armenia/)" target="_blank">protest</a> during Prince Charles’ visit to Armenia). The activists I spoke to now plan to organise larger protests.</p><p>The economic and social disruption this mine could bring may unite both activists and local residents. But as always when building a mass movement, this will likely necessitate bridging the two groups’ discourses. For local residents, “the environment” takes a backseat to bread-and-butter issues such as employment and security. “We don’t lock our doors here, but when they start building and the workers move in, that will change,” they fear. </p><p>As is common in Armenia, these concerns are voiced in the language of populist nationalism. Jermuk, a “pride of Armenia”, will be ruined, while Lydian International is compared to a colonising power. The emigration that could follow after the mine is shut down will leave undefended lands that neighbouring Azerbaijan will be able to “waltz” into, some claim. Environmentalists may have to speak this language if they are to bring together less politicised opponents of the mine. </p><p>If there is any time for such a bridge to be built, it’s now. As one Jermuk resident put it: “We may have been quiet so far, perhaps because we’re hoping for the best. But the moment anything goes wrong, we will rise up. I know in my heart they’ll never finish building this mine.”</p><p><strong>Read Lydian International's response to this article <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/lydian-international/lydian-international-response-to-armenia-before-goldrush">here</a>.&nbsp;</strong></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/vitalii-atanasov/faded-glory-ukraines-miners">Undermined: how the state is selling out Ukraine’s coal workers</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/georgi-derluguian/on-25-years-of-postmodernity-in-south-caucasus">On 25 years of postmodernity in the South Caucasus</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/gohar-saroyan/depoliticising-protest-in-armenia">Depoliticising protests in Armenia</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/armine-ishkanian/neoliberalism-mining-and-politics-of-plunder-in-armenia">Neoliberalism, mining and Armenia&#039;s politics of plunder </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/artur-asafyev/these-hills-are-ours">These hills are ours</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Peter Liakhov Politics of Plunder Green Eurasia Tue, 31 Jan 2017 16:45:02 +0000 Peter Liakhov 108454 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Tbilisi’s Panorama project is urban boosterism at its worst https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/irakli-zhvania/tbilisi-panorama-project-urban-boosterism-at-its-worst <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>A massive new construction project overlooking Georgia’s capital reveals the true extent of an oligarch’s grip on politics — and Tbilisi’s struggle to become a city for all its people.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_00985331.LR_.ru_.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_00985331.LR_.ru_.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="305" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The man in the high castle. Bidzina Ivanishvili’s residence overlooks old Tbilisi. (c) Besik Pipia / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Bidzina Ivanishvili is Georgia’s richest man — and <a href="http://www.forbes.com/sites/juliaioffe/2012/03/07/nobody-is-bigger-than-bidzina/#1ecfbbb83374">probably its most powerful</a>. Since taking (and leaving) the post of prime minister in 2012-2013, Ivanishvili has remained influential behind the scenes. It’s an accusation the businessman has always denied, stating that he merely enjoys the trust of the public and politicians.</p><p>Ivanishvili, who bankrolled the opposition into power in 2012, has had Georgia’s parliament in his sights for a while. In fact, he wakes up to it every morning — the oligarch resides in a glass mansion overlooking the Georgian capital. The construction of this villa began during the 1990s, under Eduard Shevardnadze. For most people, this was a dark time: one of corruption, crumbling infrastructure and severe shortages. But some people thrived.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Ivanishvili has had Georgia’s parliament in his sights for a while. In fact, he wakes up to it every morning</p><p>In 2003, Mikheil Saakashvili came to power in the Rose Revolution, toppling Shevardnadze’s corrupt government. This caused a problem for the man in the glass house — Ivanishvili’s mansion was not quite legal. The construction permit should never have been issued, as the house is located in a heritage and landscape preservation area. Nevertheless, Ivanishvili found a common language with the new authorities. He became a major sponsor, supporting many infrastructural projects and the reorganisation of the police, among other initiatives. The problem around his glass palace (complete with private zoo and art collection) was soon resolved.&nbsp;</p><p>But Ivanishvili has another. His new glass palace is on another scale, as is the opposition to it. Tbilisi now awaits a new luxury complex, containing a hotel, business centre and conference halls — Panorama.</p><h2>You can vote him in, but you can’t vote him out</h2><p>Tbilisi first learnt about Panorama after Ivanishvili’s resignation in 2013. It’s an elite business centre with conference halls, a seven star hotel and a golf course. Its scale is truly staggering: it’s been described as <a href="http://www.transparency.ge/en/node/4279" target="_blank">the largest real estate development in the country’s history</a>.&nbsp;The chairman of Co-investment Fund board, Irakli Karseladze, stated in May 2016 that the total investment in the fund’s eight projects is approximately $574m. Panorama is the biggest of these.</p><p>The entire complex will have eight floors and sit atop another hill, just behind Bidzina Ivanishvili’s glass palace. Preparatory construction works by Burji, a company owned by Ivanishvili, are now underway. The land slated for development was owned by Finservice, another of Ivanishvili’s companies which specialises in timber export. Finservice later sold the land to Co-Investment Fund, of which Ivanishvili is the biggest shareholder.&nbsp;<br /><br /><iframe frameborder="0" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/QT4zIyW2x0M" height="259" width="460"></iframe><em>Check out this video of the proposed project.</em><br /> <br />Panorama will do more than overlook Tbilisi. Ivanishvili wants to connect it to the city centre via two cable cars — one to the central Freedom Square, and another to Erekle Square in the oldest part of town. One justification is practical: Panorama would otherwise be accessed only via a narrow mountain road that links Tbilisi to its surrounding villages, which is easily congested. But there’s also money to be made. Both sites for proposed cable car stations belong to Ivanishvili’s Co-Investment Fund.&nbsp;</p><p>Indeed, Tbilisi’s old city, founded in the fifth century, belongs to a Historic Preservation Zone, which strictly regulates new developments in order to preserve the historic atmosphere. Getting planning permission is usually a long process — unless you’ve got connections. After the Rose Revolution, the land for Bidzina’s palace lost its protected status. It was a way of saying thanks. Yet the site for Panorama is still within this protected zone, where new construction is prohibited by law.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Experts say that Panorama could seriously jeopardise Old Tbilisi’s tentative status as a UNESCO world heritage site</p><p>The Panorama project violates regulations both on historic and natural landscape preservation. Half-hearted attempts to make it comply with the latter are no less damaging — in a pale imitation of the surrounding mountains, the building will resemble a hilltop. The natural beauty it will replace is already being torn up to make room.</p><h2>Moving mountains...</h2><p>Under Saakashvili, plans were developed to reopen an old Soviet cable car system linking Rustaveli Avenue to the Mtatsminda mountain, where Tbilisi’s TV tower stands. The city-side station was planned on the other side of Rustaveli Avenue, on a big square, and the cable car would cross the city’s main avenue. Mass protests under both Saakashvili and Georgian Dream led the city administration to cancel the project. This time, the protests go on — but the authorities aren’t listening.</p><p>Several international organisations working in the field of cultural heritage have signed an <a href="http://www.ertad.org/letters--press-releases.html" target="_blank">open letter</a> against the construction of Panorama. Moreover, experts say that Panorama could seriously <a href="http://jam-news.net/Publication/Get/en-US/156" target="_blank">jeopardise Old Tbilisi’s tentative status as a UNESCO world heritage site</a>. Speaking in a television interview in September 2015, Tbilisi mayor David Narmania insisted that the project will benefit the city, adding that international organisations who protested were simply misinformed.&nbsp;</p><p>These reactions don’t disturb Ivanishvili in the slightest. In a television interview with G-News from July 2015, he promised that the project would benefit the city, stressing that he would never do anything to harm Tbilisi or its heritage and everything is legal. The protesters, he added, were being manipulated by Saakashvili’s party of power, the UNM. In another interview in June, Ivanishvili refused to answer questions regarding Panorama, saying he already commented on it many times, asking the interviewer to move on to the next topic.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Tbilisi_Panorama.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Tbilisi_Panorama.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="248" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Visualisation of the Panorama Project, overlooking old Tbilisi and its botanic gardens. Image still via 2030 Official / YouTube. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Ivanishvili has been cunning and resourceful. The first legal hurdle for Panorama was to overcome the protected status of the land. The proposed construction area was part of a landscape and recreation zone which originally did not allow any construction, but later had its zoning permissions changed to allow for a hotel and artificial gardens. This vote at Tbilisi’s city council (where Georgian Dream held a majority) took place just before New Year’s eve 2014, and went in Ivanishvili’s favour. The Panorama site is now an enclave within the protected area owned by Ivanishvili’s Co-Investment Fund.&nbsp;</p><p>Next came the construction permit. In an attempt to avoid the city municipality (the mayor and the council are directly elected by citizens) and avoid protests in front of the city hall, Panorama was granted an unprecedented status — “category five”, which is assigned to any crucial state infrastructure, such as hydroelectric dams, energy plants, military bases and pipelines. Now, it would seem, luxury hotels also count.&nbsp;</p><p>Category Five projects do not have to seek municipal approval. Instead, they are overseen by Georgia’s ministry for economic and sustainable development. Oversight was thus shifted from the municipal level to the ministerial, hollowing out all public accountability.</p><h2>...and cutting down trees&nbsp;</h2><p>The Panorama site can only be reached by a narrow, winding road in the hills above Tbilisi, which starts in the historic Sololaki neighbourhood. In summer, Tbilisi residents escape the heat of the city and drive up into the mountains. In its generosity, the Tbilisi municipality announced that it would construct a bypass road to ease access to the villages in the hills above the capital.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">At every step, Panorama has evaded legal procedures</p><p>As the city’s current mayor has shown himself incapable of effective management and decision making, he has been appointed a deputy. For a short time, Davit Liluashvili took on this role, and he just happened to work at Co-Investment Fund, the previously mentioned company owned by Ivanishvili which is behind the development of Panorama. (Indeed, both of Georgia’s prime ministers since Ivanishvili’s resignation, Irakli Garibashvili and Giorgi Kvirikashvili, came from Cartu Bank, which was owned by Ivanishvili.)&nbsp;</p><p>It seems that, though the municipality was so weak in the face of Ivanishvili that it could do nothing to address public outrage on Panorama, even Ivanishvili himself did not trust his protégé mayor David Narmania to carry out his instructions.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/betlemi_hill.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/betlemi_hill.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="260" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Old Tbilisi, as viewed from Betlemi Church. The fate of the area’s many historic buildings has become a cause for concern in recent years. CC: Roberto Strauss / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Thus, several hundred trees were cut down, a gas pipeline was moved and the existing road was widened. At the same time, the auction to sell land adjacent to Panorama was announced. Naturally, the Co-Investment Fund was the only bidder.&nbsp;</p><p>Liluashvili mysteriously resigned, the land was purchased, and construction of a new road to the site of Panorama began. The people of Tbilisi, escaping into the hills during those hot summers, still await their promised new road into the mountains.&nbsp;</p><p>Ivanishvili’s philanthropic work is endless, and he has enjoyed a good reputation among the Georgian public (which proved useful when Saakashvili’s regime became increasingly authoritarian). But how long can this reputation last?&nbsp;</p><h2>A new architecture of protest&nbsp;</h2><p>At every step of the way, Panorama has managed to evade legal procedures, despite opposition to it.&nbsp;</p><p>Architects, urban planners and conservationists were outraged by the immense scale of urban intervention the project envisaged. Ivanishvili was unpleasantly surprised, apparently not expecting much resistance given his reputation as a philanthropist.&nbsp;</p><p>Panorama has galvanised many parts of Tbilisi’s civil society. The protest movement <a href="http://www.ertad.org" target="_blank">Ertad </a>(Geo: “together”), founded in 2015 to unite various activist groups, was one outcome. Ertad members include Tbilisi’s Guerilla Gardeners, who fight to preserve urban green spaces. Its members recently organised a hunger strike in front of the city hall to protest cutting down trees for residential development.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/PaNoRama.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/PaNoRama.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Putting the “no” into Panorama. Activists from Ertad protest outside the State Chancellery in Tbilisi, April 2016. Photo courtesy of ერთად / Ertad.</span></span></span>Another ally is <a href="http://www.iarepekhit.org" target="_blank">Iare Pekhit</a> (“Walk”), an association which promotes Tbilisi as a walkable city, emphasising pedestrians’ rights and holding the Tbilisi “Ugly city” tours, focusing on architecture and the use and misuse of public space.&nbsp;</p><p>There are more groups active in the struggle against Panorama. Hamqari is a Tbilisi-based NGO involved in the protection of Tbilisi’s cultural heritage, while the youth activists at <a href="http://dfwatch.net/the-economy-isnt-everything-say-georgias-green-activists-25422-28089" target="_blank">Green Fist</a> started out protesting the controversial Khudoni hydroelectric dam.</p><p>In total, around 20 organisations organised a march on 7 May to the Panorama site and Ivanishvili’s residence. Two hundred protesters took part. Several activists were arrested, including Nata Peradze from Guerilla Gardeners, and Alexander Elisashvili, city council member and advocate for heritage. The official reason was resisting to police and disturbing public order.&nbsp;</p><p>Although Ertad’s activists lacked experience and effective organisation, their resistance was a promising example of a united protest against such a large project.&nbsp;</p><h2>Leaving a legacy</h2><p>Georgian Dream prevailed at Georgia’s recent parliamentary elections. It was hardly a rousing endorsement, but enough to hold on to power. However, should the party triumph in the second round of elections this month, it will hold enough seats to amend the constitution, cementing its power even further.</p><p>It’s worth noting that Georgian Dream came to power in 2012 on the back of mass dissatisfaction with Mikheil Saakashvili and his United National Movement. Ivanishvili himself promised a level of democracy unprecedented even for Europe.</p><p><span class="mag-quote-center">The desire of the powerful to make their mark on our city overrides prior promises of democracy and accountability</span></p><p>Saakashvili had aimed to rapidly modernise the country. Architectural projects were the best means to demonstrate progress. As a result, government initiatives didn’t go through public hearings or reviews, while permits were dispensed by officials who frequently ignored planning considerations.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/PA-16974117.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/PA-16974117.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="328" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Bidzina Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream coalition ousted Mikheil Saakashvili’s UNM government in 2012. The reclusive billionaire then briefly served as prime minister. (c) Shakh Aivazov / PA / Press Association Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Panorama is in keeping with this tradition. Ivanishvili has decreed that his project is good and necessary for the people of Tbilisi — not that he ever took their opinion seriously. But there is one important difference. While Saakashvili’s many ad-hoc urban innovations were imposed from above, extremely expensive and of unclear purpose, they were at least public buildings. Ivanishvili’s initiative is a privately-owned complex of truly monstrous proportions.</p><p>Whether it’s Ivanishvili or Saakashvili, the attitudes of the powerful to Georgia’s urban space and its responsible use have not fundamentally changed. The right amendment can always be made, the right permit can always be found, the right people can always be convinced to vote the right way. Those with financial or political influence feel that nobody can stop them. Obsessed with their pet projects, the desire of the powerful to make their mark on our city overrides previous promises of democracy and public accountability.&nbsp;</p><p>Georgia is still looking for leaders with more respect for their voters — voters who want to live in cities in which their voice counts.</p><p><span style="color: #434343;"><em>Amid widespread apathy and corruption, Georgia’s democracy faces all too familiar obstacles. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/stephen-f-jones/fate-of-georgian-dreams">Read about them here.</a>&nbsp;</em></span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/anar-valiyev-natalie-koch/sochi-syndrome">The Sochi Syndrome</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/georgi-derluguian/on-25-years-of-postmodernity-in-south-caucasus">On 25 years of postmodernity in the South Caucasus</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/pawel-wargan/tbilisi-moscow-language-of-architecture">Tbilisi, Moscow: the language of architecture</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/stephen-f-jones/fate-of-georgian-dreams">The fate of Georgian dreams</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/george-nonidze/tbilisi-tearing-down-past">Tbilisi: tearing down the past</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-edwards/abkhazia-recognising-ruins">Abkhazia: recognising the ruins</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Irakli Zhvania Green Eurasia Politics Georgia Caucasus Thu, 20 Oct 2016 12:30:18 +0000 Irakli Zhvania 106117 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Oil & Money: tackling corruption and climate change https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/daniel-voskoboynik/oil-money-tackling-corruption-and-climate-change <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Bio 2.JPG" alt="Bio 2.JPG" width="80" /></p><p>London can no longer be a welcome host to companies that plunder state and carbon budgets.</p><p>&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/London_City_Dawn_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/London_City_Dawn_0.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>London, world capital of the fossil fuel industry – and the dirty money which follows in its wake. CC: Neil Howard / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span><br />This week, senior executives of the oil and gas industry will be meeting at the Intercontinental Hotel in London for an exclusive conference named <a href="http://www.oilandmoney.com/" target="_blank">Oil &amp; Money</a>. Hosted by the New York Times and Energy Intelligence, the event is described as a “must attend” networking opportunity, a gathering of “over 450 of the most influential senior decision makers from the industry, along with government ministers and representatives, financiers and bankers, consultants and legal experts.”&nbsp;</p><p>The conference is sponsored by a number of notorious companies: Exxon Mobil (a historic funder of climate denial, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/20/science/exxon-mobil-fraud-inquiry-said-to-focus-more-on-future-than-past.html" target="_blank">now under investigation</a> by two US attorney generals for fraud), Sonangol (the Angolan state oil company long accused of <a href="https://www.globalwitness.org/en/archive/bp-and-partners-us350-million-payments-corruption-prone-angola-show-need-us-transparency/" target="_blank">corruption</a> and <a href="http://www.makaangola.org/2016/06/supersonic-nepotism-illegalities-at-the-speed-of-light/" target="_blank">nepotism</a>, now on the brink of bankruptcy), Gunvor (a commodity trading company <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/gunvor-oil-idUSL5N0BBH0720130212" target="_blank">previously investigated</a> for <a href="http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/02/10/how-hsbc-got-rich-off-russian-corruption.html" target="_blank">corruption</a>), Bank of America (the western world’s <a href="http://www.ran.org/shorting_the_climate" target="_blank">coal and fracking bank</a>), Dow Chemical (the<a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/poisoned-legacy-of-bhopal-campaigners-call-on-dow-chemical-to-answer-criminal-charges-31-years-after-a6779231.html" target="_blank"> chemicals giant</a> which has still not borne <a href="http://www.indiawest.com/news/global_indian/bhopal-victims-launch-final-try-to-get-union-carbide-to/article_108e7564-43a7-11e6-8537-47e43bb75108.html" target="_blank">responsibility for the 1984 Bhopal gas disaster</a>), and others.</p><p>Organisations working on climate justice, human rights and corruption are already mobilising a <a href="https://www.facebook.com/events/1414570038849936/" target="_blank">joint civil society response</a> under the banner: “this is not a conference, this is a crime scene.” Corporate sponsorship is <a href="http://www.oilandmoney.com/sponsorship.aspx" target="_blank">not a neutral transaction</a> — it is a ticket to access and prestige. It can buy you platforms, friendships, seats on boards, building plaques, favours and <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/china/10890356/Revealed-Wen-Jiabaos-family-is-behind-Cambridge-University-professorship.html" target="_blank">even academic esteem</a>.</p><h2>Roll out the red carpet&nbsp;</h2><p>Take the case of Igor Sechin, current CEO of Russian state oil company Rosneft and former <a href="https://www.ft.com/content/a8f24922-cef4-11e3-9165-00144feabdc0" target="_blank">right-hand man of president Vladimir Putin</a>. In 2014, Sechin was <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/financialcrisis/10794425/US-hits-Russias-oil-kingpin-Igor-Sechin-with-first-energy-sanctions.html" target="_blank">placed under US sanctions</a> over the Ukrainian conflict. His travel was restricted; his assets frozen. This year, Sechin was <a href="https://themoscowtimes.com/news/sechin-accuses-novye-izvestia-of-libel-55024" target="_blank">linked</a> by Russian newspaper <em>Novaya Gazeta</em> to one of the world’s most expensive yachts, whose <a href="https://www.occrp.org/en/investigations/5523-the-secret-of-the-st-princess-olga" target="_blank">annual operating costs</a> exceed his estimated salary. Sechin’s wife, implicated in the revelations, <a href="https://meduza.io/en/news/2016/08/18/the-kremlin-s-oil-czar-takes-an-independent-newspaper-to-court-for-smearing-his-wife-and-her-fancy-yacht" target="_blank">took <em>Novaya Gazeta</em> to court</a>. Sechin himself sued newspaper Vedomosti earlier in the year for writing about his new <a href="https://themoscowtimes.com/news/russias-second-most-powerful-man-building-60-million-home-near-moscow-54659" target="_blank">$60m palatial home</a>, demanding it physically destroy the newspaper’s print run.</p><p>The company Sechin runs is also notoriously negligent: in 2011, a federal watchdog reported <a href="https://themoscowtimes.com/articles/rosneft-ranks-worst-for-environmental-damage-in-oil-producing-region-16976" target="_blank">2,727 Rosneft oil spills</a> in the oil-producing region of Khanty-Mansiisk. But Sechin’s tainted record is no deterrent for the organisers of Oil &amp; Money. Rosneft is a proud sponsor, and <a href="https://twitter.com/oilandmoney/status/778989226604040196" target="_blank">Sechin is listed as a speake</a>r.&nbsp;</p><p>The <a href="http://www.oilandmoney.com/pey-award.aspx" target="_blank">red carpet treatment</a> these companies and oil oligarchs obtain in the UK is not exceptional. London is arguably the world capital of the fossil fuel industry. Every year, plush London hotels <a href="http://www.ogj.com/event-listing/all-petroleum-events.html" target="_blank">open their doors</a> to dozens of major industry events.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Money flows from London to open new coal mines, lease oilfields, erect drills and build pipelines all around the world. The profits return, to be deposited in bank accounts and private equity funds</p><p>A <a href="http://www.carbontracker.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Unburnable-Carbon-Full-rev2-1.pdf" target="_blank">third of the value</a> of the FTSE100 comes from fossil fuels and mining, up from one-tenth a decade ago. Fossil fuel shares on the London stock exchange are worth more in total than <a href="http://www.globaljustice.org.uk/sites/default/files/files/resources/web_of_power_media_briefing.pdf" target="_blank">the entire GDP of sub-Saharan Africa</a>. The hydrocarbon reserves of companies registered in London <a href="http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/london-stock-exchange-has-become-a-carbon-haven-for-fossil-fuels/" target="_blank">contain the equivalent carbon</a> of ten UK carbon budgets until 2050.&nbsp;</p><p>Money <a href="http://www.huckmagazine.com/perspectives/reportage-2/hundreds-call-london-divest-fossil-fuels/" target="_blank">flows from London</a> to open <a href="http://www.gcmplc.com/overview" target="_blank">new coal mines</a>, lease oilfields, erect drills and build pipelines all around the world. The profits return, to be deposited in bank accounts and private equity funds, or invested in the city itself. Last year, <a href="http://uk.businessinsider.com/billions-of-pounds-of-oil-money-from-around-the-world-went-into-london-property-last-year-2015-6" target="_blank">billions of oil dollars</a> poured into London property, attracted by rising prices and lax regulation. Swathes of the city are owned by <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/business/2014/aug/11/norway-sovereign-wealth-fund-london-landmarks" target="_blank">investment companies</a> whose capital originates primarily from fossil fuels.&nbsp;<br /><br /><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_02927013.LR_.ru_.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_02927013.LR_.ru_.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The art of the golden handshake. RosNeft at Russia’s Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, September 2016. (c) Maxim Blinov / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>More broadly, the UK is a key jurisdiction for concealing and laundering stolen wealth. Leading oligarchs, including oil barons, use the country to legitimise <a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/panama-papers-get-tough-on-britain-firms-helping-corrupt-hide-assets-offshore-urge-campaigners-a6971386.html" target="_blank">billions of pounds</a> every year. According to former banker and anti-corruption campaigner Roman Borisovich, three-quarters of the <a href="http://www.frontlineclub.com/kleptoscope-londons-dirty-money-2/" target="_blank">money looted in Russia</a>, much of which is creamed from hydrocarbon revenues, comes to Britain. It is no surprise that this year, writer and mafia expert Roberto Saviano called the UK “<a href="https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/may/29/roberto-saviano-london-is-heart-of-global-financial-corruption" target="_blank">the most corrupt place on Earth</a>”.</p><h2>Keep it in the ground&nbsp;</h2><p>The Oil &amp; Money conference throws light on an important convergence — the link between climate change and corruption.</p><p>Across the world, corruption is frequently cited in polls as a <a href="http://www.pewglobal.org/2014/11/06/crime-and-corruption-top-problems-in-emerging-and-developing-countries/" target="_blank">top problem</a>. Stolen state funds mean underfunded healthcare, unbuilt schools and depleted social programmes. Money destined for aid or disaster relief is siphoned off. Corruption cements unfairness: university places and degrees are bought, <a href="http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/peopleandpower/2015/08/peru-rotten-wood-150812105020949.html" target="_blank">impunity is purchased</a>, and hospital beds are auctioned. It is the single biggest obstacle to tackling climate change.</p><p>We know that the vast majority of coal, oil and gas reserves must be left unexploited to secure any kind of reasonable, sustainable future. A <a href="http://priceofoil.org/content/uploads/2016/09/OCI_the_skys_limit_2016_FINAL_2.pdf" target="_blank">recent report</a> by Oil Change International computed that staying below the temperature target of two degrees celsius of global warming (<a href="http://www.cop21.gouv.fr/en/why-2c/" target="_blank">globally agreed in 2009</a>) essentially requires an end to any new extraction projects.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Solving the climate crisis and securing a liveable world mean two things for Oil &amp; Money — oil must stay underground and money must flow away from dirty energy&nbsp;</p><p>Although oil and gas companies have known about the environmental risks posed by their industry <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/elliott-negin/internal-documents-show-f_b_7749988.html" target="_blank">for decades</a>, their vested interests in prolonging and expanding their business have compelled them to throw money at delaying a meaningful response to climate change. In other words, they have used corruption to obstruct political control over their profits and operations.&nbsp;</p><p><a href="https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=wmma0dfdOwsC&amp;pg=PT145&amp;dq=oil+industry+and+corruption&amp;hl=en&amp;sa=X&amp;ved=0ahUKEwiuv7LF8NfPAhWjCcAKHYpNB7I4ChDoAQglMAI#v=onepage&amp;q&amp;f=false" target="_blank">The nature of fossil fuel extraction</a> — complexity, the role of bidding, the number of mediators, the huge money at stake — has made corruption <a href="http://oilprice.com/Energy/Energy-General/Corruption-Endemic-In-The-Oil-And-Gas-Industry.html" target="_blank">historically endemic in the industry</a>. Just this year, <a href="http://www.theage.com.au/interactive/2016/the-bribe-factory/day-1/the-company-that-bribed-the-world.html" target="_blank">documents leaked</a> to the Huffington Post &amp; Fairfax Media revealed how Unaoil, an obscure family business from Monaco, used millions of dollars to arrange contracts and bribe Middle Eastern officials on behalf of major oil companies.<br /><br /><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Baku_Oil.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Baku_Oil.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Dirty money. Offshore oil fields in the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan. CC: Bruno Girin / Wikimedia Commons. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>&nbsp;<br />Not only have fossil fuel companies used payments to <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/arab-awakening/hamza-hamouchene/kerkennah-on-frontline-of-resistance-to-fossil-fuel-industry-in-tuni" target="_blank">gain preferential contracts</a>, lower royalty rates and <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/feb/02/petrobras-brazil-oil-company-bribery-kickbacks-scandal-lawsuit" target="_blank">inflate stock values</a>, but they have secured even broader benefits through institutionalised bribery. The fossil fuel industry spends <a href="http://priceofoil.org/thepriceofoil/corruption/" target="_blank">hundreds of millions</a> of US dollars every year <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/dark-money-funds-climate-change-denial-effort/" target="_blank">corrupting science</a> and politics through sponsorship, <a href="http://www.desmog.uk/2016/04/08/oil-giants-spend-114m-obstruct-climate-policy-s-just-tip-iceberg" target="_blank">lobbying</a>, and think-tank funding. This has allowed the industry to shape public discourse, gain proximity to decision-makers and exert decisive influence over political processes. In Russia, for example, the lobbying weight of the fossil fuel industry is <a href="https://themoscowtimes.com/articles/renewable-energy-feared-by-oil-lobby-7494" target="_blank">frequently cited</a> as the <a href="http://deepdecarbonization.