Don’t Mess with Irina Iskorneva

Irina Iskorneva, editor of the newspaper Pechenga

There Are Still Real Women in the Russian Villages
bloger51.com
March 8, 2016

A court has overturned the dismissal of Irina Iskorneva, editor-in-chief of the newspaper Pechenga

A magician friend once told me a joke about his trade. During a performance, an illusionist is doing the trick where he saws a woman in two. Halfway through the trick, someone in the hushed auditorium comments, “Think about what you’re doing, dude. You’re about to make two problems out of one.”

Why have I told his story? Because right around the new year, the Pechenga District administration fired Irina Iskorneva, editor of the local newspaper.

Last year, as regular parishioners of our little blog will recall, Iskorneva wiped the floor with Ivan Tsipilyov, mayor of Zapolyarny. She informed readers about road repairs near Tsipilyov’s house, which went right to his front door.

Tsipilyov found this outrageous. Deeming himself personally insulted and humiliated, he went to court, where he got a kick in the ass. A month later, he got another kick in the ass, this time in the regional court.

The Pechenga District Court confirmed Iskorneva’s version of events.

As the court also pointed out, “Criticism of authorities is an inalienable right of citizens, and every politician agrees to become a target of criticism.”

The court explained in detail how the parties could resolve their conflict.

“In case of disagreement, the criticized party has the right to respond in the very same mass media.”

In November of last year, Irina Iskorneva strongly opposed a 9.3% increase in utilities rates for 2016. (The regional authorities have been using deputies on local councils to set rates higher than the ceiling established by Moscow.)

According to Iskorneva, this was the reason she was dismissed as editor right before the New Year, on December 29.

“Don’t awaken the beast in me. Well, and if you are asking for it be prepared to defend yourself. I will show no mercy,” reads the motto on her profile page on the VKontakte social network.

And so it happened. In mid January, she uncovered the amounts of the bonuses the district’s top official had paid themselves. According to Iskorneva, they had ranged from 70,000 to 200,000 rubles. [That is,  from approximately 900 to 2,600 euros—TRR.]

Two court hearings took place in Pechenga District Court on March 2 of this year.

In the first, Iskorneva was listed as the defendant. The district administration was trying to recover damages allegedly caused by Iskorneva in the performance of her duties. The court rejected the suit, thus indicating that the charges were groundless.

Consequently, Iskorneva’s dismissal from her position was also illegal.The court ruled that Iskorneva should be restored to her position as of March 3, 2016, should be compensated for wages forfeited during her forced absence, and should be financially compensated for pain and suffering.

Irina Iskorneva: “Don’t awaken the beast in me. Well, and if you are asking for it be prepared to defend yourself. I will show no mercy,”
Irina Iskorneva: “Don’t awaken the beast in me. Well, and if you are asking for it be prepared to defend yourself. I will show no mercy,”

When the editor of a municipal newspaper forces two local administrations to bend four times in the last six months, it is cause for respect, at least.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Photos courtesy of Blogger51 and  Barents Observer. Thanks to Comrade VZ for the heads-up

Show Trial

Police Show Up to Evening in Support of Political Prisoners
Grani.ru
March 30, 2016

Police showed up at the Moscow cafe Dozhd-Mazhor, where an evening in support of political prisoners had been scheduled. Our correspondent reported that around fifteen officers entered the space, inspected it, and then went outside to the entrance and proceeded to ID everyone leaving the cafe.

Later, police tried to detain activist Habib Poghosyan. They claimed an APB had been issued for his arrest on suspicion of theft. Poghosyan refused to show the officers his internal passport, while they demanded he go with them to a police station. After several minutes of negotiation, the police officers left. The play started a little late.

Show Trial, a fantasy play about how Ildar Dadin‘s upcoming appeals hearing should turn out, and the itinerant exhibition {NE MIR} took place at the Moscow club Dozhd-Mazhor on March 29. Video by Vladimir Borko

“We believe that Ildar’s trial was a show trial, and so we decided to stage Show Trial, with a prisoner of conscience as the defendant. We will show people how such trials should be conducted, not only Ildar’s trial but also the trials of other political prisoners, including Darya Polyudova and Ivan Nepomnyashchikh, whose appeals are pending, and Dmitry Buchenkov and Pyotr Pavlensky, who are under investigation. We will also be recalling Alexei Sutuga, Alexander Kolchenko, and other people in prison on trumped-up charges for their beliefs,” said the evening’s organizers.

