Grassroots

The English term “grassroots” is often used around the world to denote local civic activism.

The documentary film Grassroots explores three landmark environmental struggle—the fight to save the Suna Forest in Karelia, the ongoing work of EcoWatch in Krasnodar Territory, and the fight to save the Khopyor River in Voronezh Region—using them as a springboard for trying to answer the main questions facing environmental activists in our country today.

In the film, we hear the voices of many environmental activists and listen to the opinions of the most experienced of them, including Yevgeny Vitishko, Andrei Rudomakha, Konstantin Rubakhin, Suren Gazaryan, Yevgeniya Chirikova, Tatyana Chestina, and Grigory Kuksin.

Some of these extraordinary activists have been forced into exile, while others have done serious prison time.

What does it cost to defend our forests, parks, and cities? Who is up to the task?

Director: Konstantin Davydkin
Producer: Maria Muskevich
2018, 58 min., Russia; in Russian with no subtitles
Production: Regista Studio / Make a Movie Production Center

Annotation translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade Koganzon for encouraging me to watch the movie.

Belarusian Environmentalist Marina Dubina Abducted by Unknown Men in Uniform in Minsk

Marina Dubrina

Marina Dubina, Director of NGO Ekodom, Detained, Unknown Men Used Teargas
Incident took place around 4 p.m. at Korpus Cultural Center in Minsk
Zjaljony partal
October 6, 2020

According to witnesses, unidentified men in uniform with no identifying marks, dragged the executive director of the NGO Ekodom outside, employing a tear gas canister in the process. She was dragged from building no. 6 at the Gorizont factory towards a bus stop before being forced into a Volkswagen passenger vehicle on Kuibyshev Street.

There is no more information at this time, but this article n will be updated.

Earlier, on September 8, persons unknown tried to force their way into Dubina’s house.

Thanks to Sasha Razor for the link. Translated by the Russian Reader

Kamchatka: 95% of Marine Life at Bottom of Avacha Bay Dead

Petropavlovsk and Koryaksky Volcano, as seen from Avacha Bay. Courtesy of Wikipedia

Kamchatka Nature Reserve Employees Find That 95% of Life at Bottom of Avacha Bay Has Perished
Mediazona
October 6, 2020

Employees at the Kronotsky Nature Reserve in the Kamchatka Territory have conducted a study of the shoreline and the water in Avacha Bay and found that 95% of the denizens of the sea bed have died. This was announced by Ivan Usatov, a researcher at the reserve, at a meeting with regional governor Vladimir Solodov.

“When we dove, we found that, at depths of 10 to 15 meters, there was a massive die-off of the benthos—95% of it is dead. Some large fish, shrimps, and crabs have survived, but in very small quantities,” Usatov said. At the same time, he claims that “the state of marine mammals and birds is normal.”

At Cape Nalychev, the experts discovered “atypically dark water,” “brown foam,” and “very scant marine animal life.” Near Starichkov Island and in the Bay of Salvation, they found “mass remains of dead benthos.”

The researchers noted that animals that feed on the denizens of the sea bed will die.

Employees of the reserve, the Kamchatka Fisheries and Oceanography Research Institute, and the Kamchatka branch of the Pacific Institute of Geography suggested that the pollution has spread beyond Avacha Bay, which they studied. They said that one possible reason for this was algae bloom.

In the first days of October, residents of Kamchatka and the Kuril Islands found hundreds of dead marine animals on the shore. Governor Solodov said that it could have been caused by a spill of toxic substances, algae “that washed up on the coastline during the storm,” or volcanoes.

Translated by the Russian Reader

In the latest episode of Ekologika, George Kavanosyan discusses four possible causes of the pollution, including 1) a tanker that suffered a spill in the area and just as quickly disappeared (Kavanosyan rejects this hypothesis out of hand, saying there is no supporting evidence for it); 2) seismic activity in the Kamchatka, recorded on September 15, releasing gases that could have formed various acids when they came into contact with oxygen; 3) a training exercise by Russian nuclear submarines, which could have spilled lethal waste on their way back to their base at Vilyuchinsk; and 4) stored rocket fuel from a Soviet anti-aircraft base, closed in 1990 but never properly cleaned up. || TRR

The Red Book

AppleMarkA Russian environmentalist untangles a “ghost” fishing net. Such nets are deadly to wildlife, including the endangered Russian desman. Photo by V.I. Bulavintsev

The Russian Desman Hangs by a Thread
Yevgenia Volunkova
Takie Dela
November 28, 2019

In Russia, the Red Book of Rare and Endangered Species is about to be reissued almost eight years late. Scientists fear that rare and endangered species of mammals and birds of interest to hunters will not be included. At this very moment (the commission’s final session will be held tomorrow, November 29, 2019), zoologists are fighting for the inclusion of more than a dozen species that are in dire straits. Among them are the Asian black bear (Ursus thibetanus), the reindeer (Rangifer tarandus), the greylag goose (Anser anser), the Siberian bighorn sheep (Ovis nivicola), and the killer whale (Orcinus orca).