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/DDPP-Factsheet_Russia.pdf" target="_blank">leading impediment</a> to the <a href="http://bellona.org/news/renewable-energy/2016-01-russia-pushes-for-renewables-but-entrenched-power-lobbies-and-poor-organization-remain-foes" target="_blank">development of renewable energy</a>.</p><p>Political corruption is an investment which pays off like no other. Calculations by the IMF show that the fossil fuel industry received <a href="https://www.imf.org/external/pubs/cat/longres.aspx?sk=42940.0" target="_blank">a staggering US$5.3tn</a> in public subsidies in 2015; that’s more money that all global public health spending combined.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Rather than posturing at international summits and admonishing other countries for their “fantastic corruption”, the British government should conduct a little more introspection&nbsp;</p><p>In <a href="http://www.argusmedia.com/news/article/?id=1143180" target="_blank">many states</a>, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/aug/20/bp-lobbied-against-eu-support-clean-energy-favour-gas-documents-reveal" target="_blank">energy and climate policy</a> is <a href="http://www.desmog.uk/2016/02/29/revealed-15-former-uk-politicians-now-lobbying-government-oil-and-gas" target="_blank">shaped</a> by <a href="http://www.desmog.uk/2016/08/11/newly-appointed-government-special-advisers-linked-brexit-climate-denier-network" target="_blank">industry advisors</a> or <a href="http://energydesk.greenpeace.org/2016/08/10/revolving-door-edf-energy-uk-government-hinkley/" target="_blank">former employees</a>. In the UK for example, the Minister of State for Energy and Climate Change from 2010 to 2014 was Greg Barker, <a href="http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/newsdesk/energy/analysis/whos-who-energy-greg-baker" target="_blank">previously employed by Sibneft</a>. Sergey Donskoy, Russia’s Minister for Natural Resources, worked at Zarubezhneft and Lukoil.&nbsp;</p><p>The revolving door turns both ways, as government officials leave office to enter private business. Mervyn Davies, the former UK trade minister, is now <a href="http://www.letterone.com/media/news/2015/lord-davies-appointed-deputy-chairman-of-the-letterone-group" target="_blank">chairman of LetterOne Group</a>, an investment company whose significant fossil fuel assets are managed by Russian billionaire Mikhail Fridman.</p><p>Unless we disrupt corruption and <a href="http://reclaimpower.net/" target="_blank">reclaim power</a> away from the industry, the subsidy glut will prevail and much-needed alternatives will remain underdeveloped.&nbsp;</p><h2>Solutions</h2><p>Solving the climate crisis and securing a liveable world means two things for Oil &amp; Money — <a href="https://newrepublic.com/article/136987/recalculating-climate-math" target="_blank">oil must stay underground</a> and <a href="http://www.foei.org/press/archive-by-subject/climate-justice-energy-press/time-people-reclaim-power" target="_blank">money must flow away from dirty energy</a>. London, the capital of fossil fuels and oil money laundering, has a pivotal role to play. It can no longer be a funnel of endless finance for dirty energy. <a href="http://www.globaljustice.org.uk/sites/default/files/files/resources/carbon_captital_tqs_aug_2013.pdf" target="_blank">Regulatory solutions</a> are needed to drastically reduce the carbon density of the city’s financial sector.</p><p>The city’s far-flung friends will need to change their ways, too. Stricken by the “Dutch Disease”, the economies of Eurasia’s fossil fuel giants are in ill health, from Azerbaijan to Kazakhstan, and of course to Putin’s Russia. Ordinary working people are paying the price.&nbsp;</p><p>As the Panama Papers illustrated, the ruling kleptocratic elites of these states are very happy to use <a href="https://www.occrp.org/en/panamapapers/kazakh-presidents-grandson-offshores/" target="_blank">UK jurisdictions</a> to stash their wealth. It seems that many in London are all too eager to turn a blind eye, and the <a href="http://www.cw-uk.org/2016/07/05/brexit-what-next-for-the-anti-corruption-movement-in-the-uk/" target="_blank">fallout of Brexit</a> risks further cementing the UK’s status as a haven for dirty money.&nbsp;</p><p>Rather than <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-35087059" target="_blank">posturing at international climate summits</a> and admonishing other countries for their “<a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-36260193" target="_blank">fantastic levels of corruption</a>”, the British government should conduct a little more introspection and act to reform its own institutions and policies.</p><p>That is its debt to communities across the world, working to reclaim their stolen money and future.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/daniel-voskoboynik/russia-tinderbox-in-struggle-for-safe-climate">Russia: the tinderbox in the struggle for a safe climate</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-edwards-mikhail-kaluzhsky-natalia-antonova-thomas-rowley/from-panama-via-london-with">From Panama, via London, with love</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/svetlana-bolotnikova/kuban-some-men-want-to-watch-world-burn">In Russia, some men want to watch the world burn</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia-vladimir-slivyak-nailya-ibragimova/atomic-energy-and-polit">Atomic energy and political power in Russia</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/marianna-poberezhskaya/why-climate-change-is-not-on-russia-s-agenda">Why climate change is not on Russia’s agenda</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/gleb-paikachov/we-need-to-find-common-ground-between-climate-change-and-civil-society">We need to find the common ground between climate change and civil society</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Brexit Inc. Daniel Voskoboynik Green Eurasia Russia Economy Mon, 17 Oct 2016 16:09:31 +0000 Daniel Voskoboynik 106018 at https://www.opendemocracy.net New life for Ukraine’s aging nuclear power plants https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/iryna-holovko-dana-marekova/new-life-for-ukraine-s-aging-nuclear-power-plants <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>European institutions are helping Ukraine extend its already outdated nuclear operations — increasing short-term risks and halting energy alternatives for the future.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/RIAN_00149554.LR_.ru__1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="316" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The control room at Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. (c) VisualRIAN. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>In the past few weeks, two of Ukraine’s Soviet-era nuclear reactors <a href="http://bankwatch.org/news-media/for-journalists/press-releases/new-life-old-nukes-ukraine-means-more-risk-people-and-plan">received a lease on life for an additional 10 years beyond their originally projected life-span</a>. Units 1 and 2 at the Zaporizhska nuclear power plant, Europe's largest, are the fifth and sixth units to have their expiry dates extended by Ukraine’s nuclear regulator. This is a dangerous move, which violates international law and democratic principles.&nbsp;</p><p>Nuclear proponents, Ukrainian governmental officials and the state nuclear power operator Energoatom argue these extensions are necessary. But is it really? And who benefits from the continued operation of Ukraine's aging nuclear fleet?</p><h2>Where are the alternatives?&nbsp;</h2><p>European financial institutions play an important role in this game. Contributions to Ukraine's nuclear program (<a href="http://www.ebrd.com/what-we-do/sectors/ukraine-nuclear-safety-upgrade.html">totaling 600m euros</a>) enable the operation of old nuclear power plants to continue.&nbsp;</p><p>On the face of it, the “nuclear safety upgrade program”, supported by Euratom and the Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), is meant to help Ukraine improve safety standards in its nuclear units. But in reality, the EU is paying (60% of EBRD shares belong to EU member states and the European Investment Bank) and Ukraine is extending operation of its unsafe, aging reactors beyond their original lifespan without completing some of the top priority safety measures.</p><p>Currently, 55% of Ukraine's electricity comes from nuclear power, with the remaining mostly from gas and coal. The country faces numerous economic and geopolitical challenges, given the ongoing armed conflict in the east of the country. In fact, the Zaporizhska nuclear power plant is 250km from the frontlines.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">When European public money supports this kind of nuclear development, it sets a dangerous precedent throughout Europe</p><p>It is obvious that the nuclear reactors can not be simply switched off from one day to another. Instead, what is needed is a principal change of direction in Ukraine’s energy sector <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/jan-haverkamp-iryna-holovko/towards-post-nuclear-ukraine">towards a sustainable, safe and climate friendly future</a>. Sadly, the foresight and will for this key step for Ukraine’s future is lacking among the country’s elites. Rather than recognising the need to transform Ukraine's energy sector, the government prefers to cling to the old energy generation fleet as long as it can. To a large degree, this trend is the result of the influence of the strong pro-nuclear lobby, led by Energoatom for whom the country's 15 reactors are its main asset.&nbsp;</p><p>In the past, EU investments in the Ukraine’s energy sector were predominantly geared toward <a href="http://bankwatch.org/sites/default/files/EaP-energy-Ukraine.pdf">supporting the country’s nuclear sector and its transmission lines</a>, with only 15% of funds going to energy efficiency and renewables. In the country with such a massive potential for both, this fact is not only regrettable, but irresponsible.&nbsp;</p><p>The EU money that enables the continued operation of Ukraine’s old reactors comes with strings attached. Loan agreements signed between Energoatom and Euratom and the EBRD stipulate that Ukraine must adhere to the UN Espoo and Aarhus Conventions, which mandate public participation in projects that can have negative environmental impacts, including transboundary impacts.</p><p>However, Kiev has so far ignored its obligations under these conventions. In its official communications with the governments of neighbouring states, Ukraine’s environmental ministry insists that nuclear lifetime extensions do not require international public consultations. This attitude is worth noting since Ukraine has already been found in breach of the Espoo Convention. The authorities <a href="http://www.unece.org/fileadmin/DAM/env/documents/2014/EIA/IC/ece.mp.eia.ic.2014.2.e.pdf">did not conduct transboundary consultations</a> when they authorised the lifetime extensions of two reactors at the Rivne power plant in western Ukraine in 2010. Ukraine passed very similar decisions extending four other reactors since and again without consulting its neighbors, even when the governments of Slovakia, Romania, Austria, Germany and Hungary claim their right to be involved. And European public funders, Euroatom and EBRD, have been turning a blind eye on violations of loan agreements and international law.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Our rights to sustainable and safe energy, and to be involved in decision-making, have been blatantly overlooked</p><p>On the domestic front, opposition to nuclear decision-making is silenced. Our colleagues in Ukraine, who have been voicing safety concerns, were <a href="http://bankwatch.org/news-media/for-journalists/press-releases/energoatom-lawsuit-against-ukrainian-activists-latest-atte">sued in 2015 by Energoatom</a>, Ukraine’s nuclear operator, and the state nuclear regulator joined in later. Eventually, the court backed the plaintiffs, who argued the public critique of the nuclear revival programme was inappropriate. Meanwhile, EU institutions keep on paying to support Ukraine’s aging nuclear fleet and claim to support democracy and rule of law in the country.&nbsp;</p><p>The European Union is therefore complicit in the direction Ukraine's energy sector is taking. Whatever the interests behind the lifetime extensions of old nuclear units in Ukraine, it must not endanger citizens in Ukraine or neighbouring countries. Our rights to sustainable and safe energy, and to be involved in decision-making, have been blatantly overlooked. When Europe tolerates the violation of international conventions, it sends Ukraine the wrong message on democracy and the rule of law. When Europe helps Ukraine extend its nuclear agony for up to 20 more years, the state has few incentives to start exploring energy alternatives.</p><p>And when European public money supports this kind of nuclear development, it sets a dangerous precedent throughout Europe, where no less than 30 reactors are about to reach the end of their design lifetime. The European public should follow where our money is going. The European Commission is expected to introduce the legislative and financial framework for the electricity market soon — we need to make sure it is paving the way for our safe and progressive future.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/vladimir-slivyak/sergey-kirienko-from-nuclear-to-political-power">Sergey Kirienko, from nuclear to political power</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/jan-haverkamp-iryna-holovko/towards-post-nuclear-ukraine">Towards a post-nuclear Ukraine</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia-vladimir-slivyak-nailya-ibragimova/atomic-energy-and-polit">Atomic energy and political power in Russia</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Dana Marekova Iryna Holovko Green Eurasia Fri, 14 Oct 2016 10:28:06 +0000 Iryna Holovko and Dana Marekova 105964 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Sergey Kirienko, from nuclear to political power https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/vladimir-slivyak/sergey-kirienko-from-nuclear-to-political-power <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>After ten years as head of Rosatom, Sergey Kirienko is now deputy head of Russia’s Presidential Administration. What will he bring to the job? <strong><em><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/vladimir-slivyak/zhizn-posle-kirienko" target="_blank">Русский</a></em></strong></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_02926371.LR_.ru_.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_02926371.LR_.ru_.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="310" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>General director of Rosatom Sergey Kirienko attends a meeting during the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, 2 October. (c) Aleksey Filippov / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>In 2005, when Sergey Kirienko was put in charge of Russia’s Federal Atomic Energy Agency (renamed Rosatom in 2007), he’d never had any experience of the nuclear power sector.</p><p>Later to make headlines as Russia’s youngest prime minister, Kirienko’s political career began in 1997, when he became deputy minister of fuel and energy. In 1998, he served as prime minister under Boris Yeltsin for several short months before resigning over the financial crisis that led to the devaluing of the rouble and Russia defaulting on its debts. Now Kirienko is <a href="http://www.rbc.ru/photoreport/05/10/2016/57ebc1359a7947eb345b376d">once again at the hub of power</a>, looking after internal political matters. </p><p>Kirienko’s successor at Rosatom is Alexei Likhachev, Russia’s first deputy minister of economic development since 2010. Likhachev would seem to be a natural choice for the job — he was born in Arzamas-16, now Sarov, the Russian centre for nuclear research and still a closed city. </p><p>Likhachev has known Kirienko for many years and was probably recommended by him. His work at the ministry of economic development centred on international relations, and he took part in negotiations on Russia’s membership of the World Trade Organisation in 2010— useful experience at a time when building nuclear power plants in other countries is Rosatom’s main priority. </p><h2>Information and secrecy</h2><p>News of these two appointments came out rather oddly. Prior to 24 September, when RBC <a href="http://www.rbc.ru/politics/24/09/2016/57e6c78e9a79478abee52014">broke the story of Kirienko’s appointment</a>, there had been no rumours at all about Kirienko’s move, and another two weeks passed before he was officially given his new job. </p><p>During that time speculation mounted about his successor at Rosatom, and it was not a question of specific names, but of where he or she might come from — the FSB, the nuclear industry, the presidential administration. But all these rumours turned out to be groundless. </p><p class="mag-quote-center">For the Kremlin, which periodically uses energy supply threats to put pressure on countries it is displeased with, nuclear power is not just a question of prestige and money </p><p>This fact illustrates the effectiveness of Kirienko’s PR team. All of Rosatom’s information channels are hermetically sealed, and if any important news appears, it is only by the grace of the residents of the agency’s enormous headquarters building on Moscow’s Bolshaya Ordynka street. There has been the odd information leak, but usually involving foreign media, which Rosatom has little control over. </p><p>The way Kirienko’s appointment has developed as a story demonstrates the level of openness, or rather lack of it, which Kirienko’s team has created in recent years. If a major accident had occurred at a nuclear power plant in Russia during Kirienko’s time at Rosatom, it is unlikely that anyone would have heard about it for some time. Instead, there would have been a scenario reminiscent of 1986, when the Soviet government tried to hush up the scale of the Chernobyl disaster for as long as possible. </p><p>This lack of transparency is dangerous precisely because in the case of another nuclear accident, it could be a matter of life and death. And this is not a question of official secrets or nuclear weapons. Rosatom is funded by Russia’s taxpayers and has to be accountable to them — not in terms of reporting how many “mini-Olympics” have taken place at nuclear power plants, but in terms of public safety. </p><h2>Paper power plants</h2><p>Kirienko’s legacy at Rosatom is a separate issue. Given this recent appointment, he is, it seems, highly regarded by the Kremlin. </p><p>There may have been two to three times fewer nuclear power plants built on his watch than were planned. There may have been plenty of corruption scandals involving the arrest of senior staff, <a href="https://rg.ru/2015/04/08/rosatom.html">including Kirienko’s deputies</a>, on embezzlement charges. But the corporation’s “portfolio” for power plants to be built abroad is worth an astronomical $100bn. And for the Kremlin, which periodically uses energy supply threats to put pressure on countries it is displeased with, nuclear power is not just a question of prestige and money.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Russian media frequently give the impression that Rosatom is building reactors all over the world</p><p>To assess Kirienko’s effectiveness as a manager, however, we need to look inside Rosatom’s commission portfolio. These “orders” are not contracts specifying delivery dates, costs and a clear timescale for loan repayments (in most cases the money lent by Russia for power plant construction comes with a repayment date). Eighty to ninety per cent of these reported arrangements are agreements in principle that are vague on details, and in the overwhelming majority of cases the contracts aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_archive_146342_Kola_nuclear_power_plant.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_archive_146342_Kola_nuclear_power_plant.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Russia’s Polyarnye Zorni nuclear power plant, on the frozen Kola Peninsula in the country’s far north. CC Roman Denisov / RIA Novosti (archives). Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Russian media frequently give the impression that Rosatom is building reactors all over the world. It is true that there have been orders from over 20 countries, but they are actually being built in only three places — China, India and Belarus. And in the case of the first two, international cooperation began long before Kirienko joined the nuclear energy sector.</p><p>So it is clear that Kirienko’s team has been excellent at drawing up and signing papers, and providing an information blockade for the industry. Actually building nuclear plants seems to be beyond them.</p><h2>But only abroad… </h2><p>The situation in Russia itself is quite different. It has 35 working reactors, which supply around 18% of its energy needs. </p><p>Two thirds of these reactors are pretty old and will need to be prepared for decommissioning in the near future. There is as yet no tried and tested technology for doing this, and decommissioning and dismantling can cost 50%-100% of the construction of a new plant. </p><p class="mag-quote-center">With Russia’s “crisis” in full swing, Likhachev can only dream of getting the same generous funding as Kirienko</p><p>This will very probably be a key issue for Likhachev, who faces an unenviable task if he plans to stay at Rosatom for any length of time. He is unlikely to achieve the economic indicators achieved by his predecessor. But Kirienko had unlimited access to public funds, whereas Likhachev may need to start decommissioning reactors, which not only doesn’t bring in any money, but involves astronomical costs. </p><p>With Russia’s “crisis” in full swing, Likhachev can only dream of getting the same generous funding as Kirienko. </p><h2>Making friends with the environmentalists (for a while)</h2><p>But this isn’t Kirienko’s only legacy. His PR team worked not only with Russia’s journalists, but environmental organisations, too. For Rosatom, criticism of nuclear generated energy on environmental grounds is a serious risk factor, especially on the international level. When Rosatom was in the process of being set up, the agency’s head would send deputations to us at <a href="https://safeenergy.org/2015/07/23/russias-ecodefense-ignores-russian/" target="_blank">Ecodefence!</a> to ask for our “help”, promising they would find a way to “thank us”. Our organisation refused, but there were those that didn’t. </p><p>These organisations were paid pretty well for their “loyalty”. Rosatom’s public council would regularly donate cash to NGOs. The list of groups receiving financial help was initially published on a special website, until the council decided not to give out any information about its beneficiaries. Rosatom’s most valuable and loyal partners were even awarded medals. </p><p class="mag-quote-center">Russian media tells us that Kirienko and his PR team are off to the Kremlin to prepare Putin’s next election campaign</p><p>These organisations are evidently invisible to Russia’s ministry of justice, which has been desperately trying to force Russian NGOs to register as “foreign agents” for over two years now. Almost every group that has ever criticised the corporation has been added to the register. </p><p>It is symbolic, for instance, that my organisation Ecodefence was <a href="https://ecodefense.ru/2014/06/30/nope/">the first environmental organisation to be registered as a “foreign agent”</a>. We were officially accused by the justice ministry of <a href="http://ru.delfi.lt/news/politics/rossijskim-ekologam-mstyat-za-to-chto-sorvali-plany-rosatoma-pod-bokom-u-litvy.d?id=65920778">“campaigning against the construction of the Baltic Nuclear Power Plant”</a> in Kaliningrad. Work on this new plant began in 2009, but was put on ice in 2013, a month after activists published letters from several European banks refusing to finance the project. </p><p>Russian media tell us that Kirienko and his PR team are off to the Kremlin to prepare Putin’s next election campaign. Looking at Kirienko’s 11 years as head of Russia’s nuclear power industry, we can say that in terms of spending and achievements on paper, Rosatom’s former head has few equals. Kirienko’s team are experts at working with the media, putting pressure on dissenters and forging loyalty.</p><p><em>Want to receive weekly updates from oDR? Sign up to <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/">our mailing list</a> on the frontpage.&nbsp;</em></p><p><em>Translation by Liz Barnes.&nbsp;</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia-vladimir-slivyak-nailya-ibragimova/atomic-energy-and-polit">Atomic energy and political power in Russia</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/daniel-voskoboynik/russia-tinderbox-in-struggle-for-safe-climate">Russia: the tinderbox in the struggle for a safe climate</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/jan-haverkamp-iryna-holovko/towards-post-nuclear-ukraine">Towards a post-nuclear Ukraine</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tatyana-ivanova/belarus-s-chernobyl-taboo">Belarus’s Chernobyl taboo</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/artur-asafyev/these-hills-are-ours">These hills are ours</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/svetlana-bolotnikova/kuban-some-men-want-to-watch-world-burn">In Russia, some men want to watch the world burn</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Vladimir Slivyak Green Eurasia Russia Politics Tue, 11 Oct 2016 16:27:42 +0000 Vladimir Slivyak 105905 at https://www.opendemocracy.net In Russia, some men want to watch the world burn https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/svetlana-bolotnikova/kuban-some-men-want-to-watch-world-burn <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>2017 is set to be Russia’s Year of Ecology. But in the south of the country, environmental activists face corrupt officials and vigilante attacks. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/svetlana-bolotnikova/pora-tushit-kuban" target="_blank"><strong><em>Русский</em></strong></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Kreindlin_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Kreindlin_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="301" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Greenpeace activist Mikhail Kreindlin after he was attacked in Krasnodar region. Photo courtesy of Greenpeace Russia.</span></span></span>Mikhail Kreindlin, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/author/mikhail-kreindlin">the head of Greenpeace's protected areas programme</a>, returned to Moscow with relief. Two weeks ago, Kreindlin was in the southern region of Krasnodar, home to the Kuban river, to fight wildfires. But the trip left Kreindlin with a broken nose, a badly cut eyebrow and possible concussion.&nbsp;</p><p>Russia’s volunteer firefighters have never had to face <a href="http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/press/releases/2016/Greenpeace-Russia-team-attacked-by-armed-masked-men1/">this kind of “patriotic vigilance”</a> before. The problem is, vigilante justice seems to be a cover for corrupt officials.&nbsp;</p><p>“At about one o’clock on the night of 8-9 September, several young men in tracksuits appeared outside our camp,” Kreindlin recalls. “I happened to be on watch duty at the time and approached the fence. They said: ‘We warned you things would get rough. But you wouldn’t listen.’ And then seven or eight of them climbed the three- or four metre high fence. They wore masks and were armed with rubber truncheons, knives and traumatic pistols.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center">“We warned you things would get rough. But you wouldn’t listen”&nbsp;</p><p>“They rushed us. I was the nearest to the fence and tried to hold them back. I had a pepper spray canister, but they were wearing masks so it had no effect. Then three of them hurled themselves at me and beat me up badly. They were beating everybody. They slashed the tents and the tyres of our van, and kept shouting that if we didn’t leave the area straight away, we would never be seen again. Then they left, taking the phone I’d been trying to call the police with and another phone belonging to one of our volunteers.”&nbsp;</p><p>“How are you now?”&nbsp;</p><p>“They made a mess of stitching my head in the hospital at Primorsko-Akhtarsk and the wound became septic, so they had to clean and re-stitch it in Krasnodar.”</p><p>“What caused the wound?”</p><p>“I think it was a rubber truncheon”.</p><p>“Have the police charged anybody?”&nbsp;</p><p>“I wrote a statement filing a charge for causing me bodily harm. So far we know from the media that the police have charged three people on three counts: bodily harm, death threats and theft of property”.</p><h2>“Cooperation” from the authorities</h2><p>On 5 September, volunteers, both local and from other parts of Russia, arrived at the Maly Beysug private hunting base to extinguish wildfires in the Akhtar-Grivenskaya estuary and lagoon system. The volunteers, attached to Greenpeace Russia and Environmental Watch on North Caucasus, were immediately subject to attempts to foil their mission, despite having permission from the regional authorities.&nbsp;</p><p>“They weren’t exactly happy to see us,” Mikhail Kreindlin tells me. “The police and senior local council people turned up as soon as we arrived. They took down our details, spoke to us quite normally and left.”</p><p>Soon afterwards the names of everyone on the expedition <a href="http://compromiser93.livejournal.com/">appeared in a blog</a> openly designed to discredit the regional NGO <a href="http://www.ewnc.org/">Environmental Watch on North Caucasus</a> (EkhoVakhta). At the same time, people with various online nicknames posted lies on local forums, claiming that the activists had come to collect data on the region’s industry and were lighting fires in the wetlands as a diversionary tactic. This claim was then <a href="http://kuban24.tv/item/predstaviteli-grinpis-rossii-ran-she-vremeni-pokinut-kuban-posle-skandala-157590">taken up as fact by the pro-government regional media</a>.&nbsp;<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p><span><span class="mag-quote-center">The most tragic thing about Kuban’s wildfires is that the business owners who flout the law enjoy the support of the security services</span></span></p><p><span>Though EkoVakhta had enjoyed some constructive dialogue with the region’s new governor Venyamin Kondratyev some time ago, this interaction obviously didn’t meet with the approval of some corrupt officials, and sparked a campaign to publicly discredit Kreindlin. Local TV <a href="http://kubantv.ru/kuban/122077-krasnodar-posetil-posol-evropeiskogo-soiuza-vigaudas-ushatskas/">asserted</a> that Rudomakha <a href="http://www.ewnc.org/node/21879">had “secret meetings” with representatives of foreign countries</a>. On the internet, on the other hand, he was being attacked for “selling out” to the authorities.&nbsp;</span></p><p>Where the firefighting situation was concerned, personal contact with the region’s leaders initially helped to iron out disagreements. Andrey Rudomakha phoned the deputy governor, who in turn spoke to Vladimir Musatov, the head of the Bryukhovetsk district where the environmentalists’ base was located.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/GP0STQ44N_PressMedia_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>EkhoVakhta's van after the attack on 8-9 September. Source: Greenpeace. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>“The district head invited us and the hunting base’s director Aleksandr Bratusin to a meeting,” Kreindlin tells me. “[Bratusin] said we had his full support and we paid for the base and settled into it. On the next day, we went off to check up on some smoke we had seen and left one volunteer to look after the base. Then two men turned up there and gave a warning that if we didn’t ‘clear off’, things ‘would get rough’. And when we returned, Bratusin arrived, returned our money and demanded we leave immediately.”&nbsp;</p><p>The activists moved to the Primorsko-Akhtarsk district, to another private hunting base. But the next morning, people in Cossack uniforms arrived, called the police and detained the volunteers until five in the afternoon. </p><p class="mag-quote-center">After the night attack in which Mikhail Kreindlin was injured, the Chernovsk fire did not get extinguished. The area destroyed by it has increased from 70 to 500 hectares</p><p>After that, the fire-fighting expedition was able to extinguish one small fire near the village of Mogukorovka and inspect a fire identified the day before in the Chernovsk wetlands, which had rekindled itself again. After the night attack in which Mikhail Kreindlin was injured, the Chernovsk fire did not get extinguished.</p><p>The area destroyed by it has increased from 70 to 500 hectares (five square kilometres) and no one is bothering to put it out. The eco-activists were also obstructed in their attempt to tell the press about the incident. The police detained some of the volunteers on their way to a press conference in Krasnodar.</p><h2>Why are wetlands of global importance burning?</h2><p>The Kuban delta is annually subject to forest fires in reed-filled creeks which are home to enormous numbers of wildfowl. These wetlands are of international importance and are protected under the <a href="http://www.ramsar.org/">Ramsar Convention</a>, signed by the Soviet Union in 1976. When wildfires spread over huge areas, nothing is left alive. Birds die, their nests are destroyed, animals flee and nature suffers.