In addition to the performance, the art cafe hosted an exhibition dealing with the topic of unlawful arrests and trials. Poets and bard singers performed after the play.

Dadin’s appeals hearing will take place at 10 a.m., March 31, in Moscow City Court. Attorney Henri Reznik will represent Dadin at the hearing.

The hearing, which had begun on March 23, was postponed because the panel of judges had not been informed whether the defense had examined the minutes of the trial, and the defense had not been provided with audio recordings of the hearings.

On December 7, 2015, Judge Natalia Dudar of the Basmanny District Court sentenced Dadin to three years in a minimum security prison under Article 212.1 of the Criminal Code (repeated violations at rallies). However, the prosecutor had asked the court to sentence the activist to only two years in a minimum security prison. Dadin was accused of involvement in “unauthorized” protest rallies on August 6, August 23, September 13, and December 5, 2014.

It was the first guilty verdict handed down under the new law, which was inserted into the Criminal Code in 2014.

During his closing statement at the trial, Dadin said the article under which he had been charged was deliberately unconstitutional, “criminal, and political,” and has been designed to crack down on activists.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade VZ for the heads-up

La vie de l’esprit en Russie

eviter-avec-les-russes

Sergey Abashin
Facebook
March 27, 2016

A really well-known Russian scholar receives a monthly salary of eighteen thousand rubles ($270) at an academic institute. It goes without saying that he is able to earn money on the side in different ways. The only question is the meaning of such salaries. What do they signify? What does the state say to the scholar by paying him a salary like this?

Sergey Abashin is British Petroleum Professor of Migration Studies at the European University in Saint Petersburg. His most recent book is Sovetskii kishlak: Mezhdu kolonializmom i modernizatsiei [The Soviet Central Asian village: between colonialism and modernization], Moscow: Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, 2015. Translated by the Russian Reader. Photograph courtesy of New Point de View

Welcome to Nyen, Capital of Ingria

map of nyen

Leonid Storch
Facebook
March 26, 2016

This is one of my favorite maps. Drawn up between 1635 and 1645, it is a snapshot of my hometown seventy years before it was supposedly founded by Peter the Great. In reality, it has been founded by the Swedes way back in 1611 and consisted of the town Nyen (i.e., the Swedish name for the Neva River) and Nyenskans Fortress, situated on the right bank of the Neva. In the late seventeenth century, Nyen’s population had climbed to two thousand. It had a town hall, a hospital, and two churches (Swedish and German). On the other side of the Neva, where the Smolny Monastery is now, there was also an Orthodox church. Nyen had a number of good sawmills, and sturdy ships were built in the town. Merchants from all across northern Europe came to Nyen for the traditional three-week fair held in August. Rye, oats, peas, pork, beef, bacon, butter, salmon, tar, resin, hemp, flax, and timber were brought here from Novgorod, Tikhvin, and Ladoga. The Oriental fabrics (silk, plush, damask) that were all the rage in Europe, as well as skins, leather, fur, and canvas, came via Novgorod. Metals (iron, copper, lead) were shipped from northern Europe, as well as mirrors, English and Dutch cloth, German wools, velvet, and hats.

The Greater Nyen area encompassed forty villages, both Izhorian and Russian, and several Swedish estates. The village of Hirvisaari was situated on Vasilyevsky Island, where I grew up, on the shores of the Little Neva River. We can assume that by the time Russian imperial troops showed up, the population of the Greater Nyen  area was at least four to five thousand people, which was quite a lot at that time.

Russian historiography has preferred to efface ninety-two years of the city’s history and has presented the matter in such a way that, when the Russian imperial troops arrived, the Neva estuary was a deserted “forlorn shore,” on which stood Peter, who, “rapt in thought,” had decided to found the capital city of Sankt-Peterburkh there. Despite the “desertedness” of the Neva’s shores, the newly arrived Russian nobles settled in homes previously owned by the local Swedish aristocracy (e.g., the estate of Swedish Major Eric Berndt von Konow was turned into the Summer Garden); the bricks used to build the Peter and Paul Fortress had been produced right there, in Nyen; and produce was delivered from the villages of the Greater Nyen area.  Subsequently, Peter ordered Nyenskans destroyed, apparently in a bid to destroy his rival in the battle over historical primogeniture. The remains of the fortress were unearthed during archaeological digs in the late 1990s in the vicinity of Krasnogvardeyskaya Square.