What Went Wrong
The Red Book of the Russian Federation is supposed to be reissued every ten years, but the most recent edition dates to 2001. An updated version of the Red Book was planned for release in 2017. At the time, scientists had made lists of rare and endangered species for the new edition, and the lists had been approved by the Red Book’s commission, but then everything went wrong.

The Russian Federal Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment (Minprirody) suddenly changed the roster of the commission that reviews and approves the book. Zoologists who could stand up for rare animals were, for all practical purposes, removed from the commission. As a result, many species in need of protection vanished from the list. The new commission for some reason decided not to include 23 species of animals that had previously been listed in the Red Book.

Scientists were publicly outraged, and the process of reissuing the Red Book was suspended. In October 2019, Minprirody tweaked the commission’s roster again. Of its 44 members, only 20 scientists have remained. The other 24 members are officials from Minprirody, subordinate agencies and institutions, and regional hunting departments.

“If you remove the scientists from the commission and put hunters and bureaucrats on it, it’s clear how they are going to vote,” says Sofia Rosenfeld, a biologist and member of the commission’s expert panel on geese. “People must be smart and objective in order to evaluate the scientists’ proposals. Hunters cannot be objective. Business interests are obviously trying to delist the species from which they profit. And yet the fact that these species are on the verge of extinction bothers no one.”*

The Leftover Principle
Alexei Zimenko, the director of the Biodiversity Conservation Center, and I are talking in his office. Located in a small old building on Vavilov Street in Moscow, the Center occupies several rooms off a corridor. It has not been remodeled in a long time, but inside it is a cozy as a biology classroom. Zimenko sets the most recent edition of the Red Book on the table. According to him, the book has not been updated for so long because there are “gigantic problems with the protection and study of wildlife” in Russia.

“Since 2000, the country’s main priority has been economic success. But environmental issues and nature conservation are considered obstacles to this success,” Zimenko says. “Biological research is financed on the leftover principle. For example, at one point Barguzin Nature Reserve, on Lake Baikal, had a powerful research base and material support up to and including its own airfield. But in the early 2000s, we gifted the oldest employee three freestanding lamps for lighting, so that he could scrape by somehow. And at another Far Eastern reserve, there is now just one scientist on staff, and three more travel there and stay for a month, at most.”

According to Zimenko, the delay in republishing the Red Book could be due in part to the fact that there are very few or no scientists researching many of the animal species in Russia.

“Due to insufficient data, several species may not make it into the Red Book. But this country has excellent researchers who are ready to work with limited resources. So, we do have information on many species. But, for example, when it comes to the Russian desman (Desmana moschata)—a rare Red Book species—we have three researchers total: two at the Oka Nature Reserve and one in Moscow. And we have just one person in the whole country who researches moles.”

Things Are Bad for the Russian Desman
Using the example of the Russian desman, Zimenko tells me about how scientists research Red Book species.

The small, semi-aquatic creature lives in bodies of water in central Russia and along their banks. Estimating its numbers is a job best done from August to September, when the water is not high. A group of researchers travels to the desman’s habitat and inspects the shoreline meter by meter. They wander the banks and the shallows in search of the animal’s burrows—it is the numbers of these that are counted. In point of fact, a similar “walking” count is made for all animals. Ground squirrels, for example, are counted by the numbers of their burrows, and tigers, by their paw prints. The “heel” of every print is measured with a ruler: it is a different size for every tiger. That way one can grasp how many tigers have passed through an area and whether they were males, females, youngsters, or adults.

There are not enough people for such a colossal amount of work: a small group cannot physically manage to inspect a huge area. So, there is little current data on the state of the Russian desman, as for many other species.

“In the early 2000s, we conducted a nationwide inventory of the desman with the help of hunting researchers who had previously been in charge of doing counts of the wildlife in their districts. Today, there are few such researchers, and their duties have been reduced, along with their funding. Furthermore, the desman is not a commercial species, so counting it basically is of no interest to anyone. Therefore, we can get current data on the state of the desman only after studying several sites and estimating its overall numbers. And it’s the same thing, unfortunately, with many species. How, for example, can we estimate the numbers of the polar bear, if it travels across the ice for half a year, and every trip to the Far North is terribly expensive? Back in the day, my fellow scientists lived right in the nature reserves and were able to make observations without gigantic outlays of money for flights. Today, there are very few scientists who work in the necessary fields.”