&nbsp;</p><p>According to Kreindlin, the Russian government has no notion of the value of these areas, and so doesn’t equip the Emergencies Ministry with the technology to extinguish this type of fire. The ministry is also undergoing budget cuts, which means staff redundancies. The remaining firefighters are too stretched to tackle wetland fires — their first priority has to be human settlements.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/hpid8v8Q4JA_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Volunteer fire rights in the Kuban. Source: EkhoVakhta / VK. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>“In practice, the only valuable natural areas that are not under threat are those where voluntary groups, independently or in conjunction with other services, get involved in putting out fires,” Kreindlin tells me. “And we have tried to set up and train a group like this, on the basis of Environmental Watch on North Caucasus. We have been partially successful, and they now have experience in extinguishing fires. We have left them some equipment and hope they can continue this work.”&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">In the Primorsko-Akhtarsk lagoon system, the fires have obviously been started deliberately&nbsp;</p><p>Fires can happen by accident, as a result of carelessness by visitors, for example. But in the Primorsko-Akhtarsk lagoon system, the fires have obviously been started deliberately. It is the site of a fish farm industry that annually drains the lagoons for disinfection purposes and burns the reeds, although this is forbidden by law.&nbsp;</p><p>Local hunters and fishermen have been battling Igor Dzheyus, who has worked as the fish farm’s director for 15 years. Two years ago, EkhoVakhta came to support them. It’s no coincidence that the first two thugs who threatened the eco-activists at their base in Primorsko-Akhtarsk were recognised by locals as “Dzheyus’s people”.</p><h2>Russia’s eco-activists — a fifth column of foreign agents?&nbsp;</h2><p>The most tragic thing about Kuban’s wildfires is that the business owners who flout the law, not to mention the officials who seize tracts of public land for themselves, enjoy the support of the security services. Meanwhile, the activists who uphold the law are harassed and persecuted under it, sometimes even ending up in jail.</p><p>In 2012, Yevgeny Vitishko, a member of EkoVakhta, was sentenced by a Krasnodar court <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/feb/12/sochi-environmentalist-jailed-painting-fence-revenge">to a three year prison term on a trumped-up charge</a>. Suren Gazaryan, a former member of the organisation, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/apr/28/russia-environmental-protest-suren-gazaryan">was forced to seek political asylum abroad</a>. Both activists were prosecuted for <a href="http://www.rosbalt.ru/russia/2012/05/15/981212.html">participating in an inspection of the so-called “Tkachev dacha”</a>&nbsp;– Alexander Tkachev being the former Krasnodar regional governor (<a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/svetlana-bolotnikova/pitchforks-are-coming-russia-protests">and now Russia’s minister of agriculture</a>). Working through people close to him, Tkachev allegedly seized public tracts of forest and shoreline for his personal use.&nbsp;</p><p>Campaigns against the construction of <a href="http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/putins-palace-this-russian-presidents-vast-1bn-residence-by-sea-1498197">“Putin’s palace”</a> and the <a href="http://www.rferl.org/content/internet_photos_patriarch_dacha/2317554.html">“Patriarch’s dacha”</a> in Krasnodar have been equally high profile.</p><p><span class="mag-quote-center">The fight for nature conservation and people’s rights to a well-managed environment inevitably affects commercial interests and the corrupt bureaucrats protecting them</span></p><p>According to EkoVakhta coordinator Andrey Rudomakha, “these campaigns have intensified our struggle with the government and resulted in serious pressure on the organisation and its activists. But conflicts like these are an essential part of our activities.”</p><p>Police violence has become a regular feature of the interactions civil activists have with the government, although sometimes “unknown attackers” are used instead. In 2014, for example, before the Sochi Winter Olympics, thugs “acting in conjunction with the police” attempted to break into EkoVakhta’s Sochi office, but couldn’t get access to the private property where it was located. Furious, <a href="http://zmdosie.ru/pochta-zm/doslovno/3568-predolimpijskij-bespredel-v-krasnodare">they trashed EkoVakhta council member Igor Kharchenko’s car that was parked nearby</a>.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-19033353.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="314" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>February 2014: activist David Khakim protests a recent prison sentence for Evgeny Vitishko in Sochi. (c) David Goldman / AP / Press Association Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>“This is the first time we have encountered nighttime attacks with beatings and death threats,” Rudomakha tells me. “It’s a purely criminal enterprise, organised not by business but by the security services, who have hired the appropriate criminal element to carry it out. The gang may have Cossack links. I imagine that the whole thing was organised by the regional FSB. But there is also evidence to suggest the involvement of the internal policy department of the regional administration, whose main function has long consisted of one ‘policy’ —the suppression, at any cost, of any manifestation of free thinking and civil activism in the area.”</p><p>The fight for nature conservation and people’s rights to a well-managed environment inevitably affects commercial interests and the corrupt bureaucrats protecting them, which is why Russia’s rulers dislike the environmental activists. And in the present standoff between Russia and the west, there is growing “spy-mania” regarding environmental organisations, fuelled by government sponsored articles in the press and features on national TV channels.</p><p>“Of course they’re trying to demonise us,” says Kreindlin. “But at the same time, we and our colleagues in the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) are still the most recognisable environmental organisations. We have various areas of activity, but our fire fighting work has almost always won only approval.”</p><p>So why was it possible to stage such an attack on these activists? According to Andrey Rudomakha, it’s because under the previous governor, the region became synonymous with a mafia free-for-all: “The story of the Tsapok gang, which ruled the north of the region hand in glove with its political rulers, police and even the FSB and the Anti-Extremism Centre, is an excellent example of this,” Rudomakha explains.&nbsp;</p><p>“So is the story of the gang run by United Russia deputy Sergei Zirinov, who ruled the town of Anapa. Even the town’s CID chief was a member. The attack on the firefighting camp in Primorsko-Akhtarsk is evidence that a similar gang might now have appeared in Kuban as well. With a few exceptions, the new governor has the same people around him as in the days of Tkachev’s free-for-all.”&nbsp;</p><p>At the same time as the attack on the volunteer firefighters’ camp, Russia dealt yet another blow to environmental campaigners. Environmental Watch on North Caucasus was included in the list of “foreign agents” — NGOs that receive foreign funding and who are engaged in “political activity”.&nbsp;<br />&nbsp;<span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/6879173209_a3d7fb820c_z_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/6879173209_a3d7fb820c_z_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="305" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The landscape of Krasnodar Region. CC: Sergei Podtsepko / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>“This decision is illegal and ordered from the top, and we shall of course challenge it,” says Rudomakha. “The organisation receives no foreign cash and we have no involvement in politics. The ‘politics’ accusation was levelled by our neighbouring republic Adygea’s ministry of justice because individual members attended rallies initiated by local residents. And one member’s receipt of money from abroad into his personal account was labelled ‘foreign funding’ by the officials. What’s more, the information about this personal account was gathered illicitly, with help from the FSB.”</p><p>“Will this registration as a “foreign agent” lead to the closure of EkoVakhta?” I ask him.</p><p>“No,” he says, “EkoVakhta is not a formally constituted NGO, critically dependent on judicial status, financing and so on. It’s a living community of enthusiasts and devotees, and on the contrary, the more they squeeze us, the stronger we become. It’s a natural law: communities based on struggle and idealistic convictions only become stronger when subject to outside pressure.”&nbsp;</p><p><em>Want to know more about Russia's ecological challenges? Read Daniel Voskoboynik's op-ed on <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/daniel-voskoboynik/russia-tinderbox-in-struggle-for-safe-climate">how we need to change coverage of climate change</a>.&nbsp;</em></p><p><em>Translated from Russian by Liz Barnes.</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/daniel-voskoboynik/russia-tinderbox-in-struggle-for-safe-climate">Russia: the tinderbox in the struggle for a safe climate</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/artur-asafyev/these-hills-are-ours">These hills are ours</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/svetlana-bolotnikova/pitchforks-are-coming-russia-protests">The pitchforks are coming</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/georgy-borodyansky/corruption-credits-and-bad-luck-siberian-farmers-under-threat">Corruption, credits and bad luck in Siberia: the crisis of Russian agriculture</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/gleb-paikachov/we-need-to-find-common-ground-between-climate-change-and-civil-society">We need to find the common ground between climate change and civil society</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Svetlana Bolotnikova Green Eurasia Russia Wed, 21 Sep 2016 09:59:41 +0000 Svetlana Bolotnikova 105499 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Russia: the tinderbox in the struggle for a safe climate https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/daniel-voskoboynik/russia-tinderbox-in-struggle-for-safe-climate <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u555493/Bio%202.JPG" alt="Bio 2.JPG" width="80" />Russia is at the forefront of the global climate change struggle. We ignore it at our peril.</p><p>&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-18056258.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Russia may be home to some of the world's harshest living environments, but it's yet to wake up to the reality of climate change. (c) Sergey Dolya / AP / Press Association Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>The Russian region of Yamal rarely makes global headlines. Despite being larger than France, its remote location bordering the Arctic Circle holds it far from the gaze of relevance. But in July this year, <a href="http://www.theatlantic.com/news/archive/2016/08/siberias-deadly-anthrax-outbreak/493994/">news of an outbreak of anthrax in the province shook the world</a>. Seventy-two nomadic herders, including 41 children, were hospitalised after infection. One 12-year-old boy, and his grandmother, could not be saved.</p><p>The epidemic emerged from an unprecedented heatwave, after Siberia experienced temperatures nearing 35°C. Old spores of anthrax previously locked in the permafrost were unfrozen and exposed to grazing animals. Researchers have long warned that the melting of Siberian permafrost, triggered by climate change, <a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/smallpox-siberia-return-climate-change-global-warming-permafrost-melt-a7194466.html">could awaken dormant diseases trapped in preserved animal carcasses</a>.</p><p>For a brief moment, the world’s environmental attention turned to Russia, a country largely overlooked in the discussion of climate impacts.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Over decades, under the radar of salient news, climate change has taken its methodical toll on Russia</p><p>As a part-Russian environmental campaigner and journalist working in Europe, I’m often intrigued by the absent role that Russia plays in mainstream environmental coverage. Like many other countries, <a href="http://motherboard.vice.com/read/climate-change-just-opened-a-gateway-to-the-underworld-in-siberia">Russia only seems to enter the picture on the back of extreme events</a>. At other moments, the country is an <a href="http://grist.org/article/russia-takes-a-skeptical-approach-to-climate-change-thanks-to-putin/">“environmental basketcase”</a>, a rogue state so distant from achieving any progress that we should just ignore it. Or it’s a country of such immense proportions that it defies comprehension or interest.</p><p>But over decades, under the radar of salient news, climate change has taken its methodical toll on Russia. This impact has been expressed <a href="http://news.trust.org/item/20140714145243-ejn9w/">primarily through the increased frequency of extreme weather</a>. In 2012, the country made it into the higher reaches of the Climate Risk Index <a href="https://germanwatch.org/en/download/8551.pdf">as the ninth country most affected by climate change that year</a>.</p><p>Forest fires <a href="http://downloads.igce.ru/publications/OD_2_2014/v2014/pdf/resume_ob_eng.pdf">are becoming increasingly recurrent and destructive</a>. Over the past two years, fires across <a href="http://www.interfax.ru/russia/440350">Siberia</a> and the Far East <a href="http://siberiantimes.com/ecology/opinion/news/n0705-46-million-goes-up-in-smoke-in-siberia-and-russia-far-east-prosecutor-general/">have wrought tremendous human and financial damage</a>. In the summer of 2010, the concoction of a historic heatwave and heavily-polluting forest fires <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3984022/">caused around 11,000 excess deaths</a>. That same year saw the beginning of a two year-drought which <a href="https://www.oxfam.org/sites/www.oxfam.org/files/rr-economic-impacts-climate-change-agriculture-russia-010413-en.pdf">delivered a major blow to crop yields, driving up food prices</a>.</p><p>Areas such as the <a href="http://www.themoscowtimes.com/multimedia/photogalleries/heavy-floods-hit-russias-siberia/5294.html">Altai region</a>, the Northern Caucasus, the basins of the Yenisei and Lena rivers, and the Komi republic <a href="http://livebettermagazine.com/eng/reports_studies/pdf/nic-climate2030_russia.pdf">have become more prone to flooding</a>. In 2012, 171 people died in the town of Krymsk, Krasnodar <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/picturegalleries/worldnews/9386813/Flash-floods-in-Russia-leave-more-than-170-people-dead.html?frame=2271602">after torrential rains unleashed the equivalent of five months of precipitation in one night</a>. Three years later, a study by Russian and German researchers <a href="http://rbth.com/politics_and_society/2015/11/17/the-heat-is-on-to-meet-the-climate-challenge_541363">linked the inundation directly to the rise of temperatures in the Black Sea</a>.&nbsp;</p><p>Beyond bouts of extreme weather, gradualist impacts are also occurring. Climate change has <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3200433/">contributed</a> to the spread of <a href="http://hdr.undp.org/sites/default/files/perelet_renat_pegov_yulkin.pdf">tick-borne encephalitis</a>, and experts have <a href="http://siberiantimes.com/ecology/casestudy/features/f0065-global-warming-could-happen-quicker-in-russias-coldest-region/">warned of the growing reach of parasites</a>. Exacerbated by global warming, <a href="http://www.climatechangenews.com/2016/08/11/in-pictures-russian-weather-station-on-the-edge-of-melting-permafrost/">the world’s highest rates of coastal erosion are being seen in Russia</a>, with islands such as Vize in the Arctic Ocean <a href="http://siberiantimes.com/ecology/casestudy/news/n0704-arctics-climate-on-a-cliff-edge/">losing between five to fifteen metres of coastline a year</a>.</p><p>Thawing permafrost, <a href="http://www.climatechangenews.com/2016/08/16/russia-reports-anthrax-scare-as-arctic-thaws/">beyond the pandemic risks it carries</a>, poses significant threats to <a href="http://voices.nationalgeographic.com/2013/06/27/world-heritage-and-climate-change-lessons-from-indigenous-peoples-of-altai-russia/">ancient indigenous burial sites</a> and the <a href="http://www.eenews.net/stories/1059975505">country’s infrastructure</a>, much of which is built on perennially frozen land.</p><p>As the permafrost melts, the soil loosens, tilting foundations. Large amounts of infrastructure <a href="https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=oaLwCQAAQBAJ&amp;pg=PT130&amp;lpg=PT130&amp;dq=ROSHYDROMET+0.43%C2%B0C&amp;source=bl&amp;ots=fpAHVFgg1q&amp;sig=VvAdVBQFcMFd5ds4OD-gK1IPNqE&amp;hl=en&amp;sa=X&amp;ved=0ahUKEwjPqYKe3JjPAhUGKsAKHeHYAL8Q6AEIKTAD#v=onepage&amp;q=ROSHYDROMET%200.43%C2%B0C&amp;f=false">are already “deformed”</a>, and scientists have warned of potential oil spills and <a href="http://bellona.org/news/nuclear-issues/radioactive-waste-and-spent-nuclear-fuel/2016-01-arctic-waste-storage-plans-draw-divided-opinions-from-environmentalists">radioactive waste leaks</a> as a result of the thaw.&nbsp;</p><h2>Life on the brink&nbsp;</h2><p>Russia has some of the world’s harshest living environments, and over millennia, communities have managed to negotiate a laboured adaptation. But that fragile coexistence means that even the slightest disruption of ecosystems can have lasting repercussions.&nbsp;</p><p>As the impacts begin to be seen, the tragic dynamic of climate violence recurs — suffering falls hardest on those most vulnerable to it. In Russia, those most affected by climate change have been and will be <a href="http://www.triplepundit.com/2016/08/global-warming-siberia-thawing-reindeer-exposes-community-anthrax/">marginalised indigenous populations and the poorest and most isolated communities in the country</a>.</p><p>Outdated infrastructure, an enormous territory, <a href="http://www.pewglobal.org/2015/07/14/climate-change-seen-as-top-global-threat/">limited public concern</a>, <a href="https://iep.berkeley.edu/node/9665">unprepared cities</a> and a lack of governmental initiative have all helped compound the toll.&nbsp;</p><p>Those who speak out about the country’s environmental problems <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ekaterina-selivanova-nadezhda-konobeyevskaya-yakov-kapitonov/&#039;is-your-mum-foreign-agent&#039;">also face risks</a>. The “foreign agents law”, introduced by the Russian government in 2012, has been used to threaten environmental organisations such as the <a href="http://www.earthisland.org/journal/index.php/elist/eListRead/in_putins_russia_environmentalists_face_stiff_repression/">Siberian Environmental Center</a>, <a href="https://ecodefense.ru">EcoDefense</a> and, most recently, <a href="http://www.eng.kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/36878/">Ecological Watch on the North Caucasus</a>. High profile environmentalists <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/apr/28/russia-environmental-protest-suren-gazaryan">have had to leave the country</a>. Last week, <a href="https://themoscowtimes.com/news/greenpeace-says-cossack-group-blocked-volunteer-firefighters-in-kuban-55274">volunteer firefighters</a> from Greenpeace and Ecological Watch who were working to put out fires in Krasnodar <a href="http://www.media.greenpeace.org/C.aspx?VP3=SearchResult&amp;ALID=27MZIFJJ3TK8J">were attacked by armed men in masks</a>.</p><p>The scale of Russian climate change is perhaps most overt when placed in contrast with wider trends. The fastest warming is being experienced <a href="http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/07/world-warms-ice-melts-160722072450178.html">in regions closest to the poles</a>, and Russia is no exception, with its temperatures increasing faster than the rest of the planet. A report by Russia's climate and environment agency indicated that between 1976 and 2012, <a href="http://downloads.igce.ru/publications/OD_2_2014/v2014/pdf/resume_ob_eng.pdf">average Russian temperatures rose by 0.43°C per decade</a> — more than twice the global average. Recent studies have indicated that Russia, together with other states in Northern Asia, <a href="http://kevinanderson.info/blog/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Russia-Climate-Change-Wiley-Aug-2013.pdf">could face 6-16°C rise in average temperature by 2100</a>, as opposed to a global temperature rise of 4°C.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Our opinions are rooted in what we see, and when it comes to issues like climate change, too many of us confuse the limits of our sight with the limits of reality</p><p>The impact of climate change on Russia also carries enormous global significance, as Russia is arguably the world’s largest sink of greenhouse gases. The country’s <a href="https://www.newsdeeply.com/arctic/articles/2016/08/08/size-of-siberian-wildfires-remain-in-question">extensive boreal forests</a>, increasingly vulnerable to fires, hold between 300m and 600m metric tons of carbon. The country’s permafrost and peat bogs <a href="http://www.climatehotmap.org/global-warming-locations/northeastern-siberia.html">hold an estimated 950 billion metric tonnes of carbon</a> — around 1.3 times the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.&nbsp;</p><p>Finally, the country’s <a href="https://www.bp.com/content/dam/bp/pdf/energy-economics/statistical-review-2015/bp-statistical-review-of-world-energy-2015-full-report.pdf">colossal reserves of fossil fuels</a> (157,010m tonnes of coal, 33 trillion cubic metres of gas, and 105,000m barrels of oil) contain levels of carbon that starkly surpass what can safely be emitted. Climate change, and an economic model predicate on <a href="http://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.cfm?id=17231">intensive extraction</a>, risk shattering that sink.</p><p>In addition, Russia plays a significant role in global food security <a href="https://www.ft.com/content/af66f51e-6515-11e6-8310-ecf0bddad227">as the world’s largest exporter of wheat</a>. In 2010, when heatwaves and bushfires devastated the country’s harvests, the government imposed export bans on wheat, barley and rye. This decree <a href="https://climateandsecurity.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/climatechangearabspring-ccs-cap-stimson.pdf">helped fuel the global food crisis that year</a>, which in turned helped fuel convulsions and unrest across the world, particularly in the Middle East.&nbsp;</p><p>We face perilous times. Every month in 2016 <a href="http://motherboard.vice.com/read/july-hottest-noaa-nasa-climate-environment-global">has been the warmest in recorded history</a>. From Colombia to Bangladesh, the frail ecosystems that allow for life to take hold <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/aug/02/environment-climate-change-records-broken-international-report">are being unwoven</a>.&nbsp;</p><p>Climate change, aside from being a challenge of overcoming vested interests, infrastructures and economic systems, is an acute challenge of empathy and understanding. Whilst many communities around the world already face unlivable realities that merit drastic responses, most decision-makers, populations and organisations with the power to affect the situation, are at a comfortable distance from the urgency.</p><p>Our opinions are rooted in what we see, and when it comes to issues like climate change, too many of us confuse the limits of our sight with the limits of reality. To shatter that distance, more than ever we need coverage and understanding of climate change that is expansive, critical and genuinely international.&nbsp;</p><p>By ignoring the impacts of climate change in Russia, we not only turn our backs to communities experiencing the ferocity of a precarious climate, we inhibit potential solidarities and opportunities for collaborative action that are dearly needed.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia-vladimir-slivyak/when-you-buy-coal-you-have-moral-right-to">“When you buy coal, you have a moral right to ask where it came from”</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia-vladimir-slivyak-nailya-ibragimova/atomic-energy-and-polit">Atomic energy and political power in Russia</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/artur-asafyev/these-hills-are-ours">These hills are ours</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/angelina-davydova/cop21-stories-from-russia-s-indigenous-peoples">COP21: stories from Russia’s indigenous peoples</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/gleb-paikachov/we-need-to-find-common-ground-between-climate-change-and-civil-society">We need to find the common ground between climate change and civil society</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/marianna-poberezhskaya/why-climate-change-is-not-on-russia-s-agenda">Why climate change is not on Russia’s agenda</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Daniel Voskoboynik Green Eurasia Russia Tue, 20 Sep 2016 08:24:59 +0000 Daniel Voskoboynik 105475 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Break the silence on Azerbaijan oil workers’ deaths https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/gabriel-levy/break-silence-on-azerbaijan-oil-workers-deaths <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Months on from a deadly fire on a Caspian sea oil rig, the Azerbaijani authorities are yet to conduct a full investigation.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span></span><span><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/get_img.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="258" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>At 5:40pm on 4 December 2015, a heavy storm and high waves swept through an underwater gas pipeline on the Guneshli 10 oil platform. (c) Meydan TV.</span></span></span>Nine months after 31 workers drowned in Azerbaijan’s worst-ever oil industry disaster, the country’s authorities have still not said a word about how it happened or what mistakes could be avoided in future.</span></p><p>Most of the victims were thrown into the water when a lifeboat smashed against the side of production platform no. 10 at the Guneshli oil field in the Caspian sea, as they tried to escape a fire during a force 10 gale on 4 December last year.</p><p>The Oil Workers Rights Protection Organisation (OWRPO), a campaign group, says state oil company managers broke safety laws for the sake of keeping production going, and that workers did not even have life jackets on during the attempt to evacuate the platform.</p><p>State officials lied to the media and the public during the emergency, and treated oil workers’ families with contempt, stated the OWRPO <a href="http://www.nhmt-az.org/frontend/pages/human-rights-inner.php?id=108">in a report published in February</a>.</p><p>The government was quick to dismiss the report, but its own 14-person commission, set up to deal with the disaster’s consequences, has not breathed a word. The prosecutor has opened a criminal case (which is standard procedure), but has made public no details of its investigation. It is not known whether it has questioned managers accused by oil workers of glaring safety breaches.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">“It’s ‘oil first, people second’, just like in Soviet times. The human factor is devalued”</p><p><span>Mirvari Gharamanli, president of the OWRPO, <a href="https://peopleandnature.wordpress.com/2016/08/04/its-oil-first-people-second-just-like-in-soviet-times/">said to me in an interview</a>: “It’s ‘oil first, people second’, just like in Soviet times. The human factor is devalued. It should be other way round: people first, and then the oil. People should have been evacuated in a timely way. Attention should have been paid to these safety issues. But the human factor comes at the end.”</span></p><p>The oil workers’ trade union should have monitored safety standards, but were “not interested” in that, nor in investigating the causes of the accident,&nbsp;<span>Gharamanli</span><span>&nbsp;told me. “They helped with a bit of money to the families, that’s all. And we are talking about human lives here.”</span></p><p>The events of 4 December, as described in the media and the OWRPO’s report, were as follows. (The OWRPO report is <a href="http://www.nhmt-az.org/frontend/pages/human-rights-inner.php?id=108">here</a>; there are news agency reports <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/us-azerbaijan-accident-fire-idUSKBN0TO09H20151205">here</a> and <a href="https://www.oilandgaspeople.com/news/6240/at-least-32-dead-in-worst-offshore-disaster-since-piper-alpha/">here</a>; and <a href="http://caspianbarrel.org/?p=37318">a valuable analytical article on the Caspian Barrel web site</a>.) </p><p>Wind speed had risen to 38-40 metres per second, and the height of waves rose from 8 metres to 9-10 metres. At about 17.40, a submarine gas pipe running from the platform broke. There was an explosion of gas escaping from it, and a fire broke out, which soon spread to a number of the oil and gas wells operaetd from the platform.</p><p>Due to the strength of the storm, firefighting and rescue vessels were unable to reach the platform, which is operated by Azneft, a production division of Socar (the State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic). </p><p>There were 63 workers on the rig; most of them evacuated via the north side of the platform and boarded two lifeboats. The OWRPO says that the way the evacuation was implemented by those in charge on the platform showed a lack of safety training and awareness. </p><p>Both of the boats were lowered on cables to about 10 metres above sea level: it was decided not to lower them into the water for fear of being dashed against the platform by the storm. </p><p>One of the lifeboats was blown by the wind and got wedged between the platform’s supporting legs. That saved the lives of its occupants, who were rescued after the storm subsided.</p><p>The cables holding the other boat snapped. It was blown against the side of the rig and broke into pieces. Those on board were thrown in to the water.</p><p>The rescue vessels, still held back by the force of the storm, only managed to pull three men from the water, one of whom died straight away.</p><p>The rest of those who had been on that lifeboat perished. The OWRPO concluded that there were 12 dead and 19 missing, presumed dead (listed in the OWRPO report <a href="http://caspianbarrel.org/?p=37318">here</a>). There has been no official list of victims published by the government or Socar.</p><p>Three other Azerbaijani oil workers lost their lives on 4 December – Dzhavad Khudaverdiev (44), Bakhman Dzhafarov (54) and Rovshan Mamedov (41) were swept out to sea from production platform no. 501 at the Oil Rocks oil field – bringing the total number of deceased on that day to 34. (Reported <a href="http://interfax.com.ua/news/general/309508.html">here in Russian</a>.)</p><p>The OWRPO conducted its own investigation into the tragedy, and published it on 24 February this year. The organisation concluded that:</p><p>■ Workers had reported a gas leak from the pipeline a day before the disaster. They were told by the managers of the “28 May” oil and gas production department not to stop production – although doing so might have minimised losses when the accident happened</p><p>■ The practice, and legal requirement in Azerbaijan, of reducing worker numbers on rigs to the minimum during stormy weather, was not followed. Of the 63 people on the rig when the fire began, 15 were members of a construction and drilling team – in breach of the Labour Code, which states that construction, installation and dismantling work on platforms should be stopped during stormy weather</p><p>■ There were other non-essential workers, including five catering staff, on the platform. “The heads of departments are obliged to explain to society, and the families of killed and missing oil workers: why didn’t they send them away, if they received information about a hurricane?” the OWRPO report states</p><p>■ Azerbaijan’s law requires that in storms of force 8 or greater, most types of production work should be stopped, and that in storms of force 10 or greater, all work, except to flush and cool tools, should be stopped. This did not happen</p><p>■ Many of the workers were not wearing lifejackets during the evacuation. Mirvari Gharamanli said that this is confirmed by photographic evidence from the scene, and her own meetings with survivors in hospitals. (Note: There are different requirements for safety clothing in different countries. On the North Sea, the standard now is for each worker to have a survival suit; in some oil producing countries, lifejackets are still the norm. UK oil worker trade unionists say that it is unthinkable that, during an evacuation during stormy weather, that either survival suits or lifejackets were not available)</p><p>■ “Safety rules were seriously violated”, the OWRPO said; direct responsibility lies with the heads of the “28 May” oil and gas production department, the complex drilling trust, the transportation department, Caspian Catering Service and others. </p><p>■ “During the rescue operation, oil workers were not given proper instructions.” (The report stated that some industry experts believed that the evacuation should not have been attempted, and that workers would have had a better chance of survival by remaining on the platform, in the living quarters. Other industry specialists dispute this)</p><p>■ Questions were raised by industry specialists about the quality of the lifeboats, and when they had been inspected</p><p>The OWRPO report also detailed the fog of lies and deceit created around the accident by the government and Socar on the evening that it took place. </p><p>For six hours after the emergency began, no public comment was issued by Socar or the ministry of emergency situations; then Socar issued a statement that there had been no injuries or deaths. Mirvari Gharamanli <a href="https://peopleandnature.wordpress.com/2016/08/04/its-oil-first-people-second-just-like-in-soviet-times/">explained in her interview</a> how her Facebook page became a lightning-rod for information in the midst of an official blackout.