The paradox lies in the fact that every city tries to find the roots of its origins and takes pride if it is able to prove its lineage was even a dozen years more ancient than had been previously thought. On the shores of the Neva, however, an entire chapter of the city’s history has been pitilessly expunged, robbing it of ninety-two years of life, at least. Personally, I refuse to recognize 1703 as the year the city was founded. The founding of the Peter and Paul Fortress by the Muscovites in 1703 was an event no more meaningful than the founding of Nyenskans Fortress by the Swedes in 1611.

P.S. The map is aligned from south to north (as was customary in those days) or, to be more precise, from northeast to southwest. To make it easier to recognize the locale, I realigned the image. Thus, in order to read all the inscriptions on the map, you must turn the image around again [as I have in fact done, aboveTRR]. You can find Russian translations of the Swedish inscriptions here. The same website also contains a description of the maps’s history and the principles by which it has been dated.

P.P.S. For more information about Nyen and the pre-Petrine history of our city, see also [in Russian]:

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to the nearly indispensable Comrade AK for the heads-up

Prosecution Witness in Brinikh Case Recants

Valery Brinikh

Prosecution Witness in Brinikh Case Recants
Grani.ru
March 24, 2016

77-year-old Mugdin Guchetl, a witness for the prosecution in the extremist case against environmentalist Valery Brinikh, recanted from the testimony identified as his in the case file during a court hearing in Maykop City Court in Adygea, as reported by the international human rights group Agora, who cited Brinikh’s defense attorney Alexander Popkov.

In testimony signed “Guchetl,” given during the investigation, it states that Brinikh has insulted not only the witness but the entire Adyghe people with his article “The Silence of the Lambs.” During the trial, however, the witness said he had not read the article, that he had not been in Adygeisk for around five years (although according to the interrogation report he was questioned in Adygeisk), that he had not given testimony to a police investigator, and that he had not signed the interrogation report.

Presiding Judge Vitaly Galagan pressed Guchetl, telling him that if he did not acknowledge his own signature, he would be summoned to court again. The defense protested the judge’s actions and filed a motion for a handwriting analysis to be performed.

The article “The Silence of the Lambs” was published on the website For Krasnodar! in September 2014. It recounts the environmental problems caused by Kievo-Zhuraki Agribusiness JSC, a large pig-breeding facility in Adygea’s Teuchezhsk District. The company was founded by Vyacheslav Derev, Karachay-Cherkessia’s representative in the Federation Council.

The article contains the following passage: “But who or what has forced the Adyghe to breathe manure-polluted air and swim in ponds poisoned by sewage? Nothing but cowardice and a lack of self-esteem.”

On December 17, 2014, Maykop City Court ruled that “The Silence of the Lambs” was extremist. On March 20, 2015, the Adygea Supreme Court reaffirmed the lower court’s decision. In their rulings, the courts claimed the author of the article had insulted ethnic Adyghe, accusing them of cowardice. On January 12, 2016, Brinikh submitted a written petition to Maykop City Court asking it to reexamine its ruling in the light of new circumstances, but on January 21, Judge Irina Ramazanov refused to consider the petition.

The environmentalist had been charged under Articles 33.5 and 282.1 of the Criminal Code (complicity in inciting hatred and enmity) as he was accused of having help to disseminate the article. Subsequently, Major Konstantin Kustov, senior major case investigator at the regional headquarters of the Russian Federal Investigative Committee, recharged the environmentalist, removing Article 33.5 from the charges and accusing the biologist of having authored “The Silence of the Lambs.”

Defense attorney Popkov has noted that over the past year the Investigative Committee has ordered five forensic examinations in the case. However, the lawyer stressed that data from a wiretap of Brinikh’s telephone, conducted by the Federal Security Service (FSB) a few months before “The Silence of the Lambs” was published, has been subjected to a phonological forensic analysis.

Hearing of the case on the merits began on January 26, 2016. Popkov had insisted on sending the case back to the prosecutor’s office, pointing out that a number of pieces of evidence had been falsified, but Judge Galagan rejected his appeal.

During the February 9 hearing of the case, one of the ethnic Adyghes who was questioned refuted the charges against the defendant.

“The environmentalist’s article caused no enmity,” he said. “On the contrary, Brinikh has help the Adyghes fight for the environment.”

Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of 8772.ru. See my previous posts on Valery Brinikh and the case against him.

The Crime of Speaking Up in Russia: Solidarity with Dadin and Polyudova

Vadim F. Lurie
Facebook
March 23, 2016

The people’s assembly [to publicize an appeals hearing in the case of Ildar Dadin, sentenced in December 2015 to three years in prison for the heretofore unknown offense of “repeat unauthorized protesting”] did not come off. [Nor did Dadin’s appeals hearing in Moscow City Court: it was postponed to a later date.] There were fewer people in attendance than the day before yesterday, the day Nadiya Savchenko was sentenced. But the picketers decided to spread out along the Nevsky, and members of the National Liberation Movement (NOD) wandered around searching for them, trying to pester and troll them.

The most successful at this was a bearded specimen, who yelled, “Look, a real live national traitor! A Maidanite, a Banderite, funded by the State Department!

The passerbys, who usually do not pay much attention to people standing holding placards, mostly regarded them sympathetically thanks to this spiel.

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“What a viper sentenced Dadin! Free Ildar Dadin!” Local police detain veteran democratic activist Igor “Stepanych” Andreyev. Petrograd, March 23, 2016. Photo by Vadim F. Lurie
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Petersburg police surround a picketer, demanding he produce his documents. Petrograd, March 23, 2016. Photo by Vadim F. Lurie
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A member of the so-called National Liberation Movement (NODS) scans the Nevsky for “national traitors.” Petrograd, March 23, 2016. Photo by Vadim F. Lurie
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“Free [Ildar Dadin! No to Article 212.1!” A picketer stands in front of Our Lady of Kazan Cathedral. Petrograd, March 23, 2016. Photo by Vadim F. Lurie
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“Free Ildar Dadin!” Petrograd, March 23, 2016. Photo by Vadim F. Lurie
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“Down with Article 212.1!* Free Ildar Dadin! Congratulations, Nastya and Ildar!” Petrograd, March 23, 2016. Photo by Vadim F. Lurie
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“Free Darya Polyudova,** sentenced to two years in a work-release prison as an extremist for a repost on Vkontakte.” Image of Polyudova with placard: “Ukraine, we are with you.” Petrograd, March 23, 2016. Photo by Vadim F. Lurie

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Vadim F. Lurie for his kind permission to republish his photos here.

*Despite the obstacles, Russia’s opposition continued to organize protests. So last summer in 2014, the Kremlin effectively criminalized all peaceful protests and assemblies. Article 212.1, which went into effect in January 2015, amends the previous law in a considerably more punitive manner, carrying up to 5-year criminal prison terms for repeated protests. This law has a “3 strikes” feature, stating that anyone who has been convicted 3 times for the administrative offense of ‘violating the regulations governing public rallies,’ within a six month period is subject to criminal liability. With these laws and their particular application against political critics, the Putin regime is sending a powerful message heard throughout Russia of a repressive new reality unseen in decades: If you dare to speak out against government policies or leadership, the authorities will ruthlessly treat you as a common criminal and send you away for years in penal colonies. [] A young protester named Ildar Dadin became the first person to be convicted under Article 212.1 for having protested 3 times within a 6-month span. Ildar Dadin engaged in a completely benign peaceful protest, mostly standing alone holding a sign expressing his opinions, specifically about releasing political prisoners, the need to change power in the Kremlin, and to end the war in Ukraine. Until his trial in December, Dadin had been confined to house arrest. But on December 7, Dadin was sentenced to 3 years of actual prison time in a penal colony for simply exercising his constitutional right to express his opinion. Yes, Russia’s Constitution under Articles 29, 30 and 31 guarantees freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. But the new laws make those guarantees not worth the paper they’re written on. (Paula Chertok, “New Normal in Russia: Putin Critics Punished with Harsh Prison Terms,” Euromaidan Press, January 6, 2015)

**Dispatches: The Crime of Speaking Up in Russia
Tanya Lokshina, Russian Program Director
Human Rights Watch
December 22, 2015

A left-wing political activist has been convicted of inciting separatism and extremist activities, the latest in a series of criminal prosecutions in Russia against people who dare speak their minds online.

Unless the December 21 ruling by a court in Krasnodar in southern Russia is quashed on appeal, the accused, Darya Polyudova, 26, will spend the next two years behind bars. The charges against her derived from three posts she published on her page in VKontakte (VK), Russia’s most popular social network.