Выхухоль
The Russian desman. Photo by V.I. Bulavintsev

According to Zimenko, things are bad for the Russian desman. Compared with Soviet times, the state of the species has deteriorated dramatically. Today, there are approximately 7,500 of them in the wild. For such a tiny animal, that is incredibly low—there should be tens of thousands. In the 1990s, the oversight of bodies of water decreased significantly, and people began fishing in droves, often using nets. If a desman gets caught in a net, it becomes entangled and drowns underwater. Things got even worse when Russian-made nets were replaced with ones made in China from monofilament fishing line. They are impossible to escape, and some of these nets are so cheap that fishermen often simply discard them. The nets are washed away by floodwaters, becoming conveyor belts for destroying aquatic life.

“We tried to ban the import of those fishing nets to Russia. They destroy not only the Russian desman, but fish and birds as well. Even moose were getting killed, as it happened. Consequently, the decision was made to ban the import of equipped (readymade) nets. But importing reels fitted with monofilament line to Russia is still permitted. A great country has been unable to solve a seemingly simple problem. It is shameful! And so the Russian desman is hostage to our troubles with the government management of natural resources and wildlife conservation. Among other things, the Russian desman reacts to climate change—drought and the lack of floods affect its reproduction. The desman is hanging by a thread.”

Cut Out and Shot
But if the Russian desman can at least be found in the Red Book, many other species on verge of extinction risk not even getting into it. For example, the Asian black bear (Ursus thibetanus), whose situation, according to researchers, is catastrophic.

The scientific community has long been in favor putting the Asian (white-chested) black bear in the Red Book. But the hunting community has prevented that in every way possible. At issue are the bear’s paws and bile, which are in great demand in China. The Asian black bear winters in the hollows of large trees. Hunters cut down the tree, chase out the bear sleeping there, and shoot it. Or they cut out an opening in the tree through which they can extract their “trophy.”

Female bears also give birth to their young only in tree hollows while they are hibernating. They give birth and feed their bear cubs in a semi-drowsy state. Hunters do not differentiate whom they kill, but the bear cubs are often left behind and usually die.

In the Maritime Territory (Primorsky Krai), where the white-chested bear lives, large trees are being intensively cut down. And this is the second problem: with every passing year, it becomes harder for the bear to find a place to winter. It is forced to winter among tree roots or burrows in the ground, like the European brown bear (Ursus arctos), but in such conditions it is more vulnerable to predators and hunters. If it does not find a place to winter, a bear cannot even lie down to hibernate. A bald bear in the forest that has not fallen asleep or managed to shed its fur, according to zoologist Nikolai Formozov, is a “heartbreaking sight.”

Formozov has a Ph.D. in biology and is a member of the Red Book commission’s expert group on mammals. He has advocated for the inclusion of the Asian black bear in the Red Book.

“The white-chested bear was in the Red Book of the USSR. Later it was removed, even though things had got worse for it. In the Soviet Union, its population was estimated at 7,000 individuals—fewer than the polar bears in the Arctic. Today, even by the hunters’ inflated numbers, pulled out of thin air, there are only 5,600. In fact, of course, there are fewer than that. And at the same time, the hunters say that it is safe to cross it out of the Red Book. That, in my view, is a crime!”

The Death Throes of a Species
Formozov calls what is happening with the white-chested bear the “death throes of a species.”

“The species is in bad shape, and some not-so-obvious signs make it easy to understand. When a species is on the verge of distinction, it often shows up in inappropriate places. Previously, the basic foodstuffs for the Asian black bear before hibernation were the acorns of the Mongolian oak and pine nuts. When the acorns weren’t ripe, the pine nuts came to the rescue, and vice versa. So, the bear alternated between acorns and pine nuts. But the cedars have been cut down. And now we see hunger driving them into the flood plains, to eat cherry trees. Right next to villages. In that situation we get the reaction ‘Oh, there are so many of them!’ But this is an illusion. It has happened that up to twenty white-chested bears have been killed by poachers during such forays. The same thing was written about Caspian tigers when they began showing up in inappropriate places—that there were a lot of them. But this was the very end of that tiger’s existence. It disappeared completely, remaining only in the form of taxidermic mounts. The same thing happened with the cheetah in Kazakhstan . . . These are its death throes.”

Сафари-парк в Шкотовском районе Приморья
An Asian black bear cub at Safari Park, a park for predatory animals in Shkotovo District, Maritime Territory. Photo by Yuri Smityuk for TASS

Things are nearly as bad for the saiga antelope (Saiga tatarica). The saiga antelope lives in Kalmykia and the Astrakhan Region. In good times, there were 800,000 of them. By the early 2000s, only 5,000 remained. Among those 5,000 only about five percent are males, because poachers hunt the animal for its horns: like the paws of the Asiatic black bear, the saiga antelope’s horns are used in Chinese medicine.