</p><p>The OWRPO also accuses the authorities of treating oil workers’ families with contempt. Although, under pressure, they established a central information point, no psychological support was provided – and some families were sent away by intolerant officials.</p><p>In March, Socar <a href="https://business-humanrights.org/en/azerbaijan-workplace-health-safety-abuses-by-socar-contributed-to-high-number-of-casualties-following-guneshli-oil-field-accident-says-ngo-report-includes-firms-comments">issued an inconsequential rebuttal</a> to the OWRPO report (reported here), which failed to deal with any of the main points, but has itself said nothing about the causes of the disaster, or the possibility that safety procedures could be improved.</p><p>It is hard to think of a more cynical, money-grubbing attitude to the safety of a company’s employees.</p><p>The background to the disaster is the generally poor safety culture in the Azerbaijani oil industry, the OWRPO says. In 2014, 19 people were killed; in 2015, as a result of the accident on platform no. 10, this figure more than doubled to 40. The organisation blames production-oriented management and the spinelessness of the officially-sanctioned trade union, which has raised no protest at the official failure to investigate last year’s tragedy.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Oil is an international business; we need to find a way to link up international struggles in workers’ and communities’ interests</p><p>But this is also an issue for the oil industry, and oil workers, internationally. (James Marriott raised some key issues in December last year, <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/james-mariott/behind-storm">in this article on openDemocracy</a>.)</p><p>The Guneshli death toll was the highest on an offshore oil platform <a href="https://peopleandnature.wordpress.com/article-store/the-north-sea-1-the-reaction-to-piper-alpha/">since the explosion on Piper Alpha in the North Sea</a>, which killed 167 British workers in 1988, and the highest in any offshore accident since the American drilling ship Seacrest capsized in the Gulf of Thailand in 1989, killing 90 people. And yet the international reaction to it has been minimal.</p><p>The British government, a key supporter of the Azerbaijan regime, has maintained a polite silence. BP, which operates the largest oil and gas fields in Azerbaijan and has billions of dollars’ worth of joint projects with Socar – although it has no operational involvement whatever with the Guneshli field where the accident took place – sees the Azerbaijani company as one of its most important business partners.</p><p>An acquaintance who works in the oil business said: “You could see how important they think the lives of oil workers are, at the annual oil and gas business conference in Baku in June. No-one from the oil companies or the government expressed any regret about the disaster. It was not even mentioned by any of the main speakers. Not even a moment’s silence.”&nbsp;<span>Senior BP managers and Baroness Nicholson, representing the UK government, were among those who had more important things to discuss.</span></p><p>Oil is an international business; we need to find a way to link up international struggles in workers’ and communities’ interests.&nbsp;<span>Let’s hope the international trade union federations can find ways of putting pressure on Azerbaijan over its appalling safety record. Perhaps British and Norwegian oil workers could take up the issue.</span></p><p>Let’s find ways of supporting OWRPO’s efforts to organise Azerbaijani oil workers, to improve workplace conditions and dismantle the safety culture that subordinates human life to production.</p><p><em>This article first appeared on <a href="peopleandnature.wordpress.com/">People &amp; Nature</a>.</em><span>&nbsp;</span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/james-mariott/behind-storm">Behind the storm</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/sabir-akhundov/azerbaijanism">“Azerbaijanism”</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/robert-ledger/eu-s-lack-of-unity-and-strategy-is-being-felt-in-azerbaijan">The EU’s lack of unity and strategy is being felt in Azerbaijan</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Gabriel Levy Green Eurasia Azerbaijan Thu, 04 Aug 2016 07:55:26 +0000 Gabriel Levy 104531 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Noah’s Valley is drying up https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/thomas-cyrs/noah-s-valley-is-drying-up <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Corruption, ill-conceived fish farming and mismanagement are contributing to a water crisis in Armenia’s Ararat Valley.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/AV 3-1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The Ararat Valley has supported agriculture for thousands of years. (c) Greg Rafferty.</span></span></span><span>A water crisis is currently unfolding in Armenia’s Ararat Valley, one of the world’s most ancient agricultural regions. Stretching beneath Mount Ararat (<a href="http://www.britannica.com/place/Mount-Ararat#ref281330">of biblical fame</a>) and lying along the present-day Turkish-Armenian border, the valley has long provided a renewable source of groundwater in the South Caucasus. It is now being pushed far beyond sustainable limits.</span></p><p>While the impacts of this crisis won’t grab headlines like <a href="http://www.pnas.org/content/112/11/3241.abstract">the link between water loss and ongoing conflict in the Tigris and Euphrates River basin</a>, or the <a href="http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/02/140222-jordan-river-syrian-refugees-water-environment/">drying up of the Jordan</a> and its role in creating further animosity between Israel and its neighbours, the cause for concern is still great. The Ararat Valley serves as the primary breadbasket region for Armenia, a country in political and economic transition.</p><p>Unchecked depletion of the valley’s groundwater threatens to undo progress and drive increased poverty, inequality, and instability in the country, as well as trigger the loss of another of the world’s vital sources of water and food security. Greater engagement and transparency on local and international levels, however, can still prevent the worst effects of water scarcity from taking place.</p><h2>An ancient resource rapidly drying up</h2><p>The Ararat Valley currently accounts <a href="http://www.worldbank.org/eca/pubs/envint/Volume%20II/English/Review%20ARM-final.pdf">for some 40-50% of Armenia’s agricultural production</a>. Natural groundwater resources, fed by snowmelt, rainfall, and local river systems, have sustained agriculture in the region for several thousands of years. The region has supported neolithic settlements (dating back as early as 6,000 BC), byzantine-era cities with towering churches and monasteries, and currently contains a wealth of orchards, vineyards, and other high value crops. </p><p><span>In spite of the long history, the region’s natural springs and wells are now rapidly drying up. This situation forces farmers to sell no-longer productive land, creating an unprecedented threat of desertification.</span><span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>The factors which have led to unsustainable groundwater depletion in Armenia’s Ararat Valley are not unique to the region or the country, with the familiar litany of issues running as follows: 1) water users pay little to nothing for the water they withdraw or the electricity used to pump it; 2) regulation has not caught up with increased access provided by cheap well drilling and pumping technology; 3) a privileged class of citizens with government ties and an outsized share of wealth (often referred to as “oligarchs” in Armenia and the post-Soviet sphere in general) are able to take advantage of lax regulations and cheap inputs in order to profit from water-intensive enterprises; 4) state agencies have little to no resources to properly monitor water withdrawals, and are easily persuaded or bribed to ignore the situation; 5) the public, in turn, often feels powerless to demand change even if they are aware of the problem.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/AV 4-1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="408" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A fish farming operation in the Ararat Valley. Fish farms in the region most often utilise highly inefficient "open flow" systems that do not recycle water before it is discharged back into the environment. (c) Greg Rafferty.</span></span></span><span>In the Ararat Valley, these problems are exemplified most notably by a poorly regulated and wasteful fish farming industry. Virtually non-existent some 20 years ago, the industry grew to nearly 200 operating farms in the Ararat Valley by 2013. It now accounts for </span><a href="https://www.usaid.gov/armenia/press-release/groundwater-survey-ararat-valley">over 50% of the annual water abstraction</a><span> from the Ararat Valley’s groundwater resources.</span></p><p>In other words, in a matter of years, fish farming has come to eclipse traditional agriculture in terms of the total amount of water used. While the state issues Water Use Permits (WUPs) that are intended to limit water use, fish farms have been known to withdraw as much as four times the amount allowed by their permits. Worse still, there are <a href="https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/20459">a significant number of illegal wells operating without WUPs in the region</a>.</p><h2>A threat to stability and development</h2><p>While fish farms have been able to turn a quick profit, a cascade of negative impacts have begun to surface as a result of the region’s shrinking water table.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>There have been public health and safety issues, as an increasing number of communities have faced partially or completely dried up water wells (a total of 31 by 2014). Problems for traditional agriculture and farming have arisen as well, as lower levels of underground artisanal water have led to a loss of soil moisture, resulting in <a href="https://www.usaid.gov/armenia/press-release/groundwater-survey-ararat-valley">an increased need for irrigation water and lower soil fertility</a>. Depleted groundwater has also threatened to create an energy crisis, as some of the natural springs currently drying-up feed directly into the cooling system <a href="https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/bitstream/handle/10986/20459/916410PUB0Box30UBLIC009781464803352.pdf?sequence=1">necessary for Armenia’s Metsamor nuclear power plant</a>, which produces nearly a third of the country’s electricity.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/AV 2.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Fields lying fallow in the Ararat Valley. In recent years, depleted water supplies has placed increasing pressure on traditional agriculture as more fields go un-irrigated. (c) Anna Kirakosyan.</span></span></span><span>These impacts threaten to unravel economic and political development in the fledgling South Caucasus republic. Since the economic turmoil brought by the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, Armenia has progressed a great deal. Life expectancy, education, and per-capita income have all risen steadily over the last two decades, and Armenia compares favorably to regional peers in the areas of civil society, independent media, and democratic governance.</span></p><p>Fundamental to this progress, however, is secure and equal access to water, the loss of which will assuredly lead to a rolling back of equality, economic opportunity and possibly political rights.</p><h2>Moving towards solutions</h2><p>In recent years, the Armenian government has begun responding to the issue with some encouraging steps. In order to shift the highly skewed status quo of economic costs and benefits of water use in the region, the government has <a href="https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/20459">increased water withdrawal fees for fisheries</a> from the previous rate of 1 AMD per cubic meter (a-fifth of one penny) for 5% of all water withdrawn to 1 AMD per cubic meter for 50% of all water withdrawn.</p><p>Armenia’s Ministry of Agriculture has also mandated that fisheries use semi-closed water recycling systems (which can yield significant water savings compared to open systems by which fisheries have expel water after one use) and <a href="https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/20459">have begun closing wells operating illegally without water use permits</a>.</p><p>Yet resistance from the fish-farming industry and poor institutional capacity to monitor and enforce regulations have remained major hurdles. Fisheries in the Ararat Valley have proven to be lucrative business enterprises, and owners of these operations typically have powerful ties. At least five fish farming companies are reported t<a href="http://www.rferl.org/content/armenia-villagers-say-prime-minister-fish-farms-sucking-well-dry/27043123.html">o be partially or fully registered under Armenia’s prime minister and his relatives</a>, for example. This has left many skeptical of whether or not new regulations will have a significant impact.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/AV 1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Fields lying fallow in the Ararat Valley. In recent years, depleted water supplies has placed increasing pressure on traditional agriculture as more fields go un-irrigated. (c) Anna Kirakosyan.</span></span></span><span>To combat these issues, a combination of transparency and increased involvement from local, governmental, and international groups is needed.</span></p><p>A the local level, Armenia has a wide network of active NGOs in the environmental sector, a few of which include Policy Forum Armenia, Armenia Tree Project, Armenian Environmental Network, and Armenian Women for Health and Healthy Environment. These groups have been engaged in sustainable water issues for many years, particularly on issues surrounding Armenia’s Lake Sevan and pollution by the mining sector. In other words, there is already local capacity to place pressure on excessive water users.</p><p>State agencies must also be given a clear mandate and sufficient resources from the Armenian government in order to carry out their responsibilities. So long as enforcement agencies remain cash-strapped with limited resources and are susceptible to bribery, water use permits will likely remain largely superficial and be violated with impunity.</p><p>International aid organisations have been playing a more active role lately in the Ararat Valley. They should continue to do so.<span>&nbsp;</span><span>Currently, USAID and the US Geological Survey are providing resources to conduct studies on the Ararat Valley’s groundwater aquifers, develop capacity for state monitoring organisations, and recommend policy solutions for more sustainable use. Such activities have the potential to bring in much needed resources and raise awareness on an international level.</span></p><h2>Preserving heritage and preventing crisis</h2><p>In critical agricultural regions across the globe, water tables are being depleted past sustainability tipping points. While all cases of water scarcity are cause for concern and action, the loss of some of our world’s most historic watersheds such as the Ararat Valley should strike an additional, painful nerve in our collective consciousness.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>As we have seen in other recent cases of regional water systems running dry, the impacts of desertification can have wide-ranging and unpredictable spillover effects as livelihoods are destroyed and instability is created.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Long-term drying trends cannot be reversed, and some effects of climate change cannot be prevented. Despite this, much can be done to improve transparency, regulation, and overall sustainability to ensure that we adapt to trends rather than witness the additional loss of livelihoods and cultural heritage.</p><p><em>Environmental initiatives are on the rise in Armenia. Find out more about protest mobilisation in this South Caucasus republic&nbsp;<a href="http://bit.ly/29nS4pa">here</a>.</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/armine-ishkanian/neoliberalism-mining-and-politics-of-plunder-in-armenia">Neoliberalism, mining and Armenia&#039;s politics of plunder </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/gohar-saroyan/depoliticising-protest-in-armenia">Depoliticising protests in Armenia</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/jan-haverkamp-iryna-holovko/towards-post-nuclear-ukraine">Towards a post-nuclear Ukraine</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/ingar-solty-davit-stepanyan/post-democracy-in-armenia-how-new-constitution-will-d">Post-democracy in Armenia? How the new Constitution will depoliticize Armenian society</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Thomas Cyrs Green Eurasia Armenia Mon, 04 Jul 2016 05:56:24 +0000 Thomas Cyrs 103491 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Neoliberalism, mining and Armenia's politics of plunder https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/armine-ishkanian/neoliberalism-mining-and-politics-of-plunder-in-armenia <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The resurgence of fighting with Azerbaijan could hinder progressive mobilisation in Armenia, but recent environmental initiatives reveal the appetite for resistance to the economy of extraction.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/armenia.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="314" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>23 June, 2015: protesters in Yerevan gather together in protest at electricity tariff rises. (c) Asatur Esayants / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span><span>22 June marked the one year anniversary of the beginning of the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/karena-avedissian/electrified-yerevan">Electric Yerevan movement in Armenia</a>, which led to weeks of protest and street occupation against the electricity fee hikes.</span></p><p>Over the past five years, civil society activism has grown in Armenia. But in the wake of the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/maxim-edwards/karabakh-rules-armenia">recent resumption of fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan in April 2016</a>, street activism appears to be on the wane. The problems and issues that brought people into the streets and squares, including corruption, the absence of rule of law, and the unfettered power and impunity of oligarchs, remain. </p><p>The campaign to stop copper mining in Teghut, which is led by the Save Teghut Civic Initiative (STCI), is the largest and longest running anti-mining campaign in the country (2007-present). Civil society resistance against mining began in 2007 and, as I argue in a recently published piece,&nbsp;<a href="https://www.academia.edu/26133454/Challenging_the_Gospel_of_Neoliberalism_Civil_Society_Opposition_to_Mining_in_Armenia">the movement against mining in Armenia has always been more than just about the environment</a> — it is and has been a movement against the <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/odr-debates/politics-of-plunder">politics of plunder</a> that has become the norm in Armenia’s post-Soviet reality. </p><p>Activists who campaign against mining describe it as “theft” (<em>koghopowt</em>) or “plunder” (<em>t'alan</em>) of Armenia’s natural resources. These people assert their right and responsibility, as citizens, to have a voice and play a role in development processes, characterising their activism as a form of self-organisation and an expression of <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/armine-ishkanian/selfdetermined-citizens-new-wave-of-civic-activism-in-armenia">“self-determined” citizenship</a>. Their protests are targeted towards both the international development agencies, which finance mining projects and support the adoption of neoliberal policies, as well as the Armenian government, which they see as acting in complicity, through the adoption of those policies, in legalising the “plunder”. </p><h2>Neoliberalism and post-socialism </h2><p>In the former socialist countries of eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, neoliberal policies were introduced in the 1990s with the objective to liberalise, privatise and deregulate the centralised economies and to help them make the transition to a market economy. </p><p>Many scholars argue that the development aid and technical assistance to the former socialist countries arrived ideologically packaged and describe how the desirability of the capitalist market was never questioned. Economist and former World Bank senior vice president Joseph Stiglitz has criticised in <em>Globalization and its discontents</em> what he calls the “market fundamentalism” that was embraced by international development agencies in the 1990s, arguing that the policies which were formulated and introduced in the former socialist countries (as well as globally) were based on a “curious blend of ideology and bad economics” and “open, frank discussion was discouraged”.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">In the post-Soviet period, it has been very difficult to challenge neoliberal economic policies in these countries, which have been viewed as gospel truths</p><p>In the post-Soviet period, it has been very difficult to challenge neoliberal economic policies in these countries, which have been viewed as gospel truths, above reproach and beyond critique.&nbsp;<span>In Armenia, and indeed internationally, international development agencies encourage developing countries to embrace mining as a strategy for economic growth and poverty reduction and support the introduction, and where necessary the reform, of regulatory frameworks to attract foreign direct investment.</span></p><p>Subsequently, beginning in the 1980s, mining began to move from the global north to the global south. Foreign investors, seeking to increase their comparative advantage, were attracted by the less stringent environmental policies and regulatory frameworks in developing countries. While natural resource extraction is not only a feature of neoliberalised economies, neoliberal reforms often facilitate investment in mining. </p><h2>National treasures</h2><p>Mining in Armenia began to grow in 2000 when former president Robert Kocharian began privatising the mining sector and introducing neoliberal policies, including a “lenient” taxation system, low regulation, and no quantitative trade restrictions on the conversion of capital, so as to attract foreign direct investment. </p><p>By 2005, Armenia was considered to have “the most favourable” investment climate in Central Asia and the Caucasus . Although it is one of the smallest former Soviet republics, both demographically (3.1m people) and geographically (29,400sq km), Armenia has 32 identified metallic mines (gold, copper, iron, molybdenum), of which twenty-five have been granted exploitation licenses and are at different stages of operation. In addition to the 25 metallic mines, there are also 479 non-metallic mines that have been licensed for operation. </p><p>Mining is one of the two main sectors of the Armenian economy, accounting for over half the country's exports, but the state has no stake in any of these mines. The state’s sole source of revenue comes from royalty payments. Foreign investors, including American, British, Canadian, Chinese, German, and Russian companies, own the exploitation licenses for 13 of the 25 metallic mines. The remainder are owned by Armenian oligarchs. </p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Teghut_Strip_Mining_Forest_Destruction_by_Vallex_Corp_in_Armenia_trucks.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Mining trucks at work at the new Teghut Mine in Armenia's northern Lori province. CC SA 3.0 Sara Anjargolian / Wikimedia Commons. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span><span>In 2012, the Armenian government, with “the help of the World Bank and European experts”, upgraded “the legislative framework for the country’s mining sector”, adopting “mining friendly policies”.</span></p><p>Among the recently adopted “mining friendly” policies, three stand out in particular. First, the existing environmental exploitation fee of 1.5% was abolished — companies are now only responsible for paying royalties on the sales of minerals, which are levied at an incremental rate of 0.1% up to a maximum of 0.8% where an operation’s profitability index exceeds 25%. </p><p>This means that mining companies are only taxed on the sale of the products, rather than the amount of natural resources extracted, as the royalty payment is calculated based on the total estimated value generated from the sale of metallic minerals mined. </p><p>Second, the word “waste” was omitted from Armenia’s Mining Code and replaced with the word “lcakowyt”, which translates into “heaps of rocks”. This change in terminology effectively means that waste created as a result of mining are not taxed because they are not identified as waste. </p><p class="mag-quote-center">Activists argue that mining reforms further weaken the state’s capacity to regulate mining activity, decrease any potential benefits from mining and intensify corruption risks</p><p>Finally, mining companies have been freed from the responsibility of paying for the future maintenance of the tailing dumps, which are now considered state property. Activists argue that mining reforms further weaken the state’s capacity to regulate mining activity, decrease any potential benefits from mining and intensify corruption risks. </p><p>The government defends the adoption of these policies arguing that they are necessary if the country is to continue attracting foreign direct investment; mining companies justify the privileges accorded to their sector by arguing that they bring much needed jobs to the country, and invest in infrastructure development and socially responsible projects.</p><p>Although Armenia’s government continues to claim that mining leads to poverty reduction and economic growth, the evidence demonstrates the contrary in that high levels of poverty and inequality persist. According to official statistics, over 35% of Armenians live under the poverty line (i.e., live on less than $3/day) and the unemployment rate is 7%. </p><p>Armenia is not unique in this regard. Similar mining-friendly policies have been introduced in other developing countries. What is different here is that the adoption of these policies in Armenia is not only about embracing a growth-oriented model of development, but also about demonstrating a commitment to reforming and steadfastly moving beyond the country’s socialist past. </p><h2>Resistance against the politics of plunder</h2><p>In Armenia, as in much of the former socialist countries, the struggles against neoliberalism and for real democracy are relatively new. </p><p>While these movements’ tactics, strategies and repertories of action (such as the use of social media), as well as their discourses, are partly shaped by current global practices and trends, they are also influenced by the legacy of socialism and the politics of the post-socialist transition. </p><p>Thus, on the surface, protest groups in the former socialist countries may appear to share similarities with movements beyond the region, there are also key differences. </p><p>For example, several occupy movements emerged in the post-socialist countries in 2012, including Occupy Mashtots Park in Armenia, Occupy Abai in Russia, and Occupy Sloveni. These movements challenged the lack of democracy and growing corruption and oligarchic rule in their respective countries. But unlike their North American or west European occupy counterparts, these movements also shied away from embracing an overtly left critique or vocal anti-capitalist stance. </p><p>This reluctance is partly due to the toxic legacy of state socialism, which still makes it very difficult for activists to formulate a left discourse or critique of capitalism.</p><p><span class="print-no mag-quote-center">Two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union, civil society activists in Armenia have begun to question the status quo — including the dominant narratives of neoliberal development</span></p><p><span>Although activists in Armenia did not stop the opening of the Teghut Mine, which officially opened in December 2014, their campaign should not be seen as a failure. The Save Teghut Civic Initiative, as the first civic initiative to emerge in Armenia, has played an instrumental role in introducing more contentious forms of collective action and challenging the accepted non-confrontational, consensus-driven practices of civil society advocacy and campaigning.</span></p><p>Since 2010, the more contentious practices that were first introduced by Save Teghut have been taken up with greater success by other civic initiatives on non-mining issues. It is clear that the struggle against mining, which involves challenging the interests of powerful actors (such as international development agencies, mining corporations and oligarchs) and projects where billions of dollars are at stake, cannot solely be won through small, urban-based civic initiatives. </p><p>As social movement scholars have demonstrated, while protest groups and social movements can have an impact at the policy level, such impact usually comes about as a result of shifts in public opinion, the forging of vertical and horizontal alliances (including with political parties), and in identifying and taking advantage of political windows of opportunity.</p><p>Discussing activism in Armenia, including the Save Teghut initiative, Gohar Saroyan argued recently on openDemocracy that <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/gohar-saroyan/depoliticising-protest-in-armenia">there is conflict between “social” and “political” protests</a> and maintains that “without politicising the problem[s]”, little will be achieved. </p><p>In my research I also found a tendency among some activists to separate the political from the social and to emphasise that they were not interested in politics or involved with any political party. Admittedly, there is no agreed upon definition of “politics”. But, drawing on Foucault, I understand politics as conflict, negotiation, and the flows of power that produce ideas (or truth regimes), which, in turn, are challenged and resisted. For Foucault, power is “everywhere” and “comes from everywhere”; it is not solely confined to the state or political parties. </p><p>Two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union, civil society activists in Armenia have begun to question the status quo — including the dominant narratives of neoliberal development. </p><p>But given the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ryan-mccarrel/checking-your-sources-in-nagorno-karabakh">current heightened period of security in the country</a>, and what some activists described to me as the growing tendency towards self-censorship and self-surveillance among some civil society groups, the space and tolerance for a progressive politics that is centred on democracy, rights and social justice is shrinking. </p><p><em>What chances for social mobilisation in Armenia? Find out more about activism and movement building in Armenia <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/gohar-saroyan/depoliticising-protest-in-armenia">here</a>.&nbsp;</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-partnerships/openmovements"><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/openmovements-banner-small_1.jpg" alt="" /></a></p><p>More from the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-partnerships/openmovements">openMovements</a> partnership.</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/gohar-saroyan/depoliticising-protest-in-armenia">Depoliticising protests in Armenia</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/noah-brehmer/their-security-our-poverty-militarisation-and-lithuania-s-new-labour-code">Their security, our poverty: militarisation and Lithuania’s new labour code</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/armine-ishkanian/selfdetermined-citizens-new-wave-of-civic-activism-in-armenia"> Self-determined citizens? A new wave of civic activism in Armenia</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/denys-gorbach-oles-petik/fear-and-loathing-in-ukraine-european-kind-of-protest">Fear and loathing in Ukraine: a very “European” protest</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/karena-avedissian/electrified-yerevan">The power of Electric Yerevan</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia openmovements Armine Ishkanian Politics of Plunder Green Eurasia Politics Fri, 24 Jun 2016 12:04:22 +0000 Armine Ishkanian 103289 at https://www.opendemocracy.net “When you buy coal, you have a moral right to ask where it came from” https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia-vladimir-slivyak/when-you-buy-coal-you-have-moral-right-to <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>A new report highlights a stark truth: the UK’s dependence on international coal not only devastates the environment, but disenfranchises local communities.