All three posts had to do with Ukraine. The one that triggered the incitement to separatism charge – in Russian law, making “public, online calls aimed at violating the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation” – was not even written by her. It was a flippant comment by another user, which Polyudova shared on her page, about supposed demands by local ethnic Ukrainians of the Krasnodar region to be incorporated into Ukraine.

The second post, deemed by authorities as “public calls to extremist activities,” was a photo of Polyudova with a poster that said, “No war in Ukraine but a revolution in Russia!” The slogan did not include any advocacy of violence.

The third one was a commentary about how the situation in Russia was intolerable and Russians needed to follow the example of Ukraine’s Maidan activists, take to the streets, and bring down the government. These are strong words, but didn’t include any specific action plan.

Polyudova’s VK page has all of 38 followers, and most of her posts draw very few comments. Her words can’t be taken as inciting violence, and they certainly didn’t pose a “danger to the public,” as Russian law requires for criminal prosecution.

Polyudova’s prosecution is one in a growing number of cases where Russians are being punished for speaking their mind. This autumn, a court in Tatarstan sentenced an activistto three years in prison on very similar charges. Since the return of Vladimir Putin to the Kremlin in 2012, the Russian government has instituted an unprecedented and sweeping crackdown on critics of the government, and one of its tools has been overbroad and vague anti-extremism legislation. As the space for freedom of speech in the traditional media narrows, the government is now going after the Internet and targeting individuals who try to stir public debate about sensitive issues, especially Ukraine.

Until her trial, Polyudova was relatively unknown. But by criminally prosecuting her, the government is sending a chilling signal to Internet users across country – if you think you can speak your mind online, think again.

Rosneft: “Greenpeace Are a Bunch of Corrupt Scum” (Saving Ladoga Skerries National Park)

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Rosneft: “Greenpeace Are a Bunch of Corrupt Scum”
NSN
March 18, 2016

Greenpeace said the oil company intends to “bite off” part of a future national park. A Rosneft vice-president responded harshly.

Greenpeace has called on Russians to defend a group of islands on Lake Ladoga from the oil company. In a communique received by NSN, Greenpeace claimed that at the behest of Alexander Hudilainen, head of the Republic of Karelia, the Federal Ministry of Natural Resources plans to transfer nearly 4,000 hectares of the future Ladoga Skerries National Park to the oil company. According to Novaya Gazeta [see translated article, below], Rosneft intends to build a health spa on islands in the protected area.

In an interview with NSN, Mikhail Leontyev, Rosneft’s vice-president for public relations, was categorical.

“Greenpeace are a bunch of corrupt scum. These are people who are paid to attack corporations. I have no desire to service their publicity machine. Spare me from them at least for a day, and better yet permanently,” Leontyev told NSN.

In its appeal to defend the Ladoga archipelago, with its unique Scandinavian landscape, Greenpeace claims the lands the authorities intend to exclude from the park are inhabited by golden eagles, which are on the endangered list, and that seals bask on the area’s shores in the summer.

According to Greenpeace Russia, Russian President Vladimir Putin has already ordered the establishment of the national park on three occasions.

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Protected Jackpot
Anastasia Filippova
Novaya Gazeta in Petersburg
March 14, 2016

Alexander Hudilainen has been readying especially valuable forests on the shores of Ladoga for investors 

Could a specially protected natural area on the shores of Lake Ladoga be handed over to Rosneft?

At the behest of the government of the Republic of Karelia, the Russian Federal Ministry of Natural Resources is cutting nearly 4,000 hectares from the future Ladoga Skerries National Park for implementation of investment projects. It is believed that the principal interested parties are subsidiaries of Rosneft, which had previously announced plans to build a major health complex in the Ladoga area. The sale of lots included in the protected area, which has has already undergone an environmental impact statement, could theoretically produce a windfall for the republic’s budget, but in reality it would halt work on establishing the national park, which Vladimir Putin has personally asked to be expedited. A final decision on redrawing the national park’s boundaries is expected within the next week.

The Ladoga Skerries are located along the northwest shore of Lake Ladoga in the Lahdenpohja, Sortavala, and Pitkäranta districts of the Republic of Karelia. A number of rocky islands and narrow straits form a unique picturesque landscape not found anywhere else in Russia. Many attempts have been made to preserve the natural environment in these parts, but for various reasons none of the projects for establishing a specially protected natural area has been implemented. Work on establishing a national park was renewed in 2007 amid massive public discontent over the leasing of lots in the skerries to logging and mining companies.