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-4496609-1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="304" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A view of the Ulyanovskaya mine near Novokuznetsk, Kemerovo. Misha Japaridze / AP / Press Association Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span><em><span style="line-height: 1.5;">The grey-and-black coalfields of Siberia’s Kuzbass are home to Russia’s export coal industry. Billions of tonnes of coal lie submerged in the ground here, and roughly 200m tonnes is dug out for transport and stockpile every year through open cast mining. This extraction business, subsidised partially by the Russian state, has significant impacts not only in terms of air and water pollution in the region, but on indigenous communities, <a href="https://ecdru.files.wordpress.com/2015/12/russian-coal.pdf">who face being bought out or run off their land</a>.</span><span style="line-height: 1.5;">&nbsp;</span></em></p><p><em>Some 4,000 miles away, the UK may be decreasing coal imports, but we still get 43% of our thermal coal imports every year from the Kuzbass. As the government considers phasing out coal power completely, a new report <a href="http://www.coalaction.org.uk/ditchcoal.pdf">“Ditch Coal”</a> by the Coal Action Network highlights the environmental and political effects of this dependency, whether in the UK or Russia.</em></p><p><em>This month, the Coal Action Network starts its tour of the UK. We sat down with one of the people involved — Vladimir Slivyak, co-chair of Russian environmental group Ecodefence — to talk about environmental activism and the coal industry in Russia.</em></p><p><strong>oDR: How do you see the connection between the UK’s dependence on coal and Russia’s coal industry?</strong></p><p><span style="line-height: 1.5;"><strong>VS:</strong> Well, Russia sells coal to the UK! In Europe, the UK is the largest consumer of Russian coal, second to China. My organisation, Ecodefence, which has been running for 26 years, looks at the consequences of coal mining in Russia — and this is an unexplored issue. In fact, the movement against coal in Russia is only just beginning.</span></p><p><strong>oDR: So, coal has been outside of Russian environmental groups’ focus. Why is that?</strong></p><p><strong>VS: </strong>There are different reasons. For example, nuclear energy is historically a big issue because of Chernobyl — independent environmental groups emerged in Russia at the end of the 1980s in direct consequence of Chernobyl.</p><p><span style="line-height: 1.5;">But in Russia, generally, people are concentrated on environmental problems that they can see. So coal is an important topic in the region where it’s mined, but most people who use it cannot see the problems, the consequences of coal mining themselves. In some places, sometimes, there are protests against new power plants that run on coal.</span></p><p class="mag-quote-center">When you buy coal, you’re also obtaining a moral right to ask: where does this coal come from? And not just of the coal companies, but the Russian government, too</p><p>In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Russia had a strong environmental movement, but by the mid-1990s, popularity among the masses had dropped off for economic reasons. That experience showed that when people are united, they are able to change things. By the 1990s, most people were trying to figure out how to survive on a daily basis, how to make a little money, how to feed their families. Historically, if you went and conducted an opinion poll somewhere at this time, and you ask what kind of issues people are interested in, environmental problems would be at the top — not number one, but up there.<span style="line-height: 1.5;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>Russia’s different from developed countries where a lot of people have time and money to get involved in things like environmental activity: in a country that’s totally poor, it’s hard to expect people to care about environmental problems. Russia’s economy may have picked up in the early 2000s, but now we’re in the deepest economic crisis since the collapse of the Soviet Union. We can’t expect large amounts of people to come out onto to the street for environmental protests — people are more likely to mobilise around jobs.<span style="line-height: 1.5;">&nbsp;</span></p><p><strong>oDR: Do you see any room for bringing environmental politics and broader socio-economic questions together in Russia? Does divestment have any prospects in Russia?</strong></p><p><strong>VS:</strong> Speaking about divestment, for me, it’s hard to see how this will work in Russia. Things are built in a different way there. We don’t have private enterprise; top government officials are behind big business in Russia. You take any company involved in fossil fuel extraction, be it gas, oil or coal, there will likely be top government official behind it, they will likely have shares.</p><p>One of the results of this is that big companies receive money from the federal budget. For the coal industry, <a href="http://www.vtb.com/group/press/news/releases/273381/">it’s VTB bank</a>. In Ecodefence’s film <em><a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m6numrY6rSk">Condemned</a></em>, we showed that a lot of foreign banks are involved in funding coal operations in Russia, but the amount of money they invest is minimal compared to that of the state. The government basically subsidises them, so the coal companies don’t feel as if they’re working in an open market, that they have to compete with other companies. And the industry’s making big losses due to low coal prices and consumption falling. </p><iframe width="460" height="259" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/m6numrY6rSk" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe><p><span style="line-height: 1.5;">Nevertheless, in regions where coal companies operate, the top management continues to receive huge money, and the workers – miserly pay. Even if you could go to a big bank in the west and make them divest, it won’t affect them: &nbsp;making western Banks divest from Russian coal wont solve the problem on its own, as foreign banks don't make up a huge part of the investment. I can see how divestment will work in the west, but not in Russia.</span></p><p><strong>oDR: Researchers have long connected Russia’s form of crony state capitalism and its resource extraction industry. What’s the short- or mid-term future of coal here?<span style="line-height: 1.5;">&nbsp;</span></strong></p><p><strong>VS:</strong> Coal consumption in Russia is going down, as energy consumption goes down as part of economic downturn. At the same time, the coal industry is producing more coal and stockpiling it. The reason? Because export to the west is growing.</p><p>You wouldn’t believe it, but Russian coal industry is breaking records in terms of production, year after year — even in comparison to the Soviet Union. And the proportion of coal in Russia’s energy mix has been dropping. It was 40% a decade ago, now it’s halved. So the only way they can use all this coal is to export it. The western experience of divestment could not work today in Russia, but what could is if countries that buy Russian coal look into the consequences.<span style="line-height: 1.5;">&nbsp;</span></p><p class="mag-quote-center">We’ve been trying to communicate through local media to people there that coal isn’t forever — this is the most effective way of communicating the environmental agenda in an already polluted region</p><p>When you buy coal, you’re also obtaining a moral right to ask: where does this coal come from? And not just of the coal companies, but the Russian government, too. The latter is responsible because the companies ignore Russian law when it comes to environmental and legal protections — and the government should force them to comply with legislation and if not, then punish them.</p><p>In the Kuzbass, we’re going to see huge problems due to Russia’s economic crisis. The local government stated in January 2016 that a lot of people are going to be laid off by the end of the year. Coal demand is dropping in Europe, the market perspective tells us that demand is not likely to jump again in the next decade — the Russian coal industry is going to have to scale down anyway, it’s a matter of time. In some cases this could a very long time, this means for local people a lot of new damage to their health and environment.</p><p><strong>oDR: The Russian government might do it themselves — there was recently <a href="https://meduza.io/news/2016/02/24/vostochnuyu-sibir-predlozhili-prevratit-v-bezuglerodnuyu-zonu">an official proposal to turn Siberia into a coal-free zone by 2050</a>. How is this downturn going to affect people living in the region?</strong></p><p><strong>VS:</strong> Local researchers have tried different diversification programmes for the Kuzbass economy for a long time. When Ecodefence was preparing a documentary about the impact of coal mining companies on indigenous populations in the Kuzbass [<a href="http://coalaction.org.uk/ditchcoal.pdf">such as Shors or Teleut</a>], these researchers told us that there was a plan to diversify, but neither the federal, nor local governments were interested. The companies pretty much control the local authorities — coal is the only industry there, and local government is dependent on their money.</p><p>Local government should be using these taxes to develop something else. But what they prefer to do is not really take taxes, to make them pay for the damage. Instead, what they do is go to companies and get money in a private way. And due to corruption, companies are not really paying for the damage they do.</p><p>The local authorities should be pushing companies to figure out what happens after coal mining stops in the Kuzbass — it employs the majority of people there. The authorities, though, are behaving just like the coal companies — they don’t care.</p><p><strong><span style="line-height: 1.5;">oDR: It seems like there’s few ways to counter the political monopoly on coal, but clearly raising public awareness is one. What’s your take on the Russian media coverage of the coal industry?</span><span style="line-height: 1.5;">&nbsp;</span></strong></p><p><strong>VS:</strong> I just see the same tricks in the Russian media, again and again — basically, pseudo-science stating that climate change doesn’t exist, documentaries featuring scientists saying that climate change happens over millions of years and that we’re not going to be affected by it in Russia.</p><p>Ecodefence has been quite active in the Kuzbass, though, distributing information about coal and climate interdependence. But in January this year, the coal industry started a propaganda campaign called <a href="http://vesti42.ru/news/society/00028241/">“Right for coal”</a>, putting articles in the media and music videos about how people in this region have a special right to use coal, it’s given to them by nature. Residents of the Kuzbass, though, are breathing polluted air, drinking polluted water.</p><p>We’ve been trying to communicate through local media to people there that coal isn’t forever — this is the most effective way of communicating the environmental agenda in an already polluted region. It’s important to work at a federal level, sure, but it’s got to start at a local level too.</p><p><em>The Coal Action Network tour with films, discussions and speakers is on now in the UK until 10 June. Check <a href="http://www.coalaction.org.uk/tour">here</a> for more information, dates and details.<span style="line-height: 1.5;">&nbsp;</span></em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia-vladimir-slivyak-nailya-ibragimova/atomic-energy-and-polit">Atomic energy and political power in Russia</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/jan-haverkamp-iryna-holovko/towards-post-nuclear-ukraine">Towards a post-nuclear Ukraine</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/gleb-paikachov/we-need-to-find-common-ground-between-climate-change-and-civil-society">We need to find the common ground between climate change and civil society</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/emma-hughes/walking-line">Walking the line</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/angelina-davydova/cop21-stories-from-russia-s-indigenous-peoples">COP21: stories from Russia’s indigenous peoples</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Vladimir Slivyak Editors of OpenDemocracy Russia Green Eurasia Fri, 27 May 2016 13:28:07 +0000 Editors of OpenDemocracy Russia and Vladimir Slivyak 102503 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Belarus’s Chernobyl taboo https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tatyana-ivanova/belarus-s-chernobyl-taboo <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/1996_Belarus_0.jpg" alt="" width="160" />Thirty years after the catastrophe at Chernobyl, the government of neighbouring Belarus still refuses to release information about real radiation levels in the surrounding area. It’s even planning to build a new nuclear power plant. <strong><em><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tatyana-ivanova/belarus-posle-chernobylya" target="_blank">Русский</a></em></strong></p> </div> </div> </div> <p>Although Chernobyl is actually in northern Ukraine, neighbouring Belarus is the country that has suffered most from the disaster. After all, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/anna-shadrina/svetlana-alexievich-pain-and-dignity-of-life-in-soviet-experiment" target="_blank">Svetlana Aleksievich</a>’s <em>Chernobyl Prayer</em> was known around the world long before its author received the 2015 Nobel Prize for Literature.</p><p>Today, Belarus’s official attitude to the legacy of Chernobyl is rather ambiguous. On the one hand, it recognises its persistence and allocates funding to continuing clean-up operations, but on the other it withholds information from the public, encourages people to return to contaminated areas and is building a new nuclear power plant in the area. </p><p>What has changed over the last 30 years? Have the enormous sums of money thrown at the problem been able to save lives? Has Belarus been successful in overcoming the impact of this horrific catastrophe, and what do Belarusians themselves think?</p><h2>Belarus – a terra incognita </h2><p>For many experts and scientists examining the impact of the Chernobyl disaster, Belarus is still an undiscovered country. Greenpeace International’s recent report, “<a href="http://www.greenpeace.org/france/PageFiles/266171/Nuclear_scars_report_WEB_final_version_20160403.pdf" target="_blank">Nuclear Scars: The lasting legacy of Chernobyl and Fukushima</a>”, which exposes the continuing impact of these nuclear accidents on the lives of millions of people, doesn’t even mention it. </p><p class="mag-quote-center">Over a million Belarusians live in areas of the country affected by high-level radioactive contamination</p><p>Greenpeace studied the situation in Russia’s Bryansk Region and Ukraine’s Rivne and Kyiv Regions, but ignored Belarus. It is not easy to get first hand evidence of the impact of Chernobyl, as the government controls not only practically all research on the subject on its territory, but also all the institutions and organisations involved in it. No primary information on radioactive contamination or epidemiological data are available. There are insufficient radiation monitoring points where members of the public can take food products for checking – they all require licensing. Where they exist at large farmers’ markets, people wishing to check produce for eating, rather than selling, have to pay for the service, although in the capital, Minsk, they can do it for free at the city’s Hygiene and Epidemiological Centre. Likewise, there is no information about these services on the sites of any other organisations responsible for radiation monitoring.<br /><br /><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/41438567_991ad39b6c_z_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/41438567_991ad39b6c_z_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="308" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The Republic of Belarus. State emblem of a terra incognita, 2002. Photo CC: Roland / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>&nbsp; <br />Chernobyl is a taboo subject in Belarus. This is both the result and the intention of a totalitarian system of government that is well aware of Chernobyl’s role as the spark for the implosion of the Soviet Empire. Soviet citizens learned about Chernobyl from Western media, sparking a wave of protests all over the country. The Belarusian government is still paranoid about disclosing any information about it, afraid this might lead to a coup or, as they would put it, an Orange Revolution.</p><h2>Under the carpet</h2><p>Belarus’s official policy on Chernobyl is aimed at persuading ordinary people to think about it as little as possible, and getting international organisations to allocate as much funding as possible to cleanup operations. Minsk spends billions on “making life safe” in the contaminated zone, though independent experts believe that it would be <a href="https://charter97.org/ru/news/2015/5/3/149988/" target="_blank">cheaper and safer to simply resettle people</a>. </p><p>Over 26bn Belarusian roubles (about US$1.3m), 25.5bn (US$1.26m) from public funds, <a href="http://government.by/ru/content/6315" target="_blank">have been allocated</a> to the clean-up between now and 2020 – a considerable sum for Belarus, whose total annual budget is about US$9bn.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Minsk is paranoid about disclosing any information, afraid this might lead to a coup or revolution</p><p>This policy, which officials claim will leave a minimal but permanent radiation level in both foodstuffs and the environment, has drawn criticism from experts on the subject. Dr Yuri Voronezhtsev, who in his time was executive secretary of the USSR Supreme Soviet Committee which examined the reasons for the nuclear accident, told me that the original safety strategy envisaged the complete resettlement of people from the contaminated areas, as in his opinion, agricultural produce from these areas would be both unsafe to eat and several times more expensive to produce than in uncontaminated areas. </p><p>Other specialists, such as corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences Aleksei Yablokov, Belarusian medical specialist Professor Yuri Bandazhevsky and British epidemiologist Chris Busby agree that long-term exposure to small doses of radiation, including radioactive isotopes such as Caesium-137 and Strontium-90 which can be found in food, is no less dangerous to health than large doses.</p><p>According to the Greenpeace report, 1.1m people live in contaminated areas in Belarus, 1.6m in Russia and 2.3m in Ukraine, and are therefore being subjected to unsafe levels of radiation in both their food and their environments.<br /><br /><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/1996._Stamp_of_Belarus_0139-0141-2_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/1996._Stamp_of_Belarus_0139-0141-2_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="324" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Belarusian postage stamps, commemorating the tenth anniversary of the Chernobyl tragedy. Photo CC: Belpochta / Wikimedia Commons. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>&nbsp; &nbsp;<br /><a href="http://www.ianfairlie.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/chernobyl-report-version-1.1.pdf" target="_blank">TORCH-2016</a>, an independent examination of the impact of the Chernobyl accident’s impact on people’s health conducted by British scientist Ian Fairlie at the instigation of the Austrian environmental organisation Global 2000, concluded that five million people, including one million in Belarus, are living in areas of high-level contamination. A further 400 million living in areas of low-level contamination across the whole of Europe.</p><p>The Belarusian government is, however, determined to limit its costs associated with Chernobyl, and each year reduces the area of the zones defined as contaminated or dangerous, using as justification the natural decay of isotopes such as Caesium-137 and Strontium-90. </p><p>In January this year the government <a href="http://greenbelarus.info/articles/18-01-2016/radyyacyynyya-terytoryi-u-belarusi-achyshchayuc-pastanovami" target="_blank">removed 203 towns and villages</a>, with a total population of 31,000, from its list of contaminated areas. These people have now lost their previous rights under the law providing for compensatory benefits for people affected by the Chernobyl disaster and other nuclear accidents. The independent website <a href="http://belsat.eu/ru/news/chernobyl-zaochnyj-spor-vlastej-i-oppozitsii/" target="_blank">Naviny.by quotes Anatoly Zagorodsky</a>, a senior official at the Belarusian Ministry for Emergency Situations, as saying that this cut will save the country’s Exchequer 30bn roubles (US$1.5m) a year.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Each year Belarus’s government shrinks the contaminated zone, in order to save on compensating the inhabitants</p><p>The Belarusian government is in fact not only cutting back on measures to protect its citizens, but attempting to develop business activities in the contaminated areas. Timber from the forest around Chernobyl is being actively exploited, for example, as deputy Forestry Minister Aleksandr Kulik <a href="http://naviny.by/rubrics/society/2016/03/24/ic_news_116_472498/" target="_blank">announced at a press conference</a> on 24 March. “Work in these areas has not stopped”, he told the BelPAN news agency, “it is simply a question of how long people can stay there safely”. In the Chernobyl zone, he said, timber was being felled in three areas, with a contamination level for Caesium-137 of 1-5 curies/km2, with 0.15-0.5 curies/km2 for Strontium-90 and 0.01-0.02 for Plutonium.</p><h2>Is blindness a blessing? </h2><p>A recent poll by journalists from the independent Belsat TV channel <a href="http://belsat.eu/ru/news/chernobyl-zaochnyj-spor-vlastej-i-oppozitsii/" target="_blank">on the streets of the city of Mogilev</a> produced pretty clear responses to the question of whether the average Belarusian had any memory of Chernobyl. Answers such as “it was 30 years ago; the effects have disappeared by now” or “nobody has talked about it for a long time” reflect official propaganda. </p><p>Limited access to information, as well as public belief in “strict regulations” and a strict level of monitoring for radioactivity have led to Belarusians increasingly ignoring the “Chernobyl Factor”.&nbsp; </p><p>Experience shows that the average member of the public trusts official announcements over the conclusions of independent experts. In spring, forest fires in the 30 kilometre exclusion zone around the plant can lift and carry dangerous isotopes across hundreds of kilometres, yet people still go there for picnics, ignoring the advice of the experts. Yuri Voronezhtsev, who lives in the contaminated Gomel Region, thinks that government propaganda makes people behave more and more irresponsibly in contaminated areas, eating and even trading food from these areas – wild mushrooms and berries, milk and meat. With more areas being removed from the officially monitored zone, this behaviour is increasing. </p><p>He sees the general public as basically ignorant of the effects of radiation on health, which they fail to connect to the rise in the incidence of cancer in the contaminated zone. </p><p class="mag-quote-center">Due to decaying isotopes, some areas will stay contaminated for 4330 years</p><p>At the same time, the effects of continual exposure to low levels of radiation in the area around Chernobyl were not immediately clear, and have only become visible over the decades, so people don’t tend to link increasing cancer rates to radioactive contamination. The emergency fatigue syndrome that was already prevalent in the first years after the disaster, when people didn’t want to hear about possible long term effects, only exacerbates the problem. </p><p>Despite the 30 years that have passed since the nuclear accident, experts stress that Chernobyl is still a threat to human life.<br /><br /><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Shmatau-Funeral_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Shmatau-Funeral_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="242" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A funeral procession in the Chernobyl zone, by Belarusian artist Vikor Shmatov, 1993. Photo CC: Marta Shmatova / Wikimedia Commons. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>&nbsp;<br />Scientists believe that soils contaminated by radioactive isotopes from the Chernobyl area will remain dangerous for not one, but 10 half-lives of these isotopes – for Strontium-90 this comes to 290 years, for Caesium-137, 300 years and for isotopes of Uranium, Plutonium and Iodine-190 (which medical experts consider toxic and carcinogenic), it’s even longer. The half life of Uranium-238 is 4.5 billion years; of plutonium-239, 24,000 years and for Iodine-129, 15 million years.</p><p>Some Chernobyl isotopes also decay into other unstable and toxic elements, among them Plutonium-241, which becomes Americium-241, a substance that the Belarusian Ministry of Emergency Situations has discovered around Chernobyl and whose effects on humans are similar to those of radioactive isotopes. According to official figures, the quantity of Americium-241 produced by the decay of Plutonium-241 from Chernobyl will increase by 2.4 times over the next century. In other words, these areas will be unsafe for 4330 years – ten times the half life of this element. </p><h2>Chain reactions</h2><p>The fact that Belarus is now beginning to build its own nuclear power plant, on the same Soviet model as Chernobyl, shows how little it has learned from the last 30 years. There is no rational explanation for the construction of this “New Chernobyl”, since the site chosen for it is in one of the country’s least industrialised and polluted areas, an idyllic rural spot where Belarusians go for rest and recreation. According to a feasibility study produced by the Committee for Public Environmental Assessments, Belarus has no need for additional power stations since its demand for electricity is low and it already has surplus capacity. The government plans to generate 20-30% of demand through nuclear power, but the committee believes this will endanger its energy system as a whole. </p><p>There are various reasons for the committee’s concerns about the safety of the nuclear power plant: its chosen site near the city of Astrovets has been insufficiently explored and the yet untested Russian "AES-2006" project has numerous legal and technical flaws. Also, reactor construction began on 21 May 2012, on the same day as the plant’s architectural plans were commissioned, about a year before they were complete and two years before the expert feasibility study and the issue of a certificate of authorisation.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Since 2008, anti-nuclear activists have been harassed by the authorities in a wave of arrests</p><p>The decision to build the plant was taken in 2008 by Belarus’ Security Council, chaired by the country’s president Aleksandr Lukashenka, without taking any account of public opinion and in the face of public opposition. It did not follow the correct procedures on public participation in decision-making laid down in the Aarhus Convention, carrying these out when construction work had already started and flouting many of the convention’s provisions.<br /><br /><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/9294137738_e022df506c_z-2.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/9294137738_e022df506c_z-2.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="305" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The abandoned town of Pripyat, Chernobyl zone, northern Ukraine. Photo CC: Kamil Porembiński / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>&nbsp; <br />Belarus’s neighbour Lithuania has also been concerned about the possible risks, since the plant is sited just 20km from its border and 50km from its capital Vilnius. In 2014 it approached the <a href="http://www.unece.org/env/eia/eia.html" target="_blank">Espoo Convention</a> Compliance Committee asking for an assessment of its cross-border environmental impact. The committee recognised a number of infringements of the convention and asked Belarus to reconsider its choice of site. Belarus has failed to observe any of the committee’s recommendations and construction on the site continues.</p><h2>Finding a voice</h2><p>Although the long decades of propaganda have affected Belarusian public opinion, that doesn’t necessarily mean that people trust the nuclear industry.</p><p>A poll conducted in 2010 by the <em>Vybor</em> [Rn: Choice] talk show revealed that 87% of its 13,000 respondents did not believe that modern nuclear power plants were safe. After Chernobyl, Belarusians were not prepared to take further radiation risks and came out against the new plant. In 2006 there were public protests against its construction and in 2008 its opponents formed the Belarusian Anti-Nuclear Campaign, which publicised the legal and technical infringements taking place at the site not only in Belarus but beyond its borders. </p><p>This opposition triggered a crackdown from the government. From 2008, anti-nuclear campaigners were harassed by the authorities in a wave of arrests, searches and deportations.<br /><br /><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Ozharovsky_Belarus_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Ozharovsky_Belarus_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="317" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Andrey Ozharovsky, physicist and critic of the Belarusian government’s plans for a new nuclear power plant. Image still via Ab’ektau / YouTube. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>&nbsp; <br />These measures are all being documented and examined in the course of a new legal case brought by the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee. One of the most scandalous examples of Minsk’s strong-arm tactics was the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tatyana-ivanova/bellona.ru/2012/07/19/ekolog-andrej-ozharovskij-arestovan-v/" target="_blank">arrest of Russian nuclear physicist Andrei Ozharovsky</a> when he was invited by the anti-nuclear campaigners to take part in the public assessment of the nuclear project. He was deported from Belarus for ten years following ten days’ detention on charges of petty hooliganism — standard police practice in Belarus, where people are routinely arrested for political activities.</p><p>Despite the crackdown, Belarusians are continuing to ask questions about the construction of the new plant. This was the theme of Minsk’s Chernobyl Week, organised by the local environmental NGOs <em>Ekadom</em> [Rn: Ecohome] and Green Network. This year’s Chernobyl Road, an annual street event in memory of the victims of Chernobyl that has for the last few years called for a halt to the building of the plant, will also highlight the need to resettle the population of the contaminated zone and stop all business activity there. </p><p>This event, which has official permission, generally draws only about 2,000-4,000 people – a result of the harassment, intimidation and arrests of its participants. This year, however, it will benefit from considerable moral support – for 2015 Nobel prize winner Svetlana Alexievich is chairing its organising committee. She is known, of course, for her <em>Chernobyl Prayer.</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/jan-haverkamp-iryna-holovko/towards-post-nuclear-ukraine">Towards a post-nuclear Ukraine</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia-vladimir-slivyak-nailya-ibragimova/atomic-energy-and-polit">Atomic energy and political power in Russia</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/gleb-paikachov/we-need-to-find-common-ground-between-climate-change-and-civil-society">We need to find the common ground between climate change and civil society</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Tatyana Ivanova Green Eurasia Belarus Wed, 27 Apr 2016 15:33:38 +0000 Tatyana Ivanova 101684 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Towards a post-nuclear Ukraine https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/jan-haverkamp-iryna-holovko/towards-post-nuclear-ukraine <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u555493/5657851404_c189f82c7b_z.jpg" alt="5657851404_c189f82c7b_z.jpg" hspace="5" width="160" align="right" /></p><p>Thirty years on from Chernobyl, nuclear energy still accounts for more than half of Ukraine’s electricity. With vested interests dominating Ukraine’s energy market,&nbsp;<span>what are the chances for a post-nuclear Ukraine? <em><strong><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/jan-haverkamp-iryna-holovko/post-yadernaya-ukraina">Русский</a></strong></em></span></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span>Thirty years on from the world’s largest nuclear catastrophe in Chernobyl, people are often astonished that Ukraine is still highly dependent on an ageing nuclear fleet for its electricity provision. Indeed, Belarus, Russia and Ukraine continue to face the trauma of Chernobyl on a daily basis — both in the form of human tragedy and on-going economic losses.</span></p><p><span>You might expect the governments of these states to have turned away from nuclear energy and, in the light of the latest climate science, from fossil fuels too. But Russia continues to promote nuclear power, and Belarus is trying to introduce nuclear reactors at home. Belarus and Ukraine share a high dependence on Russia for nuclear technology, fuel, gas, oil and coal — a problem that has only been exacerbated by the crisis in the Donbas.</span></p><p class="mag-quote-center">Ukraine could cover its entire energy demand in 2050 with wind, solar and water and a 32% decrease in primary energy need</p><p>A move towards clean, renewable energy sources (such as wind, water, sun, biomass and geothermal) would seem a logical route, especially given the potential savings in health costs and increase in energy independence. Here, in these countries most afflicted by Chernobyl, economic realities make this switch to a clean energy future inevitable: the old centralised energy economy is collapsing, slowly but surely, and an awareness movement is growing.</p><p>In Ukraine, future-oriented enterprises will choose independence from the politically and economically unstable conglomerates that dominate the country’s energy sector. The question is: are these companies getting the space they need to start Ukraine’s energy [r]evolution?<span>&nbsp;</span></p><h2>At a crossroads</h2><p>Clearly, Ukraine currently faces several fundamental choices for the future. These choices relate to political contexts and preferences, but none of them is as inevitable as the need for an energy [r]evolution.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>We are not asking anyone to experiment with unknown technologies. The techniques for a clean energy future exist, and Ukraine has even built up experience with them. Technically, then, the next step is an evolution. But one that means a revolutionary departure from a highly unstable energy politics that rely on centralisation of access to gas, oil, coal and nuclear power, and the energy policy and planning paradigms associated with it.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p><span class="print-no mag-quote-center">Ukraine’s electricity market is a political battlefield, and not only due to interference of oligarchs and dependency on Russia for coal, nuclear fuel and technology</span></p><p>Ukraine has significant potential for the development of renewable energy sources. As <a href="http://web.stanford.edu/group/efmh/jacobson/Articles/I/CountriesWWS.pdf ">research for The Solutions Project by Mark Jacobson and his team at Stanford University shows</a>, Ukraine could <a href="https://100.org/wp-addons/maps/#804 ">cover its entire energy demand in 2050 with wind, solar and water and a 32% decrease in primary energy need</a>. However, the fact that Ukraine currently enjoys only 1 GW of installed capacity from renewable sources signals that energy policy is yet to undergo fundamental change, and the obstacles are many.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p><span>The staying power of old energy structures should not be underestimated. Ukraine’s electricity market is a political battlefield, and not only due to interference of oligarchs and dependency on Russia for coal, nuclear fuel and technology. The <a href="http://www.mondaq.com/x/310326/Renewables/Overview+Of+The+Legal+And+Regulatory+Framework+In+Ukraine ">market is virtually completely regulated</a>, and regulation has become a political tool.</span><span>&nbsp;</span></p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/5657851404_c189f82c7b_z.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Chernobyl from space. CC BY 2.0 <a href=http://www.earthobservatory.nasa.gov/>NASA Earth Observatory</a>. </span></span></span><span>Consumer prices are set by the powerful state energy regulator (NERC), which enables <a href="http://index.minfin.com.ua/tarif/electric/ ">low tariffs for consumers and even lower ones for consumers using less than 150 kWh/month</a>. Special groups, like recognised victims of Chernobyl, receive other rebates.</span><span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>While there have been several minor rate hikes since 2014 (with a further increased planned for September 2016), cost realistic increases in electricity prices would be politically risky for any government in power. Low tariffs for private consumers are cross-financed by higher industrial tariffs, but in comparison with, for instance, EU markets, <a href="http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/Electricity_price_statistics ">these are still low</a>. </p><p>Needless to say, this means that providers don’t receive much in the way of income in comparison with costs.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><h2>Oligarchic control</h2><p>Ukraine’s energy oligarchs have a strong voice in the country’s day-to-day politics. Take the concentration of the thermal coal power market, for instance: thermal is largely steered by the DTEK conglomerate, which is Ukraine’s largest energy company, and is controlled by Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine’s richest man. In the past, DTEK was able to negotiate a strong position (and higher tariffs) for coal generation, which, in turn, had to be cross-financed by lower prices for nuclear power.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>The gas sector of Ukraine’s electricity generation market is highly dependent on the Russian-Ukrainian company RusUkrEnergo, which is under control of Gazprom and another Ukrainian oligarch, Dmytro Firtash, who has strong ties to the current Poroshenko government.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/1024px-RodnikovoyeSolarPark.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Rodnikovoye Solar Park, Crimea. CC SA Wikimedia Commons. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span><span>Ukraine’s renewable energy market initially also grew along the lines of large-scale developments driven by oligarchs. For example, Activ Solar, which is owned by Andriy and Serhiy Klyuyev, two powerful figures within the Yanukovych clan, developed large-scale solar power stations in 2011-2013 mainly in the sunny regions of Odessa and Crimea.</span></p><p>This was done while practically blocking other players from entering the market and securing inflated guaranteed feed-in prices for their projects, undermining the popularity of solar energy in Ukraine.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><h2>The crisis of the power market</h2><p>In 2014, the crisis in the Donbas saw the Ukrainian state lose control of two thirds of its coalmines — and with that of most of its coal resources for the country’s thermal power stations.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>This situation led to the coal sector’s financial position deteriorating, which was then exacerbated by <a href="http://economics.lb.ua/state/2014/12/17/289578_ukraina_sokratit_ugolnie_dotatsii.htm">the termination of €400m of direct subsidies to state coal mines in 2015</a>. The remaining coal power plants within the country are now dependent on coal trickling in from the Donbas and imports from Russia and South Africa — and that comes at a price. DTEK’s position has also been hit heavily: a significant part of its assets are situated in the Donbas. This loss of control and income <a href="http://blog.banktrack.org/?p=955">seems to have driven the conglomerate over the edge into bankruptcy.</a></p><p class="mag-quote-center">All this pressure on Ukraine’s energy sector means that Energoatom, the state enterprise that currently generates 55% of Ukraine’s electricity, has to balance the books</p><p>Although Ukraine’s gas sector, <a href="http://www.mega-billing.com/ua/news/2015/02/12/energorynok_2014/">which covered only six percent of the country’s electricity generation in 2014</a>, recently saw some inflow from the European Union, it remains largely dependent on gas deliveries from Russia. The bulk of gas-fired capacities are large combined heat and power plants, which provide district heating in winter and constitute critical infrastructure for a number of major Ukrainian cities, including Kyiv.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/800px-SAM_0628.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Rzeszów–Khmelnytskyi powerline. CC Rondol / Wikimedia Commons. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span><span>Further south, the annexation of Crimea put an end to the dreams of Activ Solar. The bankrupted company now seeks to sell its leftover assets to a Chinese investor.</span><span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>All this pressure on Ukraine’s energy sector means that Energoatom, the state enterprise that currently generates 55% of Ukraine’s electricity, has to balance the books. This share needs to be covered by four nuclear power plants with 15 nuclear reactors. Twelve of these reactors were built in the 1980s, and are now in need for large safety upgrades if they are to be operated with a lifetime extension beyond 30 years.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><h2>Low investments are increasing nuclear risks</h2><p>And this is where the investment side comes in. Low consumer prices for electricity have combined with heavy pressure to compensate powerful political allies from the coal, gas and (tiny) renewable sectors to reduce Energoatom’s returns. As a result, Ukraine’s nuclear giant has to make adaptations on the cost side.</p><p>Every nuclear operator has to put aside money to later decommission its nuclear power plant(s) and manage its high level nuclear waste for the next 100,000 years. In order to do so, reserves are built up during the operation time of a nuclear power station, normally in the form of a fixed amount per kWh sold. Ukraine decided to lower this amount, slowing down the build-up of these reserves. This has created a shortage in these reserves, which is now used as an argument to continue operating ageing reactors to create at least some income for another 20 years.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p class="mag-quote-center">The political position of Ukraine’s increasingly risky nuclear sector is strengthened by the rhetoric that only lifetime extension of the “independent” ageing nuclear fleet can fill the gap</p><p>The necessary safety upgrades (for life-time extension, but also in reaction to the Fukushima catastrophe – <a href="http://ensreg.eu/EU-Stress-Tests/Country-Specific-Reports/EU-Neighbouring-Countries/Ukraine ">Ukraine participated in the EU post-Fukushima nuclear stress tests</a>) are thus weakened or postponed, and there are even indications that there is a lack of money for operational costs.</p><p>At the same time, Ukraine’s nuclear fleet faces an increased security risk due to political instability. The risks for terrorist or insurgent attack on nuclear infrastructure are currently higher than in peace time, meaning further upgrades are necessary. In addition, most of the upgrading work is dependent on Russian technological input. Delays in the implementation of upgrades are not only caused by lack of finance, but also by unforeseen technical complications and problems with tender procedures. On top of that, Energoatom is bleeding funds on an unrealistic nuclear new build programme in Khmelnytksy, western Ukraine.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>The political position of Ukraine’s increasingly risky nuclear sector is strengthened by the rhetoric that only lifetime extension of the “independent” ageing nuclear fleet can fill the gap left by lost coal resources in the east. The nuclear sector’s dependency on Russia has been masked by swapping the tenders for upgrading and new builds from Russian companies to a Czech-based company Skoda JS (<a href="https://www.occrp.org/en/daily/4662-ukraine-mp-reveals-documents-detailing-bribery-case-against-yatsenyuk-ally ">a deal that is part of anti-corruption investigations in Switzerland</a>), which is actually Russian-owned, and by&nbsp;<span>tests at the Yuzhnoukrainsk nuclear power station with the use of Westinghouse nuclear fuel (produced in Sweden), partly in reaction to delivery problems with Russian fuel in the last few years. The fact that economic control over technology and a</span><span>&nbsp;large proportion of fuel will always come from Russia remains off the table.</span></p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/RIAN_00149554.LR_.ru_.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="316" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The control room at Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. (c) VisualRIAN. All rights reserved.</span></span></span><span>The reliability risks associated with the fact that over 50% of Ukraine’s electricity production comes from an ageing nuclear fleet hardly gets attention. A December 2014 incident in Zaporizhzhya’s nuclear power station </span><a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/dec/03/ukraine-zaporizhya-power-plant-short-circuit-power-shortages">resulted in heavy blackouts across the region</a><span>. And the experiences in Japan have shown that a severe accident in any of the reactors could lead to a long suspension of power production across the nuclear fleet.</span></p><p>This poses the question: why then, with 30 years experience of the Chernobyl aftermath, has Ukraine still not kick-started an energy revolution that could shore up its energy independence and, in the long run, lead to important reductions in cost?</p><h2>Planning without comparison of alternatives<span>&nbsp;</span></h2><p>One of the reasons for the Ukrainian elite’s reluctance to engage with renewal energy is that comparative studies on alternative energy policy pathways play no role in major energy decisions. These decisions are taken on political grounds.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>There are signs that this inertia is beginning to change. For instance, EcoClub Rivne, a Ukrainian NGO, won a landmark case in 2014 under the Espoo Convention. In principle, the convention and the ruling oblige the Ukrainian government to carry out an environmental impact assessment, in which such a comparison with alternatives <a href="http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/high/news/Blogs/nuclear-reaction/europes-ageing-nuclear-reactors-must-have-an-/blog/49545/ ">would need to be made for decisions on lifetime extensions of nuclear power stations</a>. However, the Ukrainian authorities have so far done everything to undermine implementation of these international standards.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">In central and eastern Europe, several strong myths about renewable energy remain a barrier to its growth</p><p>Another chance would have been for the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the EU to have forced comparative studies for the lifetime extension of the Ukrainian nuclear fleet to be carried out. Instead they chose to flatly deny that their €600m investment programme in nuclear upgrades has anything to do with life-time extension, probably because their donors would see life-time extension very critically.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/20121207_action EBRD.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="325" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>December 2012: National Ecology Centre of Ukraine and Greenpeace warn EBRD against investing in life-time extensions of nuclear power . (c) Greenpeace. All rights reserved. </span></span></span><span>This is in spite of the fact that it was clear from the start that Ukraine intends to add 10 to 20 years more of operation time for the ageing reactors on the basis of these upgrades — if only to recuperate its own investments and prevent problems </span><a href="http://bankwatch.org/our-work/projects/nuclear-power-plant-safety-upgrades-ukraine ">with the lack of sufficient decommissioning and waste funds</a><span>.</span><span>&nbsp;</span></p><h2>The chances for an energy [r]evolution in Ukraine<span>&nbsp;</span></h2><p>In central and eastern Europe, several strong myths about renewable energy remain a barrier to its growth. In Ukraine’s energy strategy, these myths result in a meagre target of only 11% renewables in the electricity sector for 2020, and that includes eight percent hydropower. In comparison, Germany generated a third of its electricity with non-hydro renewable energy sources in 2015, and intends to increase that to 40% or more in 2020.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>The most important of these myths is that renewable energy is expensive. And indeed, recent investigations from Greenpeace and NECU showed that it still is virtually impossible to turn Ukrainian houses or public buildings into efficient renewables-powered units in a financially sustainable way. The regulated consumer price system and lack of accounting (metering) of energy used by consumers makes changes difficult. Relaxation of price regulation could cause severe energy poverty in a country that already is facing sluggish economic growth and high unemployment rates. This means that as long as energy prices remain under what they would be in a healthy market, the combination of energy efficiency and renewable energy sources will need some kind of support.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p class="mag-quote-center">Neither the EU, nor the EBRD have a sufficiently pro-active policy to turn Ukraine’s energy system onto a sustainable pathway</p><p>A first and crucial step to motivate energy efficiency in Ukraine would be to introduce metering of electricity, gas and/or heat used by households. Heating is the highest burden for private consumers and is, for a large part, provided by imported gas. But less than half of the buildings with centralised heating systems have metering in place. It is estimated that non-metered consumers, who cannot influence their energy bill with efficiency measures, pay over 30% more for their heating than in buildings with individual metering. A law on metering in accordance with EU standards has been prepared, but is stuck in the legislative procedure.</p><p>There is a lot of verbal support for the development of energy efficiency and renewable energy sources in Ukraine by western institutions and investors, including rhetoric about how decentralisation of the energy market by the introduction of efficiency and renewables could reduce corruption and increase sustainability. The reality is that only 15% of EU total support for energy projects in Ukraine and less than about 16% of EBRD and EIB loans <a href="http://bankwatch.org/sites/default/files/EaP-energy-Ukraine.pdf">goes to energy efficiency and renewable energy sources</a>.</p><div>Neither the EU, nor the EBRD have a sufficiently pro-active policy to turn Ukraine’s energy system onto a sustainable pathway. This is, among others, illustrated by their support for the development of new electricity corridors, which are basically oriented on enabling export of Ukraine’s nuclear power to the EU instead of developing an electricity network that could support the uptake of large amounts of variable renewable sources.</div><p>What is changing, however, is public perception of clean energy technology. The collapse of Activ Solar and the fact that feed-in tariffs for solar PV are now in the same order of magnitude as those for wind power have changed the idea that renewables are expensive play toys for the enrichment of a few and indeed can deliver an affordable alternative. Also the awareness that a lot of the corruption in Ukraine is related to the centralised nature of the old energy carriers is growing, and we see an increasing amount of courageous small and medium investors seeing efficiency and renewables as chances for job and income creation.</p><p><span>Ukraine’s 2014 legislative framework for prosumers (people that produce their own electricity and sell the surplus to the grid) enables home generators of solar PV power to sell their surplus for grid-price. This is motivating a growing group of homeowners to investments. Meanwhile, a group of environmental NGOs and a coalition for energy efficient cities are pushing for further steps to decrease Ukraine’s energy wastage and at the same time promote the uptake of renewable energy sources.</span><span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>But what is really needed is a shift in gear from small, localised projects to efficiency and renewable energy development becoming the backbone of energy policy. It needs projects like the 140 MW Kherson wind project from Windkraft. It would need initiatives from global corporations like those united in the <a href="http://there100.org/ ">RE100 Climate Group</a> to secure a 100% renewable supply chain in Ukraine. It would need the political elite in Ukraine to break with the energy oligarchs, looking instead for support for local municipal initiatives and structures that motivate small and middle large enterprises; the development of a grid structure based on decentralised electricity generation and optimising the regional advantages in the country; and international cooperation partners like the EU, the EBRD and the World Bank to be consistent in their support for an Ukrainian energy [r]evolution.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Given the dilapidated state of Ukraine’s energy industry at this moment, these steps are not only possible — they are inevitable. The question is not whether they will be taken, but how many opportunities and funds will be wasted before they are taken.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>The earlier Ukraine moves towards a clean energy future, the better for all involved. After all, it could become a positive model for Belarus and Russia to find — at last — a way off the path set by Chernobyl.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/gleb-paikachov/we-need-to-find-common-ground-between-climate-change-and-civil-society">We need to find the common ground between climate change and civil society</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/globalization-institutions_government/chernobyl_3477.jsp">Chernobyl&#039;s death toll: twisting the facts</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/maria-repnikova/is-this-china-chernobyl-moment">Is this China’s Chernobyl moment?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia-vladimir-slivyak-nailya-ibragimova/atomic-energy-and-polit">Atomic energy and political power in Russia</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Iryna Holovko Jan Haverkamp Green Eurasia Mon, 25 Apr 2016 16:13:41 +0000 Jan Haverkamp and Iryna Holovko 101562 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Atomic energy and political power in Russia https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia-vladimir-slivyak-nailya-ibragimova/atomic-energy-and-polit <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u555493/127800_127123717305139_3976046_n.jpg" alt="127800_127123717305139_3976046_n.jpg" hspace="5" align="right" width="160" /></p><p>In Russia, the space for environmental activism and advocacy is changing under increasing state pressure. An interview with one of Russia<span>’s</span><span>&nbsp;leading ecological organisations about the prospects for anti-nuclear activism today. <em><strong><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia/atomic-power-russia">Русский</a></strong></em></span></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span>In the coming days, much of the coverage of the Chernobyl disaster in Russia is likely to focus on the 30-year anniversary and commemorations of it. The same may be said of reporting in Ukraine and Belarus, countries directly affected by the ramifications of Chernobyl.</span></p><p>Fewer are likely to examine the current state of nuclear energy in these countries or their industries’ enduring weaknesses and defects — let alone advancements in terms of safety. Several decades after a disaster as critical as this one, it is important to question why a viable narrative for a post-nuclear Russia, let alone a post-nuclear Ukraine or Belarus, has failed to gain traction and support in a region blighted by its nuclear heritage.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Never has challenging the nuclear industry and societal consensus in Russia been so difficult or dangerous</p><p>Most of the commemorations and coverage surrounding the Chernobyl anniversary are likely to overlook those in Russia advocating and fighting for such a narrative to win acceptance in society, as well as the difficulties and dangers they must endure in doing so. Indeed, never has challenging the nuclear industry and societal consensus in Russia been so difficult or dangerous: activists find themselves squeezed within a political environment heavily supportive of nuclear energy, while also operating amid escalating anti-NGO repression and rhetoric. </p><p>Ecodefence! is one such organisation. Founded in 1989, Ecodefence! is known for its successful campaigns to end the import of radioactive waste to Russia and the construction of nuclear reactors in Kaliningrad among other regions. </p><p>In 2014, Ecodefence&nbsp;<a href="https://ecodefense.ru/2014/06/16/gaction/">became the first ecological organisation in Russia entered into the register of “foreign agents”</a>. This was done at the order of Russia’s Ministry of Justice due to the organisation’s “opposition to the construction of nuclear power plants”. </p><p>As part of oDR’s coverage of the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, we contacted Vladimir Slivyak and Nailya Ibragimova, two prominent anti-nuclear activists with Ecodefence!, to talk about their perspectives in the age of post-Chernobyl anti-nuclear activism, and particularly their Chernobyl+30 campaign, a new plan to raise awareness among young people in Russia. </p><p><strong>oDR: </strong><em>What challenges are faced by today’s generation of anti-nuclear activists in Russia? How has anti-nuclear activism changed since the 1990s? </em></p><p><strong>Vladimir Slivyak:</strong> It’s quite a large difference. At the start of the 1990s, there were many more people involved in a wider variety of activities. The government and nuclear industry were in crisis, they weren’t building new power plants. By the 2000s, the movement had shrunk and become less active, though possibly more successful.
</p><p>Regardless of its decline, the ecological movement played a significant role in halting the construction of at least two large power plants — one near Murom in central Russia, and another in the Kaliningrad region. </p><p class="mag-quote-center">“Atomic energy has practically become an instrument of political power for the Russian authorities”</p><p>As these projects would have cost approximately 15 billion dollars, this was a serious blow to the nuclear industry. They also stopped the import of radioactive waste from western Europe by several Russian firms.</p><p><strong>Nailya Ibragimova: </strong>The Russian government’s pressure on ecological movements has increased over the past ten years. In 2012, a law was passed on “foreign agents”, a category which included practically all organisations that criticised atomic energy. </p><p>Today, ecological movements are under serious threat from the government, which has a strong interest in the development of atomic industry and the construction of new nuclear power plants in Russia and abroad.<br /><br /><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Volgodonsk_Nuclear.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Volgodonsk_Nuclear.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Trusting in God at Volgodonsk nuclear power station, 2009. Photo CC: Sergey Venyavsky / Visual RIAN / Commons. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span><strong>Slivyak:</strong><span> Atomic energy has practically become an instrument of political power for the Russian authorities. It is used in expanding Russia’s international influence and in the fight against international sanctions. 
</span></p><p>So, despite sanctions, the Russian government has offered a number of European states to construct new nuclear power plants, promising to pay for these projects from Russia’s state budget.&nbsp;</p><p>When it’s said that atomic energy is not a political issue, that’s complete nonsense. As ecological groups interfere with these plans, they come under serious pressure from the state. </p><p>We recently published a report, <em><a href="https://ecdru.files.wordpress.com/2016/03/rosatom-im.pdf">The Imitation of Success</a></em>, which details the activities of the state energy company Rosatom. It also deals with many of these questions.&nbsp;</p><p><strong>oDR:</strong> <em>What civil initiatives could be the most effective for drawing attention to issues surrounding nuclear energy? What key questions are most likely to raise interest among the public and politicians, and to what extent? </em></p><p><strong>Slivyak:</strong> There is quite a clash in positions on atomic energy — on the one hand, activists believe that nuclear power plants are unacceptably dangerous, that they simply should not be built and that the money would be better spent on developing renewable energy. </p><p>The authorities, on the other hand, want to develop nuclear energy whatever the conditions. There cannot be any cooperation; these positions are too well-entrenched and cannot be changed.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">However, the position of the authorities can gradually change — due to rising costs and opposition from the population, they will eventually have to decommission old nuclear plants</p><p>Activists are defending the public interest, and as such cannot change their position, as that would be a betrayal of Russian citizens. However, the position of the authorities can gradually change — due to rising costs and opposition from the population, they will eventually have to decommission old nuclear plants. And when that happens, questions about the disposal of nuclear waste — and about nuclear power in general — will arise.

</p><p>Both options are very costly, and will be paid for by the taxpayer. The technology to safely isolate nuclear waste while it remains dangerous does not yet exist.<br /><br /><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_archive_965153_Russian_President_Dmitry_Medvedev_on_working_visit_to_Volga_Federal_District.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_archive_965153_Russian_President_Dmitry_Medvedev_on_working_visit_to_Volga_Federal_District.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Dmitry Medvedev on a working visit to the Volga Region, organising a presentation with Rosatom, 2011. Photo CC: Dmitry Astakhov / Visual RIAN / Commons. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span><strong>Ibragimova:</strong> Evacuation plans for accidents at nuclear facilities, or during the transport of radioactive materials, are very important. People have the right to know what to do in such cases, and the authorities don’t properly inform the population, so as to avoid the issue of risk entirely.

</p><p>As part of the Russia-wide campaign #Chernobyl30, we’re holding “Chernobyl lessons” in the schools and universities of Voronezh, where we ask participants to create their own action plan in the case of a nuclear emergency. </p><p class="mag-quote-center">In most cases, the participants don’t understand what to do, don’t know where emergency shelters are located, and haven’t a clue where to find the information</p><p>In most cases, the participants don’t understand what to do, don’t know where emergency shelters are located, and haven’t a clue where to find the information. That’s a huge problem. A well-informed citizenry on this issue will surely lead to a higher level of organisation during an emergency, thereby resulting in fewer victims. </p><p>Furthermore, we’re trying to develop projects on this difficult topic, particularly at the intersection of ecology and art. For example, on 19-21 April in Moscow and St. Petersburg, we organised a staging of a documentary piece, Chernobyl by the Kryly Halopa [Ru: wings of Halopa] theatre, with an accompanying discussion on the problems with nuclear energy. </p><p>We are also holding a commemoration in Voronezh for the 30th anniversary of what was the largest nuclear disaster in history.</p><p><strong>Vladimir Slivyak:</strong> But first of all, we need to explain to the population that atomic energy isn’t just about reactors and the possibility that they might explode. It’s also about nuclear waste, which can remain dangerous for thousands of years, and must be paid for by many future generations of taxpayers.

</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Society needs to discuss nuclear waste. We have to stop producing it</p><p>Humanity has never faced a problem of this scale, which will continue to have negative consequences for many centuries to come.
It’s a difficult problem to come to terms with, because humans tend not think so far ahead. But this has to be dealt with on that scale, because the energy that we use up today and the profit we spend today, will result in a whole legacy of problems for those who live a thousand years after us. </p><p>Society needs to discuss nuclear waste. We have to stop producing it.

</p><p><strong>oDR:</strong> <em>How can you encourage an alternative education about Chernobyl and the ongoing dangers of atomic energy in Russia, particularly for those who are getting acquainted with anti-nuclear activism for the first time, and know very little about the history of Chernobyl? What does Chernobyl+30 plan to achieve?
</em></p><p><strong>Vladimir Slivyak:</strong> The public must be reminded at every opportunity about the tragedy which happened 30 years ago, and that the government made the wrong decision. </p><p>Life changed dramatically for millions of people, and that’s not even mentioning the economic losses and radioactive contamination.

</p><p>Actually, Chernobyl made a radical impact the nuclear industry itself — many countries stopped developing atomic energy entirely, and those who were considering developing it had to scrap their plans. Essentially, the nuclear industry has never emerged from the post-Chernobyl crisis. </p><p>Nevertheless, lobbyists for the nuclear industry attempt to convince the young and those who don’t know their history that there is nothing to worry about.

</p><p><strong>Nailya Ibragimova: </strong>For our part, we are subjected to serious pressure from the authorities, not even with the aim to punish us, but instead to force us to spend our resources on anything but the dangers of “good old nuclear energy” and the need to change the direction of development of the energy sector. </p><p>As a result, we have to pool our efforts into withstanding their attacks, attending court hearings, finding the funds to pay various fines, and so on.</p><p>But if we allow people to forget the real timeline of events, then suddenly another Chernobyl could happen, then another, and then one more. Education is needed so that the same mistakes aren’t made in the future. </p><p>We cannot allow history to be rewritten and for the public to have distorted image of the past, because somebody wants to earn more money from nuclear energy, and criticism gets in the way.</p><p>Chernobyl+30 is directed against forgetting. To remember is to fight! 