There was no sign of trouble even a month ago. On the contrary, people were confident that the years-long saga of establishing a Ladoga Skerries National Park (the first plans to create a protected area date back to 1989) was coming to a successful conclusion. On January 29, 2016, the Federal Service for Supervision of Natural Resources officially signed off on the findings of a official environmental impact analysis and due diligence review of the grounds for conferring the status of a federal specially protected natural area on the region. The next step should have been a Russian federal government decree establishing the park. But on February 15, a meeting was held at the Russian Federal Ministry of Natural Resources where it was decided to exclude lots totaling approximately 3,750 hectares from the planned Ladoga Skerries National Park in order to accommodate the construction of so-called socially significant facilities. The initiative had come from the Karelian authorities or, rather, personally from head of the Republic of Karelia Alexander Hudilainen, who had in fact made the request to the federal authorities.

Cutting to the quick
According to sources in the Karelian Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment, nearly all of Rautalahti Peninsula and Sammatsaari Island in the Sortavala District, which are part of the Ladoga Forestry Area, as well as several smaller lots in the Oppola and Helylä Forestry Areas, will be almost wholly removed from the nature reserve. Despite the fact that the total area of the planned reserve is over 120,000 hectares, of which approximately 40,000 hectares are water, while the rest is on forest reserves lands, such a loss would be extremely painful. According to Olga Ilyina, head of the Karelian environmental organization SPOK, during the planning stage, several large chunks of the park were cut out to avoid conflicts with local residents. A further reduction of the park’s area would make it impossible to effectively protect valuable natural sites.

“If you look at a map of the park you see it stretches along the northwest shore of Lake Ladoga, and the excluded lots essentially split it into two unequal parts. Most importantly, the greater part of Rautalahti Peninsula is within the conservation area. It is one of most well preserved expanses of Ladoga forests and has high environmental value,” notes Ilyina. “Formally, the park will lose around 5% of its territory, but the already small size of its protected area would be reduced by nearly a third.”

Sabotage behind the scenes
Alexei Travin, coordinator of the NGO New Ecological Project, who joined the battle to save the Ladoga Skerries back in 2006, says that from the outset Karelian authorities opposed the idea of a national park and did whatever they could to sabotage the process of establishing it.

“Both under Sergei Katanandov and his successor as head of Karelia Andrei Nelidov, the process of preparing and approving paperwork was constantly delayed,” notes the environmentalist. “Positive developments have occurred only under pressure from the Federal Ministry of Natural Resources.”

One of Alexander Hudilainen’s first steps as head of the republic in 2012 was submitting a request to the Russian federal government to establish a national park. (Without a submission from the local authorities it would have been impossible to launch the procedure for establishing a federal specially protected natural area.) According to Travin, however, there is good reason to suspect that the new head of the republic simply did not understand what he had signed back then, which was why one of the republic’s deputy natural resources ministers, who had drawn up the document for Hudilainen’s signature, was dismissed from his post. In 2012, President Putin asked the government to speed up work on Ladoga Skerries National Park and there was no longer any way for the Karelian authorities to back out. But this does not mean they had resigned themselves to the fact that the “golden lands” on the shore of Lake Ladoga had literally slipped through their fingers.

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Legal maneuvers
In the light of recent events it seems the Karelian authorities might have been using the process of establishing a national park to their own ends. Nearly all the lands along the shore of Lake Ladoga, including the islands, were leased in 2006 (on the eve of the transfer of powers over forests to the regions) at the behest of the then-current leadership of the Russian Federal Forestry Agency. In 2015, however, the Karelian Ministry of Natural Resources in coordination with the Russian Federal Ministry of Natural Resources had the courts terminate the leases on forest reserve lands in the Ladoga Skerries with the goal of establishing a federal specially protected natural area. In particular, the leases on lots rented by Sortavala Wood and Paper Holding, Ltd., were revoked in January 2015. Meaning that the old tenant’s lots were seized under the pretext of establishing a national park, but Karelian officials are now seizing the same lots on behalf of another investor.

The question of what areas should be excluded from the park has been decided behind closed doors, and at present there is no reliable information about what investors and what projects will be implemented in the area. However, according to sources close to the Karelian Ministry of Natural Resources, it is primarily subsidiaries of Rosneft that have been discussed, which would explain both Hudilainen’s involvement in the problem and the unexpectedly loyal stance adopted by the Federal Ministry of Natural Resources.

No simple interest
Information about Rosneft’s interest in the area emerged in 2014, when the oil company and the government of Karelia signed a strategic partnership agreement. After meeting with Rosneft chair Igor Sechin, Hudilainen said the company had decided to build a large health center on the Ladoga shore. According to a source, the possible allocation of lots within the planned specially protected natural area had begun to be worked out as early as a year ago, but initially did not find support within the Federal Ministry of Natural Resources.

That the ministry agreed to amend the project, despite the fact the environmental impact review had already been completed, confirms that an investor with big lobbying capabilities has gone after the land, potentially allowing it not only to redraw the national park’s boundaries but also to transfer forest lands to another category, a decision that can be made only by the federal government. This turn of events is highly likely. It is worth remembering that, in the past, the current head of Karelia successfully sold off forest lands when he was head of the Gatchina District in Leningrad Region. His role came to light in the well-publicized investigation of the illegal seizure of lands in the Siversky Forest in 2005. However, the scale of the seizures there was considerably less.

According to Olga Ilyina from SPOK, free lots that were no worse in terms of recreation and unencumbered by restrictions on development could have been found on the Ladoga shore. There was no acute need to intrude on the protected area of the park, but the decision to intrude was made all the same, despite the inevitable complications. The option of taking out a long-term lease on the lands removed from the park simply would not justify the effort.

On the other hand, removing forest reserve status from these lots would turn them into extremely profitable assets, whose worth, according to rough estimates, could run into the tens of billions of rubles, if we take into account the going rate for land in the district. This sum, by the way, is comparable to the size of the Republic of Karelia’s annual budget, which was 29.3 billion rubles in 2015 [approx. 388 million euros].

It is unlikely that the deal would be a salvation for the Karelian budget, which has been shrinking because of the economic crisis. It is easier to imagine that the lots allocated for “socially significant projects” would be purchased with earmarked funds and for a tenth of their actual market value, if that much. But for Alexander Hudilainen, whose position deteriorated after he was reprimanded by the president in February, it could be more important to obtain the political dividends.

The Karelian authorities have to account for the investments they have attracted as part of a federal program for the targeted development of Karelia until 2020. Timed to coincide with the republic’s centennial in that same year, the program is now in jeopardy. So a single project with a nominal value of even several billion rubles might prove to be a salvation to Karelian officials.

Sabotaging the park
Whatever objectives the Karelian authorities have been pursuing via the intrigue into which they have drawn the Federal Ministry for Natural Resources, they have planted a bomb under all the plans for the Ladoga Skerries National Park.

Amending the project for the specially protected natural area after it has gone through an official environmental impact review makes it vulnerable in legal terms.

Practically speaking, there are now grounds for challenging the conclusions of that review as well as any regulations adopted on its basis, a challenge that could be mounted by an interested party. In current conditions, according to environmentalists, this could delay the establishment of the park by another two or three years. A second environmental impact review would require money that is not in the budget.

Over this time, the area of the future part could shrink even further, including at the expense of state reserve lands, which were supposed to be included in the specially protected natural area during the second phase of the project. (In the first phase, only lands from the forest and water reserves will be included in the park.) The Karelian government has virtually put these lots up for sale already, although it should have set them aside in order to establish the specially protected natural area. Thus, on a website entitled The Investor’s Republic of Karelia, there is a description of an investment project involving the sale of thirteen land plots, totaling 137.1 hectares, on the eastern half of Sammatsaari Island, for recreational purposes. This particular page is hidden in such a way that it is impossible to find on the site’s main menu.

This may mean that the sabotage of the national park has been planned deliberately, and then the damage would be not be limited to removing the above-mentioned 3,750 hectares from the park. Within two years, the Ladoga Skerries could be ripped to shreds. Or, on the contrary, has Alexander Hudilainen on his own initiative unwittingly provoked a classic conflict of priorities by essentially putting the interests of Rosneft above those of the head of state? This conflict might be resolved in the most unpredictable ways, including for the man who started it.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Photos courtesy of Greenpeace Russia. Thanks to Comrades AK and SY, as always, for the heads-up. Thanks to Comrade EN for the geography lesson.