</p><p><em>Standfirst image: "No to new reactors" action in Ekaterinburg, 2005. Credit: <a href="https://ecodefense.ru/photov/">Ekodefence!</a></em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/jan-haverkamp-iryna-holovko/towards-post-nuclear-ukraine">Towards a post-nuclear Ukraine</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ekaterina-selivanova-nadezhda-konobeyevskaya-yakov-kapitonov/%27is-your-mum-foreign-agent%27">&#039;Is your mum a foreign agent?&#039;</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/gleb-paikachov/we-need-to-find-common-ground-between-climate-change-and-civil-society">We need to find the common ground between climate change and civil society</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Nailya Ibragimova Vladimir Slivyak Editors of OpenDemocracy Russia Green Eurasia Politics NGOs Mon, 25 Apr 2016 05:43:34 +0000 Editors of OpenDemocracy Russia, Vladimir Slivyak and Nailya Ibragimova 101579 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Walking the line https://www.opendemocracy.net/emma-hughes/walking-line <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u555493/IMG_4095.jpg" alt="IMG_4095.jpg" hspace="5" width="160" align="right" /></p><p>Plans for a new Euro-Caspian pipeline will solidify the west's dependence on fossil fuels and authoritarian regimes. This <a href="http://globalmotion.pageflow.io/walkingtheline#37823">new documentary</a> shows why we should stop and think.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span>“Of course we need a different energy model,” Alberto Santoro states emphatically. “It is not enough to simply replace fossil fuels with renewable energy sources. Who controls the energy is just as important.” Alberto lives on his family's farm in the heel of southern Italy. Olive trees are scattered over his land. He grows food, keeps a few animals and rents a couple of rooms to tourists who visit the beautiful Puglia coastline.</span><span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Alberto is a member of just one of three communities we spoke to for <a href="http://globalmotion.pageflow.io/walkingtheline">an interactive documentary</a>&nbsp;<span>that follows the projected route of a new pipeline from the capital of Azerbaijan to the coastline of Italy.&nbsp;</span><span>He has</span><span>&nbsp;more reasons than most to worry about our planet's energy model.&nbsp;</span></p><p><span></span><span>In recent years, Alberto has found himself at the frontline of a fight against a huge piece of fossil fuel infrastructure – the Euro-Caspian Mega Pipeline. This gas pipeline will extend over 3,500km, from the coastline of the Caspian Sea to the beaches of Puglia through six countries. Despite falling gas demand in Europe, this new pipeline is planned to be built at a cost of $45 billion.</span></p><h2>“This concerns our future”</h2><p>The Euro-Caspian Mega Pipeline will create a giant construction site across Europe. Trucks and excavators will rip up farmland, thousands of villages, forests, deserts and the seabed of the Adriatic. In response, the community in Puglia have organised a tenacious campaign.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>We met Alberto on his farm. He told me he was worried about the impact of the pipeline on tourism, fishing and agriculture, especially the cultivation of olive trees, which is a key source of income in the region. Alberto felt he had to act: “This concerns our future. As citizens we have to get involved, nobody will do it for us.”</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/IMG_2822.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>"No tap" graffiti, Puglia Coast. Image by Laure Cops, Wouter Vanmol and Berber Verpoest.</span></span></span><span>With a small group of concerned citizens, as well as technical and legal experts, Alberto started analysing the project in detail. They highlighted omissions and demanded additional to address the seismic risks, as the pipeline passes through one of the most active faults in Europe.</span><span>&nbsp;</span></p><p><span class="print-no mag-quote-center">“This concerns our future. As citizens we have to get involved, nobody will do it for us”</span></p><p>From this small group, the campaign spread across Puglia. Mayoral candidates stood on anti-pipeline platforms, and thousands of people attended a concert against the pipeline. </p><p>“I felt we had to react, so I suggested organising our own festival,” says Treble, a reggae artist who lives in Melendugno. It was an instant success: “Over hundred artists registered to play for free and about 10,000 people came to party with us in August last year.”</p><p>At the other end of the pipeline lies Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. The city looks out onto the Caspian Sea, where the Shah Deniz ii gas fields are being drilled to feed the Euro-Caspian Mega Pipeline.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><h2>Pipelines and prisoners</h2><p>Last June, I attempted to visit Azerbaijan during the inaugural European Games held in the capital Baku. I was <a href="http://platformlondon.org/p-pressreleases/azerbaijan-emma-hughes-detained/">detained and put on a plane back to London</a>, the first of several unwelcome guests — <a href="https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/europe-and-central-asia/azerbaijan/report-azerbaijan/">Amnesty International</a> and the <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/sport/2015/jun/11/azerbaijan-bans-guardian-european-games-baku-2015">Guardian</a> were also barred from entering the country. </p><p>Those I travelled with to shoot Walking the Line <a href="http://globalmotion.pageflow.io/walkingtheline#37823">managed to enter the country</a>. Brand new stadiums, posters and video walls awaited them on their way from the airport to the hotel. Billions of dollars of oil money have been spent building new roads and glass skyscrapers.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Yet my companions soon discovered another side to Azerbaijan. Just a few kilometres from the centre of Baku, the six lane boulevards turn to dirt roads; the shiny 4x4 jeeps are replaced by Ladas and donkeys.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>There are almost 87 political prisoners in Azerbaijan. They are journalists, bloggers, peace activists, human rights defenders and lawyers who have been arrested for speaking out against the corrupt Aliyev regime.</p><p><span class="print-no mag-quote-center">By following the pipeline, we have been able to connect these stories — just as the extraction of fossil fuels links us to places and people we know almost nothing of</span></p><p>We managed to speak to the families of those we know in jail. People like Elmira Ismayilova whose daughter, the investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova, <a href="http://www.rferl.org/content/azerbaijan-khadija-ismayilova-verdict/27220240.html">has been jailed for seven and a half years on false charges</a>.</p><p>Ismayilova’s real crime was her journalism, which <a href="https://www.occrp.org/freekhadijaismayilova/">exposed the corruption reaching all the way to Azerbaijan’s president and his family</a>. Elmira is proud of Khadija's work, “I used to tell her to be careful, but never prohibited her from doing what she does. I think what she is doing is great and every citizen of this country should be doing this.”</p><p><span>Khadija is an outspoken critic of the Aliyev regime and BP, the oil company they have worked hand in hand with since 1994. The British oil company <a href="http://platformlondon.org/2012/09/20/as-bps-contract-of-the-century-comes-of-age-new-book-reveals-untold-story-of-corruption-power/">has been the biggest foreign investor in Azerbaijan for over two decades</a> after it became the operator of the largest oil field in the country. Today it is leading the consortium of oil companies involved in the Euro-Caspian Mega Pipeline.</span></p><p>Despite the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/altay-goyushov/crackdown-in-azerbaijan">deteriorating human rights situation</a>, cooperation between BP and the Aliyev family has intensified over the years. The Aliyevs depend upon BP to maintain the flow of oil revenues to the state and the personal finances of the “first family”.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Khadija was clear about BP’s responsibility for human rights in Azerbaijan: “The Aliyev regime is good for BP. It allows their operations and they can sort out issues with the regime. Political influence is part of the bargain. BP is blamed for bringing Aliyev senior to power but it's not just historic — the UK government is silent about problems with democracy in Azerbaijan. BP's interests are dictating the agenda.”</p><p><span class="print-no mag-quote-center">This pipeline will lock us into fossil fuels for the next fifty years and ensure our politicians continue working with repressive regimes like Azerbaijan</span></p><p>BP are involved in every stage of the Euro-Caspian Mega Pipeline, they are determined that the gas they are extracting should reach a European market. In the process, they are ensuring the continuation of their successful relationship with the Aliyevs, and making the dynasty richer and more powerful.</p><p>Yet <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/azerbaijan-s-2016-sink-or-swim">it is a rocky time for the BP-Aliyev alliance</a>. The low oil price has seen both suffering economic misfortune — with half of Azerbaijan's reserves being spent in one year, forcing the government into discussions with IMF to secure a $4 billion emergency loan package. BP hasn't fared much better – <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/us-bp-results-idUSKCN0VB0JB">reporting its biggest ever annual losses last month</a>.</p><p>Such economic instability would throw an ambitious and expensive project like the Euro-Caspian Mega Pipeline into doubt if European public money wasn’t being used to underwrite the pipeline.</p><p>The western portion of the route, known as the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline, is slated to receive €2 billion from the European Investment Bank (EIB), the largest loan by the EU bank in its 57-year history. Another loan of €1 billion for the eastern part of the corridor through Turkey, the Trans-Anatolian Pipeline (TANAP), is soon to be announced by the EIB.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><h2>Locked in</h2><p>Gas is being sold to us as a clean fuel. But the reality is different: this pipeline will lock us into fossil fuels for the next fifty years and ensure our politicians continue working with repressive regimes like Azerbaijan.</p><p>The final place <a href="http://globalmotion.pageflow.io/walkingtheline#37823">we visited for Walking the Line was a London estate</a>. We went to Bannister house in Homerton where we met a community who, like the people of Puglia, want to take back control of their energy system.&nbsp;<span>This community has put solar panels on top of every roof on the estate and set up a co-op. They collectively own the energy they produce, selling on what they don't use and putting the money back into their community.</span></p><p>The recent growth in community energy shows that we don't need yet more import pipelines. Groups like <a href="http://switchedonlondon.org.uk">Switched on London</a> are calling for publicly controlled, renewable energy companies that can offer community energy co-ops secure contracts and sell electricity onto people at an affordable rate.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Whether it's in Italy, Azerbaijan or the UK, people are fighting against the devastating impacts of import pipelines and wresting back control over their energy system. By following the pipeline, we have been able to connect these stories — just as the extraction, pumping and burning of fossil fuels links us to places and people we know almost nothing of.</p><p><strong>The European Investment Bank will be meeting this Thursday 10 March. You can tell the directors <a href="http://platformlondon.org/2016/03/08/walking-the-line/">you don't want our money spent on the Euro-Caspian Mega Pipeline</a>.<span>&nbsp;</span></strong></p><p><em><a href="http://globalmotion.pageflow.io/walkingtheline#37823">Walking the Line</a> is produced by <a href="http://globalmotion.eu/#home">Global Motion</a>, <a href="http://www.counter-balance.org/">Counter Balance</a>, <a href="http://platformlondon.org/">Platform</a> and <a href="http://www.recommon.org/">Re:common</a> in partnership with Open Democracy.</em></p><p><em>Standfirst image: Laure Cops, Wouter Vanmol and Berber Verpoest.&nbsp;</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/azerbaijan-s-2016-sink-or-swim">Azerbaijan’s 2016: sink or swim?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/james-mariott/behind-storm">Behind the storm</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/azerbaijan%27s-failed-rebranding">Azerbaijan&#039;s failed rebranding</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia Can Europe make it? oD Russia Emma Hughes Politics of Plunder Green Eurasia Economy Caucasus Azerbaijan Tue, 08 Mar 2016 00:44:45 +0000 Emma Hughes 100360 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Behind the storm https://www.opendemocracy.net/james-mariott/behind-storm <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u554943/James-Marriott_0.jpg" alt="" hspace="5" width="80" align="left" /></p><p>At 17.40 local time on 4 December, a storm ripped through Platform 10 of the Guneshli oil and gas field, owned by the Azeri state oil company, SOCAR. What happened next is not entirely known.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p>On the night of 3 December, <a href="https://www.meydan.tv/en/site/news/9903/29-missing-after-oil-platform-fire.htm">the wind across the western Caspian rose to hurricane levels</a>. Over 30km off the Absheron Peninsula that juts out into the sea just north of Azerbaijan’s capital Baku, the waves built to eight metres high. The noise on all seven platforms of the BP-operated Azeri-Chirag-Guneshli (ACG) oil field was infernal. The crews that live and work in these small towns on giant steel legs took shelter in their accommodation blocks, and were on a high state of alert. </p><p>As with hurricanes around the oil installations in the Gulf of Mexico or the wild North Sea, there is little that workers can do in such conditions. Helicopters can barely operate and workboats have to stand off from the platforms while everyone waits for the howling to die down.</p><p>Just north west of the ACG field lies the Guneshli oil and gas field, where the platforms stand in shallower waters. Largely constructed in the Soviet period, these rigs are wholly owned by the The State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR). </p><p>As legal and capital entities, these platforms are separate from the ACG field next door, but operationally and psychologically they are connected: t<span>he platforms are viewable from each other; they all share the same state rescue services; they are all required to abide by the same regulations; and the fate of men on one platform impacts on those working on others. They all share the same life, working shifts around the clock, out of sight of land, battered by the winter sea and the blistering heat of summer.</span></p><h2>4 December &nbsp;</h2><p>The storm did not subside but built through the morning and afternoon of Friday 4 December, the wind roaring at 144km per hour. At 17.40 local time, wind broke a gas pipe on Platform 10 on the Guneshli field. The gas ignited an explosion that ripped though the platform. There were 62 or 63 crew members on board. </p><p>What followed is hard to decipher: many figures given in the press reports contradict each other. The structure was engulfed in flames. Attempting to shelter themselves from the inferno, oil workers climbed into two of the platform’s lifeboats. They winched them down to below the structure, where they dangled 10 metres above the raging sea. A rescue boat tried to come alongside, but they could not assist. After nearly five hours during which workers were crammed into a lifeboat hanging from the underside of the burning rig, one of the lifeboats broke loose and plunged into the waves. Three men were saved but one man was dragged from the water already drowned. </p><p>Meanwhile it seems that a helicopter tried to approach six times and eventually managed to winch 3 men from the platform and 24 men from a second lifeboat. All of these men were flown to hospital - one of them was immediately taken into the acute burns unit. Chaos reigned. With 31 rescued and one dead, 30 or 31 men remained missing, possibly dead. About half the crew of Platform 10 might have been killed.</p><p><span><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/554943/get_img.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/554943/get_img.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="258" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>At 5:40 pm on Friday, a heavy storm and waves of more than eight meters swept through an underwater gas pipeline on the Guneshli 10 oil platform. (c) Meydan TV</span></span></span>I try to think of those men in those moments. The terror. The screaming wind, the force of the waves crashing into the platform’s legs, the unbearable heat of the gas flames, the smell of burning. And then I think of the men on the other platforms in the Guneshli field and those on the ACG field to the south—watching the rig, a ball of flame in the distance, a burning star in the storm, unable to assist, sick with anxiety. The sound of rotor blades as the helicopters ferried back and forth over the horizon of Baku Bay. And the staff in the BP offices in Baku. And the men in the Friday evening bars in the city. And the women and the families at home. News must have travelled fast.</span></p><p>The explosion took place at 13.40 GMT. At exactly the same time, the share price of BP Plc on the London Stock Exchange took a sharp fall. It tumbled from 373.50p to 358.75p in the space of the following 90 minutes—the sharpest fall for four months. It continued to slide until 16.00 on Monday 7 December. It is possible that this was coincidental. Friday 4 December was the day that OPEC might have indicated a desire to raise the price of oil, but failed to do so.</p><p>But the exactness of the timing leads to the suspicion that traders in the market, like many analysts around the world, took the news of ’32 possible dead at Guneshli oil platform explosion’ to mean BP’s Deepwater Guneshli field. An explosion of this scale on the BP platform would have had a disastrous impact on the share price of the company, for it would have created a terrifying echo of the<em> Deepwater Horizon</em> explosion in April 2010, which destroyed 40 per cent of the company’s capital value in the subsequent eight weeks.</p><h2>Scraps of news</h2><p>Beyond the newswires that feed the traders, the first that the rest of the world heard about this tragedy was via an Agence France Presse report at six o’clock on the following evening, which explained that 29 people had been rescued, but SOCAR was ‘declining to detail how many people [were] still stranded on the platform’. </p><p>A full 28 hours after the explosion, the barest of information was being released by the Azeri authorities. Only on 8 December, four days after the explosion, did SOCAR release an official statement on its website. It gave the death toll, with 32 evacuated, which meant 29 were missing. On the same day President Aliyev released a statement in which he declared: ‘Despite bad weather conditions, 32 people could be saved. According to preliminary information, one person died. At this time, rescue operations continue.’</p><p>The only public voice in Azerbaijan reported in the international media commenting on the disaster was Mirvari Gahramanli, head of Azeri Oil Workers Rights and Protection Committee. Reuters <a href="http://uk.reuters.com/article/azerbaijan-accident-fire-idUKL8N13U07720151205">quoted her as saying on Saturday that 32 workers had died</a>. As the platform was still burning and the storm still raged, the chances of finding the missing alive was slim. Meanwhile BP was ‘not available for comment’ on Saturday 5 December, and a couple of days later issued a simple statement that ‘there was no impact on operations at its offshore Azeri Caspian oil platforms’.</p><p>The smattering of further coverage between 6 and 11 December recycled the same scraps of news that had been provided by the SOCAR press office. As time wore on, the chances of finding the missing alive dwindled. What heartache there must have been for so many in Baku. It looks, at the time of writing, that 30 men died on Platform 10. This makes it the second worst death toll on any oil installation in the world in the recent past—second only to the <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/business/2013/jul/04/piper-alpha-disaster-167-oil-rig">Piper Alpha explosion in July 1988 in the UK sector of the North Sea when 167 men were killed</a>.</p><p>The contrast to the response to the<em> </em><em>Deepwater Horizon</em> disaster in April 2010 is illuminating. The number of men killed in that explosion was a third of those who seem to have died on Platform 10. But unlike the scraps of information that have floated into the global media about the Guneshli explosion, the world’s TV channels were wall-to-wall with reports&nbsp;<span>within hours of the <em>Deepwater</em> disaster—a</span><span>nd this was before the scale of the subsequent oil slick was apparent.</span></p><h2>In the shadows</h2><p>The reasons for this contrast are obvious: the world’s media pays scant attention to Azerbaijan, particularly it’s oil and gas industry. This is exactly as the foreign corporations operating in Azerbaijan would wish it. Less media attention means less scrutiny. It was the feeding frenzy of TV channels over <em>Deepwater</em> that drove US politicians to play hard ball with BP, and it was this in turn that drove the panic on Wall Street which smashed the corporation’s share price.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">The world’s media pays scant attention to Azerbaijan, particularly it’s oil and gas industry. This is exactly as the foreign corporations operating in Azerbaijan would wish it.</p><p>Around the world, corporations always tightly control access to offshore oil fields. But in the Gulf of Mexico you can hire a helicopter and patrol the seas, you can attend a press conference and demand responses from an oil executive, you can cover the public demonstrating outside government buildings, you can largely publish what you like—in the papers and online. </p><p>No such freedoms exist in Azerbaijan. Dozens of journalists have been imprisoned, driven into exile or even killed on the grounds that they have had the temerity to ask questions. </p><p>What really happened on the afternoon of Friday 4 December? It’s impossible for us to look at this question in the depth that it requires. <a href="https://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/06/baku2015-amnesty-platform-banned-from-entering-azerbaijan-on-eve-of-european-games/">We at Platform are no longer allowed to enter the country</a>. The eyes that would have peered into this tragedy, <a href="https://www.occrp.org/en/daily/4646-baku-court-denies-khadija-ismayilova-appeal">like those of investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova</a>, are incarcerated in the walls of Kurdexani Prison. She is rendered blind and so are we.&nbsp;</p><p>On 17 September 2008, there was a gas leak on one of the platforms on the ACG field, all 210 personnel were evacuated, and the installation was shut down. A disaster was narrowly averted. However, there was next to no news coverage of the crisis. T<span>wo years later, a</span><span>&nbsp;US internal cable published through WikiLeaks&nbsp;</span><a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/dec/15/wikileaks-bp-azerbaijan-gulf-spill">revealed BP’s project partners were upset by how the company ‘sought to limit information flow about this event’</a><span>.&nbsp;</span></p><h2>The knock-on from Platform 10</h2><p>It appears that when the markets understood that Platform 10 was not owned by BP, they breathed a sigh of relief. This was not a repeat of <em>Deepwater Horizon</em>, and the BP press office worked hard to assure journalists of this. But it is unlikely that this disaster will leave BP unscathed. Perhaps it will lead to changes in Azeri operating regulations?</p><p>It may have an impact on the Aliyev government and in turn upon the largest foreign investor in Azerbaijan, BP. Large industrial disasters have a tendency to cast a long shadow on the polity of the states in which they happen. The <em>Deepwater Horizon</em><em> </em>disaster had an impact on the regulatory framework in the US as well as upon public perceptions of the oil industry—this undoubtedly made it more difficult for Shell to drill in the US Arctic. The <em>Piper Alpha</em> disaster sparked the birth of OILC, <a href="http://www.oilc.org/">the first radical trade union in the UK sector</a>, and <a href="http://www.findingpetroleum.com/n/Review_Lord_Cullen_what_have_we_learned_from_Piper_Alpha/044b5113.aspx">drove the Cullen Inquiry to alter the working conditions in the North Sea</a>. It has long been understood that the Chernobyl nuclear accident in Soviet Ukraine <a href="http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/nuclear_power/2013/01/chernobyl_and_the_fall_of_the_soviet_union_gorbachev_s_glasnost_allowed.html">played a crucial role in the demise of the USSR</a>.</p><p>So how will Platform 10 impact the Aliyev regime? At the very least it is reported that 60 per cent of SOCAR’s crude supply has been shut down; and this coming at a time when the oil price is at a historic low and the income from the oil fields to the Azeri government coffers looks ever more perilous. Falling state revenues will make the government ever more anxious. If the state fails to respond adequately to the crisis and the deaths, will there be a public outcry?</p><p>Because opposition voices and journalists have all been imprisoned, it will be hard for the rest of the world to see what is happening in the fog of Baku. But perhaps the bright fire of Platform 10 will illuminate the darkness of Azerbaijan.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/altay-goyushov/crackdown-in-azerbaijan">The crackdown in Azerbaijan</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/azerbaijan%27s-failed-rebranding">Azerbaijan&#039;s failed rebranding</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia James Mariott Green Eurasia Azerbaijan Mon, 21 Dec 2015 12:38:36 +0000 James Mariott 98728 at https://www.opendemocracy.net These hills are ours https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/artur-asafyev/these-hills-are-ours <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Toratau_Bashkiria.jpg" alt="" width="160" />In Bashkortostan, the hills are alive with the sound of limestone quarrying. Now local civil society is taking on one of Russia’s largest chemical consortia. <em><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/artur-asasfyev/eti-gori-nashi" target="_blank"><strong>Русский</strong></a></em></p> </div> </div> </div> <p>A fight is heating up between one of the Russia’s largest chemical consortia and members of the local population in Bashkortostan, just south of the Ural mountains. The reason? A disappearing chain of hills known as the Shikhans. </p><p>For years, the Bashkir Soda Company has been mining these hills for their limestone—the raw material for the soda industry. The threat facing the Shikhans has brought together scientists, campaigners from regional NGOs and concerned members of the local population to oppose the company’s plans.<br /><br /><span>One of these hills, Shakhtau, which sits close to the company’s headquarters in Sterlitamak, has effectively disappeared—its entire mass quarried to feed the kilns. Now the Bashkir Soda Company (BSC) is demanding that a second hill, Toratau, be stripped of its protected status. Otherwise, production at the soda plant will cease several years from now for lack of raw materials. Several thousand people could lose their jobs.</span></p><p>The regional government, which has always been equivocal on the issue, has recently announced its intention not to sacrifice the mountain and suggests the soda company find alternative sources for its raw materials. But both sides are busy lobbying Moscow, which, according to the experts, will have the last word on the fate of the hill.</p><h2>A national symbol </h2><p>For the Bashkir people, the Shikhans are sacred hills, steeped in tradition. After settling the region in the early middle ages, the Bashkir gave them names: Shakhtau (‘king hill’), Kushtau (‘double hill’), Yuraktau (‘heart hill’) and Toratau (‘fortress hill’). </p><p>Historians and archaeologists believe there was an ancient Bashkir shrine on the hilltop, and the Shikhans were a ritual site for one of the main Bashkir clans, the Yurmat tribe.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Toratau_Bashkiria.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Toratau_Bashkiria.jpg" alt="Toratau mountain, a source of national pride for Bashkortostan and limestone for its chemical companies" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Toratau mountain, a source of national pride for Bashkortostan and limestone for its chemical companies. Photo CC: Olegfoto, 2008</span></span></span><span>‘Toratau was once the centre of the Nogai Khanate,’ says Abdrakhman Validov, a resident of the village of Urman-Bishkadak, which lies at the foot of the hills. ‘They buried saints here for many centuries. The earliest tomb dates back to the second century BCE. There are seven tombs on the summit of Toratau and another 18 at its foot.’</span></p><p><span>In 1965, Toratau and Yuraktau were made ‘complex natural sites of republican significance’ and given protected status. Now this status is under threat.&nbsp;</span>Excavations have also revealed evidence of Bronze and early Iron Age activity, which led to the hills being designated as protected sites in 1960.</p><p class="mag-quote-center"><em>For the Bashkir people, the Shikhans are sacred hills, steeped in tradition</em></p><p><span>At roughly the same time, biologists discovered that the Shikhans were an incredibly rich botanic habitat and important for the region’s biodiversity.&nbsp;</span><span>Specialists believe that examples of a quarter of the republic’s botanical species can be found growing on Toratau and Yuraktau. </span></p><p><span>According to the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Ufa Institute of Biology, Toratau alone is home to 12 species of plant believed to be extinct and 21 species unique to the area. Many of these plants are on Bashkortostan and Russia’s ‘red lists’ of threatened species.</span></p><h2>One hill down…</h2><p>In the 1930s, Soviet Bashkortostan was designated as a region ripe for development as a centre for the chemical and cement industries. A geological survey carried out in 1936 revealed that the hills near Sterlitamak were a large source of limestone, the raw material for this sector. </p><p>It was agreed that development would start with Shakhtau and building began in 1941 on the Sterlitamak soda works, followed by cement and roofing tile plants, for which the Shikhans have become the general supplier of raw materials.<br /><br /><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_right caption-medium'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Abdrakhman Validov.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_medium/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Abdrakhman Validov.jpg" alt="" title="" width="240" height="360" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-medium imagecache imagecache-article_medium" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>'We will save the Shikhans'. The village of local resident Abdrakhman Validov lies at the foot of Toratau mountain.</span></span></span><span>Folk memory records only instances of unspoken opposition among the local people. ‘In 1955, my granny would say: “You can’t destroy the mountain – there’ll be a serious flood”,’ says Abdrakhman Validov. </span></p><p><span>According to head of the school museum in Urman-Bishkadake: ‘There’s a legend that people present at the first blasts on Shakhtau saw a little old white man—the spirit of the hill—emerging from the clouds of smoke and dust. He wandered off in tears.’</span></p><p>Regional historic and scientific journals make no reference to any real protest against the project at the time. ‘It was just after the war, and we had to rebuild our country from its ruins. It didn’t occur to anybody,’ says Abdrakhman Validov. </p><p>‘The environment wasn’t a priority in the Soviet years,’ adds Valiakhmet Badretdinov, chair of Arkadash, an umbrella group of Bashkir NGOs. ‘You could protest against poaching or campaign to protect endangered animals or plants, but say a word against big industry and you’d soon find yourself in the loony bin.’</p><p>The soda plant increased production levels year on year, and now accounts for 66 per cent of all caustic ash and 88 per cent of bicarbonate of soda produced in Russia. The plant gradually grew into a town-size complex. An urban area quickly developed to the south, swallowing the towns of Salabat and Ishimbay. ‘Okay, Shakhtau has gone,’ say BSC spokespeople, ‘but we have our beautiful city of Sterlitamak and its whole southern industrial hub.’</p><p>By the end of the 20th century, Shakhtau had been almost completely levelled, and the soda company faced a dilemma—to look for sources of limestone elsewhere, to update their technology or to try to have Yuraktau and Toratau stripped of their protected status. The industrialists, who aren’t short of lobbying power, decided that this last option would be the most economical. </p><h2>The beginnings of opposition </h2><p>At the start of the 2000s, the soda company began to push Bashkortostan’s republican government to remove the Shikhans’ protected status. Soon the issue went public, triggering an on-going campaign by Bashkir ethnic organisations, local civic campaigners, environmentalists and other civic activists to save the hills. </p><p>‘Our campaign started in 2005,’ Abdrakhman Validov tells me. ‘That year we held our first big rally and wrote to the presidents of both Bashkortostan and Russia. We also organised cultural events, an international world music festival, for example, in the area near the hills.’<br /><br /><span class="print-no mag-quote-center"><em>By the end of the 20th century, Shakhtau had been almost completely levelled&nbsp;&nbsp;</em></span> </p><p>The core of the resistance campaign took place, however, in government and other official offices. The soda company systematically refused to consider any of the proposed alternative locations for its raw material under the pretext that none of them met their chemical, physical and mechanical specifications. </p><p>‘In the early 2000s, we approached Bashnedra, the republic’s subsurface resource management department, asking them to find us another quarrying site,’ the company’s Director of Communications Sergey Lobastov told journalists at his last press conference. ‘They told us to continue quarrying the remains of Shakhtau, saying that there was still enough lime left there. But experts have told us that further development there would be impossible, dangerous even, because of the site’s complex hydro-geological conditions. Then we investigated the Kushtau Shikhan, but the limestone there isn’t of a high enough quality.&nbsp; </p><p>‘We went back to Bashnedra, and this time they recommended a site in another district, but once again the limestone was not good enough. And meanwhile a higher office, the Volga regional subsurface management department, ruled that the limestone in the Shikhans was the only suitable raw material for the soda company in the whole republic. In other words, there is no alternative to quarrying Toratau, however undesirable that might be.’ This was Lobastov’s summary of years of public discussion.<br /><br /><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Shakhtau_old.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Shakhtau_old.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Gone but not forgotten: Shakhtau mountain, Bashkortostan. </span></span></span><span>The industrialists’ arguments, however, have been met with open scepticism by their opponents. ‘I would trust the conclusions of Bashnedra experts, which confirm that there are equally good sources of limestone elsewhere in the republic, but not the statements being made by the company,’ says Aleksandr Veselov, head of the Bashkortostan Ecologists’ Union.</span></p><p>‘Of course it makes more sense to the company to quarry a hill on their doorstep than to invest in new equipment and updated technology and carry out detailed surveys of other possible sites further away. All these expenses will, after all, affect their investors’ dividends!’<em><br /><span class="print-no mag-quote-center"><em>‘</em>Of course it makes more sense to the company to quarry a hill on their doorstep’&nbsp;</span></em></p><p>For many years, the regional authorities have been rather evasive on this issue—and much to the intrigue of the public. The current head of the Bashkortostan republic, Rustem Khamitov, who has a reputation on green issues, equivocated for a long time before finally <a href="http://www.kommersant.ru/doc/1680965">speaking out on the issue in 2010 on his blog</a>: ‘We need to explore other options. They are trying to convince me that Toratau is the only, the unavoidable source of limestone. I can’t agree. I haven’t even seen the reports. So I still believe that Toratau should not be touched.’&nbsp;</p><p>In May 2014, however, as his new election campaign kicked off, Khamitov <a href="http://proufu.ru/news/podrobno/rassledovaniya/rustem_khamitov_otdast_tratau_za_pereezd_v_moskvu/">spoke to journalists about the possibility of allowing the company to quarry one of the remaining hills</a>. ‘The Bashkir Soda Company and I are trying to find an option that would not require the destruction of the Shikhans. If there is no other option, then we shall need to take some special decisions, including the extraction of raw material from one of these hills.’&nbsp;</p><p>Over the past two years, the public have been alarmed several times by official leaks about a supposedly completed draft of a directive to strip the Shikhans’ of their protected status. A BSC board member, for example, who headed the republic’s presidential administration until 2013, <a href="http://www.u7a.ru/articles/society/10862">has said that the draft directive has already</a> ‘been passed both by all the requisite republican bodies and at national level, but the republic’s leadership has unexpectedly changed its mind on the matter.’&nbsp;</p><h2>A tug of war </h2><p>In November this year, Khamitov made a series of public statements in which he rejected the soda company’s claim to Toratau. ‘For a long time, our government believed that the only source of the necessary raw material was the Shikhans. We were being, accidently or deliberately, misled. So at some point we needed to establish the real facts of the matter,’ he told a press conference. </p><p>‘Preliminary data show that there are other appropriate sites; our republic is fortunate enough to have enormous supplies of limestone, some of which is suitable for the chemical industry and the production of caustic soda.’ Khamitov went on to say that a site that was acceptable to the soda company had finally been located near the village of Gumerovo, only 35km from Shakhtau.</p><p>‘Public opinion polls have shown that 70 per cent of the local population oppose the quarrying of Toratau,’ added Khamitov. ‘There is a general feeling that people will not allow the destruction of these hills, and the company will be left without its raw material.’</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Kushtau.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Kushtau.jpg" alt="Kushtau (Bashkir: Ҡуштау, meaning 'double mountain') was saved from destruction by the low quality of its limestone" title="" width="460" height="244" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Kushtau (Bashkir: Ҡуштау, meaning 'double mountain') was saved from destruction by the low quality of its limestone. Photo CC: WadPol, 2005</span></span></span><span>As Azamat Galin, a political analyst and businessman, comments, Khamitov is expressing the opinion of central government here. ‘According to my sources, the presidential envoy to the Volga region has been monitoring public moods in the area. They concluded that the negative political consequences of the hill being handed over to the soda company could outweigh its economic benefits. It isn’t just that Bashkirs that would rise in defence of Toratau: its the entire region. It would trigger a powerful mobilisation of civil society movements. Given this situation, BSC was told to use what was left of the Shakhtau site, to allow the situation to stabilise.’</span></p><p>Khamitov’s intention to save the Shikhans was supported by the official regional media, members of Bashkortostan’s state assembly and the republic’s Academy of Sciences. </p><p>BSC has meanwhile been showing off its lobbying power: a round table discussion in Russia’s Civic Chamber <a href="https://www.oprf.ru/press/news/2015/newsitem/31808">ended with a recommendation to the republican authorities to remove Toratau’s protected status</a>.&nbsp;<span>At this very event, the head of Sterlitamak’s Public Civic Chamber Damir Garifullin, who had been invited to Moscow, declared that if Khamitov would not ‘hand over the hill’, the republic’s president should resign. (In fact it was Garifullin who was forced to resign after this outburst.)</span></p><p>Earlier, the directors of BSC had felt able to <a href="//www.soda.ru/ru/news/detail/778 ">publicly remind</a> Khamitov that his success in the 2014 republican presidential election ‘was due in part to the significant support of the republic’s major industrial enterprises, including the Bashkir Soda Company with its many thousands of employees, its trade unions, retired staff organisation and a majority of the voters of Sterlitamak.’&nbsp;</p><p>The company has also tabled the Toratau issue for discussion at a meeting of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs. ‘The pressure on the Shikhans is very strong,’ <a href="http://www.kommersant.ru/doc/2872916">says State Assembly deputy Rufina Shagapova</a><span>,</span><span>&nbsp;‘We are all feeling it.’&nbsp;</span></p><h2>Lobbying and lies</h2><p>The ‘information war’ over the Shikhans has not subsided since the conflict went public. From time to time, supporters of the soda company play the ‘geopolitical’ card, arguing that any holdup with new sites (let alone the closure of the Sterlitamak plant) will play into the hands of manufacturers in Turkey and other countries, who will inevitably penetrate the Russian market.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Bashkir_campaign_Toratau.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Bashkir_campaign_Toratau.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="254" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Bashkir nationalists hold a protest at Toratau, June 2014. Video still via YouTube.</span></span></span><span>One of the opposition websites recently published an article claiming that a certain Mr. Sharif Said, described as ‘the chair of the Chamber of Commerce of the Turkish Republic’ had sent Rustem Khamitov a letter offering ‘to immediately begin supplying your country with soda products from our plants in Turkey.’</span></p><p>The whole thing turned out to be false, though, as Turkey doesn’t have a ‘Chamber of Commerce’ as such (though there are similar organisations), and search engines identify ‘Mr Sharif Said’ as head of the Chamber of Commerce of Tajikistan. The whole thing turned out to be a scam. </p><p>‘All these claims are pure scare tactics, of course’, says Ufa political specialist analyst Stanislav Shkel. ‘The soda company and its supporters will try to frighten people with the threat possible of the closure of the works and the social unrest and so on that would follow.’ Recent instances of <a href="https://vk.com/shihannesoda">online flash mobs showing people trampling packs of soda underfoot</a> are only the latest battles in the information war, though, according to a local NGO protecting the hills, they are potentially sponsored by the factory’s management.&nbsp;</p><h2>Who will win?</h2><p>In the past few weeks, the defenders of Toratau are worried about the fact that, although the republican authorities are on their side, the federal government has not yet declared its position. Both sides are all too aware that Moscow will call the shots, as it has plenty of leverage on the leadership of the republic.<br /><span class="print-no mag-quote-center">Both sides are only too aware that Moscow will call the shots&nbsp;</span></p><p>‘The result will depend on whose side the federal bureaucracy comes down on,’ says Stanislav Shkel. ‘They set the rules for both economic lobby groups and regional government in Russia. I think, however, that Rustem Khamitov might just swing it in this case, as his position vis-à-vis Moscow has been considerably consolidated by his victory in last year’s election and especially the summits of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the BRICS countries, both held in Ufa this year.’</p><p>‘In the end, the decision will be taken by central government, as ‘Soda’ BSC is a concern of strategically significant enterprise,’ comments Ramil Rakhmatov, a correspondent for the local online platform. He also suggests that the company’s position might be supported by Khamitov’s political opponents, as part of their campaign to topple him at the next presidential election.&nbsp;</p><p><span><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Defenders_Shikhan.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Defenders_Shikhan.jpg" alt="'Youth for the Shikhans'. Campaigners in Bashkortostan's Ishimbay Region, December 2015." title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>'Youth for the Shikhans'. Campaigners in Bashkortostan's Ishimbay Region, December 2015.</span></span></span>Aleksandr Veselov, head of the Bashkortostan Ecologists’ Union, also believes that BSC is counting on a change of power in the republic: ‘I can see the confrontation continuing for some time. The Shikhans have a lot of supporters and the soda lobby goes on pushing for the acquisition of the hill in the corridors of power. And unfortunately, all decisions here are taken for the benefit of big business. &nbsp;A zone of socio-economic and political instability could well arise in the region.’</span></p><p>Members of Bashkir ethnic organisations and other local residents have also been adding their voices to the debate, warning of an inevitable confrontation if Toratau is handed over to the soda company. </p><p>‘Even if Rustem Khamitov changes his position on the issue, the public will not allow it,’ Valiakhmet Badretdinov of the Arkadashorganisation tells me. Dinar Zainullin of the Protection of Toratau and Yuratau organisation adds: ‘Even if Toratau were to lose its protected status, that wouldn’t give the soda company what it wants. We can use existing federal laws on the exploitation of mineral resources to stop a single blast in the direction of our shrines in the next hundred years.’ </p><p>Abdrakhman Validov, whose village lies at the foot of Toratau, is also resolute in its defence: ‘We will save the Shikhans. Our young people have already pledged themselves to actively protect them. They<span>’</span><span>ll set up an Occupy tent camp or form a ‘living shield’ if they have to.’</span></p><p><em>Images two (Abdrakhman Validov), three (Shakhtau), and six (Youth for the Shikhans) courtesy of the author.</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/mikhail-kreindlin/russia%E2%80%99s-gamekeeper-has-turned-poacher">Russia’s gamekeeper has turned poacher </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/angelina-davydova/problems-of-environmental-activism-in-russia">The problems of environmental activism in Russia</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/angelina-davydova/cop21-stories-from-russia-s-indigenous-peoples">COP21: stories from Russia’s indigenous peoples</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/natalya-yakovleva/where-has-all-wildlife-gone-in-siberia">Where has all the wildlife gone in Siberia?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Russia </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Russia Artur Asafyev Green Eurasia Russia Regions Internal Thu, 17 Dec 2015 14:11:04 +0000 Artur Asafyev 98642 at https://www.opendemocracy.net COP21: stories from Russia’s indigenous peoples https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/angelina-davydova/cop21-stories-from-russia-s-indigenous-peoples <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u554943/RIAN_01486348.LR_.ru__1.jpg" alt="" width="160" /></p><p>At the UN's recent climate change conference in Paris, Russia's indigenous peoples told stories of how climate change is affecting them and how they are increasingly coming into conflict with mining companies. <em><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/koreniie-narodi-iz-rf" target="_blank">Русский</a></em></p> </div> </div> </div> <p>For the first time ever at climate change negotiations, representatives of Russia's indigenous peoples organised an entirely separate pavilion in the 'Climate Generation' zone, located in the immediate vicinity of Le Bourget, the venue of the recent negotiations in Paris.</p><p>Residents of the Altai, Chukotka and Kamchatka regions—as well as representatives from a whole host of regions and republics of the Russian Federation—presented photo exhibitions and films. They held tasting sessions of the cuisines of indigenous people of Russia's Far North and Far East (largely fish, porridge from buckwheat or oatmeal, as well as berry juice and other delicacies). Folk songs were sung and circle dances were held, as well as demonstrations of how to make household items—such as combs—from fish bones.</p><p>Bur representatives of indigenous communities did not come to Paris just to bring their food and folk songs: they also had stories to tell. </p><p>Their stories were about how climate change is affecting traditional ways of life for indigenous peoples across Russia and threatening communities. Their stories also told of the rising conflicts between indigenous peoples and mining companies— conflicts which are rarely resolved in favour of the former. Several activists campaigning to defend the rights of indigenous communities against companies' plans to mine for minerals in native lands have even been threatened with prosecution. </p><h2>&nbsp;A simmering threat</h2><p>'The biggest challenge for us is the instability and unpredictability of weather' says Vyacheslav Shadrin, head of the council of elders of the Yukaghir people in Russia's Republic of Yakutia. Overall, some 30,000 indigenous people live in the region—across Russia there are nearly 240,000 indigenous people, representing some 41 groups.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Representatives of indigenous communities did not come to Paris just to bring their food and folk songs: they also had stories to tell.</p><p>In Shadrin's words, inhabitants of the region have over many years witnessed a decline in snow, an increase in flooding and the destruction of the shores of northern lakes and rivers, as well as a shift of forested regions towards the north, which brings with it new species of animal and plant life. All of these processes represent a direct threat to the traditional way of life of indigenous peoples.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/554943/RIAN_01486348.LR_.ru__0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/554943/RIAN_01486348.LR_.ru__0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>One of the greatest challenges face by Russia's indigenous peoples today is the instability and unpredictability of weather. (c) Sitdikov/RIA</span></span></span><span>Already, residents of the region have to contend with the devastating consequences of climate change on their traditional occupation—reindeer herding. The appearance of new forested areas reduces the size of reindeer pastures, changing migration routes for wild reindeer, which are then often taken away to be domesticated. 'Many settlements which depend on hunting and fishing for their survival are now less able to produce their own food' says Shadrin. 'Many people then go in search of prey on the thin ice of lakes and rivers, putting their lives at serious risk'.</span></p><p>Increasingly, the regions of the Far North see atypical rainfall patterns—for example winter rains, which lead to a crust of ice on top of the snow, which makes it much more difficult reindeer to find food. Recent research by Norwegian and Russian scientists <a href="http://tass.ru/obschestvo/2488055">concluded </a>that the warmer climate in the Yamal Peninsula could even lead to the complete disappearance of reindeer in the area. In other regions of the Far North (such as Yakutia), snow cover has become even deeper, which also makes it noticeably more difficult for reindeer to feed themselves.</p><p>Significant climate change could also lead to the erosion of old cemeteries where people who died from plague or smallpox were buried, claims Shadrin. Ancient animals who died many years ago of the 'Siberian plague'—otherwise known as anthrax—may also begin to thaw as a result of climate change.</p><h2>Conflicts with mining companies</h2><p>'The industrial development of territories inhabited by indigenous peoples already poses a greater threat than climate change' claims Dmitry Berezhkov, one of the co-ordinators of the pavilion for Russia's indigenous people at the UN's climate conference, and an employee of the Association of Indigenous Nations of the North.</p><p>Berezhkov received political asylum in Norway several years ago. He says that as a result of his work defending the rights of indigenous groups—first in Kamchatka, and then in Moscow—he was illegally accused of stealing money from the Russian state budget, and consequently had to flee the country.</p><p>Rodion Sulyandziga, leader of Russia's co-ordination centre for indigenous and small nations of the North (an organisation recently declared to be a 'foreign agent') also believes that the conflicts between indigenous peoples and mining companies have multiplied in recent years. 'We understand that to a large degree, resource extraction is the basis of the Russian economy', says Sulyandziga, 'but it seems necessary to us to regulate this relationship'.</p><p>According to the expert, mining companies often receive a license for extraction, after which they even seek ecological advice. But they very rarely hold real consultations with the indigenous communities inhabiting the region. 'Even when they do occur, they have a rather declarative character'—says Rodion.</p><p>In 2001, the Russian Federation passed a law on the 'traditional use of territories of the indigenous peoples of the North, Siberia and Far East of the Russian Federation'. However, no actual attempts at implementing the act or allocating the aforementioned territories have since appeared.</p><p>Dmitry Berezhkov says that business has been in conflict with representatives of indigenous peoples since the 1990s, however the resistance substantially increased in 2008 when new amendments to the law on fishing and hunting allowed companies to take—and lease—lands inhabited by indigenous peoples. 'Over the last two years we have noticed a significant growth of such conflicts,' he continues. 'If pressure on activists used to be enacted through the media or administrative resources, suppression of activists with the aid of law enforcement has now started, which brings criminal charges'.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Business has been in conflict with representatives of indigenous peoples since the 1990s.</p><p>Rodion Sulyandziga cites the examples of three major recent conflicts. In the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug region, legal proceedings have continued for several months against Khanty Shaman Sergey Kechimov. Kechimov is accused of making death threats in an effort to defend the Imlor Lake—which is considered sacred by the Khanty people—from the plans of oil prospectors.</p><p>A few years ago, the Surgutneftegaz company received permission from the state to start oil production on Kechimov's tribal lands, near the Imlor lake. Representatives of the company agreed with all indigenous residents of the settlement—except Kechimov, who 'on the basis of his own convictions and beliefs, unequivocally voiced his protest against carrying out any such work on lands sacred to the Khanty and Mansi peoples'. During one of these arguments, Kechimov shot the dog of one of the company employees with his rifle after—according to Kechimov—it had bitten one of his reindeer.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/554943/RIAN_01235731.LR_.ru (1)_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/554943/RIAN_01235731.LR_.ru (1)_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="304" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A few years ago, the Surgutneftegaz company received permission from the state to start oil production on Kechimov's tribal lands. (c) Konstanin Chalabov/RIA</span></span></span><span>Other employees of Surgutneftegaz also say that Kechimov has threatened them with a rifle. As a result, a legal case was instituted against him after some time, on the basis of his 'death threats'. In such trials, representatives of indigenous peoples are actively supported by Russian ecologists, including members of Greenpeace.</span></p><p>'One of the greatest curses of indigenous peoples is oil and the filthy network of pipes and plants which expand endlessly without giving a thought to the fact that people live here. In the best cases, companies give a small 'payment' for having destroyed the earth, although usually they give nothing. It could be even worse. Two years ago we paid a visit to Sergey Kechimov, the Khanty reindeer herder from the Imlor Lake, sacred to his people. He invited us so as to show us how oil companies are destroying his land. He complained at every opportunity about oil spills on the lake and about poachers. But he never got justice. Today, Sergey is being threatened with a prison sentence; Surgutneftegaz—which has found millions of tonnes of oil beneath his lake—is accusing a reindeer herder of having threatened oilmen', write ecologists.</p><p>A second story is unfolding in the Far East in the Amur Region, where the council head of a local Evenk settlement Sergey Nikiforov was sentenced to five years in a penal colony and handed a fine of 16 m roubles for taking bribes and abuse of office. Local residents and ecological activists believe that the case against Nikiforov—who actively fought against gold miners' designs on the territory of the indigenous community—is fabricated. Villagers regularly hold protests and write to the prosecutor's office and Russian supreme court to demand a review of the sentence.</p><p>The third story is set in the Kuzentsk coal basin in Kemerovo Region, one of Russia's traditional coal-mining areas. There is talk of a conflict between coal mining companies and the Shors, the indigenous people of the Kuzbas (as the region is also known). A number of local activists raised the problem at the UN's climate conference in Paris, as part of an event arranged by the ecological organisation Ekozashchita! which has also been declared a 'foreign agent'. The violation of the rights of indigenous people in the Kuzbas was included in The Cost of Coal, a report presented at the conference analysing the ecological and social consequences of the coal industry.</p><p>'For the Shors—the indigenous people of the Kuzbas—coal mining means the loss of ancestral lands, traditional crafts and ways of life. The development of open-pit mines along coal seams—the method used to extract 70-80 per cent of the Kuzbas's coal—creates a lunar landscape, leads to the death of forests and the disappearance of fur-bearing animals. Shor settlements come next,' notes the report. In the words of Aleksandr Arbachakov—a Shor community representative—the development of the coal industry led to the disappearance of the village of Kazas, where the majority of the residents were forced to sell their houses and leave. The houses of the few activists who chose to remain were set ablaze.</p><p>'By defence of the rights of the indigenous population, local authorities understand the development of traditional culture—dances, songs and museums—but go deaf when it comes to land rights' declared Arbachakov at the event in Paris. Residents of the region also turned to Vladimir Putin with a request to defend them and 'end the ecological crimes committed by the Yuzhnaya, OAO Holding and Sibuglemet companies, which has entailed the genocide of both the Russian and Shor peoples'.</p><p>'In fact, alongside climate change, another major problem for the indigenous peoples of Russia is access to these minerals. Although they bring a huge income to the country's economy, for us—the indigenous inhabitants of the regions where oil, gas and metals are extracted—they are often a curse' declared Vyacheslav Shadrin in Paris. In his words, 80 per cent of the drinkable water, 90 per cent of the forests, 100 per cent of the diamonds and 90 per cent of Russia's oil, gas and gold reserves are located in territories belonging to indigenous peoples. Nevertheless, extracting such resources frequently brings only ecological and social problems for the regions' inhabitants.</p><p>'60 per cent of the land on the island of Sakhalin has been degraded, while 90 per cent of the reindeer pastures are no longer fit for use', he says. In his own region of Yakutia, fifteen major industrial projects already exist on indigenous peoples' territories.</p><p>'High environmental and social risks remain for the majority of large industrial projects being developed in the Far North, Siberia and Far East, whether in the development of new oil and gas pipelines or in plans to develop floating nuclear power plants and hydroelectric power stations. For indigenous peoples across Russia's regions, land seizures remain a real and pressing problem' concludes Shadrin.</p><p>Having brought their stories in person to Paris last week, it remains to be seen whether the climate concerns of Russia's indigenous peoples will finally be listened to.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/gleb-paikachov/we-need-to-find-common-ground-between-climate-change-and-civil-society">We need to find the common ground between climate change and civil society</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/angelina-davydova/theres-something-in-air-in-russia">There&#039;s something in the air in Russia</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Angelina Davydova Green Eurasia Russia Regions Thu, 17 Dec 2015 09:50:05 +0000 Angelina Davydova 98609 at https://www.opendemocracy.net We need to find the common ground between climate change and civil society https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/gleb-paikachov/we-need-to-find-common-ground-between-climate-change-and-civil-society <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u554943/2011-03-24-action-04.jpg" alt="" width="160" /></p><p>To combat Russia’s industrial polluters, public indifference and limits on NGO activity, we need to link climate change and civil society. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/klimat-i-grazhdanskoe-obshestvo"><em><strong>Русский</strong></em></a></p><p>&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p>Murmansk, a region just shy of the Arctic Circle, has its share of both global and local ecological challenges. A major centre of heavy industry, Murmansk has a high level of environmental contamination and, like many regions, it faces a dilemma: its industrial plants are both the basis of the local economy and the chief polluters of its air, water and soil. </p><p>The most prominent of these polluters is the Pechenganikel mining and smelting complex, part of the Kola Mining and Metallurgical Company, a division of Norilsk Nickel, which supplies about 20 per cent of the world’s nickel. There are regular disputes with neighbouring Scandinavian countries over toxic substances drifting across their borders, and Bellona-Murmansk, a local environmental organisation, claims that Pechenganikel contravenes regulations on maximum permitted emissions. </p><p>The company’s management denies this, and their statements are confirmed by checks carried out by various state bodies. There is, however, some doubt as to the objectivity of such checks given that the inspectors confer with management on their timing. Russia’s Meteorological Centre has also recorded a high concentration of sulphur dioxide in the air around the complex, evidence that maximum permitted emission rules are indeed being contravened.</p><p class="mag-quote-right">Government inspectors confer with company management on the timing of checks.</p><p>In general, the land around the plant has a lifeless air, like a scene from a post-apocalyptic film. Even if all emissions were to be halted immediately, the local environment would take a long time to recover and a huge amount of work to make it productive again. </p><h2>Don’t drink the water, and don’t breathe the air</h2><p>Over the last three years, toxic emissions from industrial plants in Murmansk have led to an increase in the contamination of the atmosphere by suspended matter and carbon monoxide. </p><p>Some water sites near the metallurgical complex are chronically heavily polluted. In 22 bodies of water, 165 instances of high, and 45 of extremely high levels of typical indicators such as nickel, molybdenum, copper, sulphates, flotation reagents, nitrogen compounds and organic and other substances have been recorded. The state of the topsoil in industrial areas of places like Monchegorsk, Zapolyarnny and Nickel also falls short of public health standards.</p><p>In terms of environmental safety, the distinctive feature of the Murmansk region is the fact that the Kola Peninsula has a high concentration of radiation hazardous installations. The town of Polyarnye Zory houses the Kola nuclear power plant, whose four reactors are well past their projected lifespan (the first was commissioned in 1973). There have been no government checks on the impact of the plant on the local environment, and the reactors work above their quota, at 104-108 per cent of their recommended load.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/554943/climate_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/554943/climate_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Action by 'Nature and Youth', 22 November, Murmansk. Photo: Nature and Youth</span></span></span><span>And that isn’t the whole story, either. The reactors are not encased in containment domes that would prevent the emission of radioactive substances into the atmosphere, and their cooling systems are considered unsafe. The spent nuclear fuel is sent to the Mayak plant in the Urals for reprocessing, which also involves the dumping of radioactive waste in reservoirs.</span></p><p>Discussions are currently taking place about building a second nuclear power plant here, with governor Marina Kovtun giving her personal assurance that this will happen. </p><p>However, there is still some hope that common sense will triumph: the Kola Peninsula offers enormous opportunities for harnessing renewable energy sources, and these too are being discussed, albeit less vigorously. </p><h2>Northern grassroots eco-activism</h2><p>In Russia, and Murmansk, in particular, the climate change movement is only just beginning to take shape. Here, the ‘abstract’ nature of climate change—the fact that its impact isn’t obvious to the general public—is the main reason climate isn’t on the table. </p><p>Urban dwellers especially see the issue as something unreal, or so complex that they have no motivation to start doing anything about it. It is difficult to galvanise people to get involved in what little anti-climate change action there is.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Murmansk’s nuclear reactors are well past their use by date.</p><p>But that doesn’t mean that nothing is happening. Grassroots work is going on in various regions of Russia, including Murmansk. The Russian Socio-Ecological Union (SEU), for example, has been working for a long time, developing networks of climate activists and information resources for NGOs working in the area. </p><p>Campaigners from small regional NGOs are involved in publicising initiatives designed not only to change prevailing attitudes towards climate change, but also to change people’s behaviour and encourage climate-friendly habits. For example, in the run up to the COP21 talk in Paris, the Nature and Youth and Aetas organisations worked to mobilise people in the Murmansk and Arkhangelsk by holding meetings and activities to inform the public about upcoming events of global significance. </p><p>The Murmansk organisation Nature and Youth runs regular international environmental camps based on the principle ‘Think globally, act locally’, encouraging people to reject short-sighted carbon-heavy policy and switch to renewable sources of energy and energy conservation measures. The organisation also runs the ‘Barents Sea Eco-Art Academy’, an educational platform for projects at the interface of ecology and art, with specialists in different areas working with artists to enhance the impact and effectiveness of solutions to environmental problems. </p><p>Young people are a particular target. Regular Youth Climate Forums bring together environmental campaigners, members of small indigenous peoples and interested members of the public. The eco-activists work with schoolchildren and students to encourage eco-friendly habits in the rising generation and reduce our carbon footprint—an effective way of attracting more people who are ready to make practical changes in their lives. </p><h2>A vicious circle</h2><p>New laws passed in Russia to restrict freedom of speech, assembly and association have, however, made environmental and climate change activism more difficult.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/554943/2011-03-24-action-04_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/554943/2011-03-24-action-04_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Environmentalists in chemical protective suits during a protest, 2011. Photo: Youth and Nature</span></span></span><span>Protest activity among many environmental NGOs has been reduced to a minimum: 21 environmental organisations have had to register as ‘foreign agents’ because they engage in so-called ‘political activity’ and receive funding from abroad. The Bellona-Murmansk organisation, for example, was registered on the Foreign Agent List after it produced a report on industrial pollution in the Barents Sea. As a result, it is becoming almost impossible for these organisations to receive any funding.</span></p><p>Some NGOs have closed down, others are trying to overturn their designation as ‘foreign agents’, but for the moment their activity is mostly restricted to matters unconnected with the environment, which has had a big impact on the effectiveness of the anti-climate change movement. </p><p>The government clampdown on environmental activism has, to a large extent, been made possible by the mindset of the Russian public. People are used to having everything done for them by the authorities, but if the authorities fail to sort something out, the eco-activists and human rights campaigners are expected to take responsibility. Thus, a contradiction of sorts: the authorities are happy to have some kind of civil society that can deal with its own problems, but, at the same time, they promote the philosophy of hyper-consumption and the principle of ‘every person for themselves’, which entrenches social problems and tensions in Russian society. </p><p>Meanwhile, the elites don’t want to use their capital to solve social problems. Today there are only a handful of socially responsible entrepreneurs – most only think about how they can get richer, and not about the harm they cause to the environment. </p><p>All these factors contribute to people’s belief that nothing can be changed. When environmentalists try to persuade people to be more conscious of their consumption, people refer to the state’s lacklustre approach to industrial pollution and the effect of big business on our environment and climate to excuse their own inertia. People behave like sheep, only changing their habits when others do it as well. You can persuade a few people to follow your own example, but by the time everyone catches on, it’ll be too late to save the earth’s climate. </p><p>Global events such as the Paris talks could have provided the impetus for increasing public awareness of environmental issues. A burst of activity, media coverage, parallel local events and a general sense of identification with the problem could have shown that the government, the elites and a huge number of ordinary Russians were ready to make changes to their lives to save the planet.</p><p>However, in a country where the government is prepared to deprive its citizens of their rights and freedoms for the benefit of the political elite, this kind of citizen mobilisation is merely a dream. All we can hope for is that the Paris summit will take positive decisions that can influence our leaders. Environmental organisations here still have a long way to go before they can persuade their fellow Russians to embrace change.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/angelina-davydova/theres-something-in-air-in-russia">There&#039;s something in the air in Russia</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/konstantin-rubakhin/on-run-in-russia">On the run in Russia</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/maria-sharmina-christopher-jones/discounting-future-of-climate-change-in-russia">Discounting the future of climate change in Russia</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Gleb Paikachev Green Eurasia Regions Politics NGOs Fri, 11 Dec 2015 14:05:07 +0000 Gleb Paikachev 98438 at https://www.opendemocracy.net COP21: a diary from Paris https://www.opendemocracy.net/angelina-davydova/cop21-diary <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>oDR correspondent Angelina Davydova is in Paris attending the UN climate conference COP21, where she's keeping her eye on the Russian side of things...&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <h2><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/554943/9190940.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/554943/9190940.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Ole Jensen/Demotix</span></span></span></h2><h2><span>30 November: Putin speaks</span></h2><p><span>Today was the first day of the UN climate conference in Paris (#COP21) and it began with 130 heads of state and government addressing the conference. This year marks the first time in UN climate history that the conference has opened with the Leaders Summit - normally, the heads of state only arrive at the end of the second week once the intense climate negotiations have already been conducted by country delegates.</span></p><p><span>But this time around the COP opened with the lofty speeches of Obama, Cameron and co. in which they reconfirmed their commitment to fighting climate change and announced their domestic climate plans and policies. Next they will move on to the technical negotiations on the text of the new post-Kyoto climate agreement which should - all things gone well - result in the new Paris agreement being adopted by 11 December.<br /> <br />Joining other world leaders at the Summit today was Russia’s Vladimir Putin, who was among the first to speak. He used his time on stage to acknowledge the harm that climate change is already inflicting on Russia and the world:&nbsp;</span><span>‘Hurricanes, floods, droughts and other extreme weather phenomena caused by global warming are causing ever-greater economic losses and destroying our familiar and traditional environment. The quality of life of everyone on this planet, the global economic growth and sustainable social development of entire regions depend on our ability to resolve this climate problem.'</span><span>&nbsp;In his speech he also&nbsp;</span><span>summarised Russia's efforts in fighting climate change and noted Russia's sinking levels of greenhouse gas emissions throughout the 90s and 2000s; the role of the boreal forests in reducing global emissions; and the energy efficiency measures adopted by Russia so far.</span><span>&nbsp;</span></p><p><span>Most of the Russian experts I have been speaking to here in Paris are reacting quite positively to Putin's speech as it seemed to reflect the marked change that has taken place over the past few years in Russia's attitude towards climate change.&nbsp;</span><span>‘Ten years ago climate change was something that people joked about in Russia. Five years ago is was an issue that still raised a lot of doubts among Russia's politicians and within its scientific communities. But today it is clear that Russia understands that it is in the same boat as everyone else; it acknowledges that climate change exists and that it is a serious threat to Russia and the world,’ Alexey Kokorin (head of the energy and climate programme with WWF-Russia). </span></p><p><span>But for others, Putin's words today were just that - words.&nbsp;</span><span>'The wording [of Putin's speech] &nbsp;was good for sure, and we are glad to hear it but the measures that have been suggested for curbing climate change in Russia - the world's fifth largest emitter after China, US, India and EU - are far from enough,' said Vladimir Chuprov, head of the energy programme with Greenpeace Russia. In his opinion, Russia should spend less time boasting about emissions reductions&nbsp;</span><span>(reductions that occured primarily due to the economic collapse of the Eastern bloc)&nbsp;</span><span>at conferences such as this one and more time investing in greater energy efficiency, renewable energy, boreal forest protection and waste management to provide for a sound climate policy at home.</span></p><p><span>&nbsp;</span><span>And measures such as these are desperately needed in Russia where just last week Sergey Donskoy, the&nbsp;</span><span>Russian minister for natural resources,&nbsp;</span><span>estimated that in the year 2013 alone climate change cost the Russian economy 200 billion rubles ($3 billion) and caused more than 190 deaths.&nbsp;</span></p><p><span>Day one over.</span></p><p><span><br /></span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/angelina-davydova/theres-something-in-air-in-russia">There&#039;s something in the air in Russia</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/natalya-yakovleva/where-has-all-wildlife-gone-in-siberia">Where has all the wildlife gone in Siberia?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/maria-sharmina-christopher-jones/discounting-future-of-climate-change-in-russia">Discounting the future of climate change in Russia</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Angelina Davydova Green Eurasia Mon, 30 Nov 2015 22:08:14 +0000 Angelina Davydova 98053 at https://www.opendemocracy.net