“There are none of them left to reproduce,” says Formozov. “The situation is simply catastrophic. Alexey Yablokov proposed adding the saiga antelope to the Red Book back in August 2003, but at the time the hunting lobby would not stand for it. The situation for this species continued to worsen, and here we are, sixteen years later: we defended our position and got the saiga antelope listed in the Red Book.”

Now the numbers of the saiga antelope have stabilized somewhat, thanks to two places where they are protected: the Stepnoy Nature Refuge and the Chornye Zemli Nature Reserve. Even so, the species is in a precarious situation.

And then, at its last meeting, the commission did not even review the case of the Manchurian sika deer (Cervus nippon mantchuricus), whose situation is critical. In the 1930s, hardly any of them remained. Today in the Far East, where there is an extremely high level of poaching, the numbers of sika deer and of other hoofed animals are so low that tigers are not able to raise their cubs. There are almost no places where female tigers can catch prey and bring it back to their cubs. Therefore, the numbers of tigers have also been falling.

The Curlew That We Lost
By international standards, in order to be sure that a species has gone extinct, we must wait fifty years from the time it was placed on the endangered species list. However, even now, twenty years later, it is impossible to identify the species that we have nearly lost.

“The spoon-billed sandpiper (Calidris pygmaea) is very close to extinction,” says Formozov. “The sociable lapwing (Vanellus gregarius) is also close to disappearing. But the biggest loss in recent years is the slender-billed curlew (Numenius tenuirostris), which nested in Western Siberia. Nobody has been able to locate it for quite some time now. Its migratory routes and stopover sites are well known. It is a ‘tasty treat’ for birdwatchers, who have been looking for it a long time. In the 1990s, they spotted fifteen specimens, then seven, then three; several years ago, they spotted one. Now there are none.”

Numenius_tenuirostris_GrönvoldThe slender-billed curlew. Drawing by Henrik Grönvold, as published in M.A. Menzbir, Hunted and Commercial Birds of European Russia and the Caucasus (Moscow: I.N. Kushnerev and Co., 1900–1902). Courtesy of Wikipedia

Formozov explains that while the commission argues over mammals and there is a chance to protect some of them, things are practically hopeless when it comes to birds.

“Not one of the birds was put on the endangered list, not even those for which there was impressive data,” laments Formozov. “Such is the situation, for example, with the European turtle dove (Streptopelia turtur). In my childhood, there were lots of them; they were found everywhere in the Moscow Region. Now the numbers of the turtle dove have fallen, at a minimum, by a factor of fifty, at a maximum, by a factor in the hundreds. This is due to the unfortunate situation in their wintering habitats: forest belts have been cut down in the steppe zone, while chemicals are used to fertilize fields. For these and other reasons, there is nowhere for the bird to winter.”

“The hunters, in response to our proposal to put the turtle dove on the list of protected species, say, ‘We’re not to blame for the reduction in numbers. Why do you want to forbid shooting them?’ They say that inclusion in the Red Book would be of no use because they will continue hunting them. Where’s the logic?”

“There is data on the decline in numbers. There are guidelines for compiling the Red Book: when there is a certain decline in numbers, you must put them on the list. Period! But, they say, ‘No, we’re not including them. Next question!’”

Again We Have Achieved Nothing
The commission met on November 1, for the first time since the public outrage of the scientists over their removal from the commission on rare and endangered species. This time it was a “correct” commission: the roster has been changed to include as many scientists as necessary. But even so, much of what happened at the meeting remains a mystery.

“First, the ministry came up with the idea of asking the regions’ opinion about the feasibility of listing the taxa we had proposed in the Russian Red Book,” recounts Sofia Rosenfeld. “We got their answers and were dumbfounded. Their responses show how bad things are in these regions! In the best case, they can write the name of a species without making mistakes; in the worst case, what they write is sheer nonsense.”

“For example, a region has a species in its regional Red Book, but they brag that everything is fine with it and that it is hunted! It’s obvious that they completely fail to understand what’s going on. And now, if one region is against listing a species, and eighty are for it, that’s it, we cannot list it! This is unprecedented. On November 1, we achieved nothing, and not one question was put to a vote. They threw out all of our geese again. We ended up drafting internal memos and petitions.”

The Battle over the Geese
On a Saturday afternoon, Rosenfeld is working at the Institute of Ecology and Evolution of the Russian Academy of Sciences. It is a dilapidated building, with plaster crumbling in spots, exposing the bricks. Inside there are signs of a renovation that took place ages ago.

“It is everything you wanted to know about the attitude towards scientists in Russia,” Rosenfeld says, smiling, in response to my remarks about the ruin.

Rosenfeld’s computer monitor shows an enlarged photograph of geese in flight. She has been counting birds on photos all day, entering the data into a separate spreadsheet.

“I have to examine 20,000 photographs and count up all the geese. And also determine where there is a swan, a brent goose, or a greylag goose,” Rosenfeld comments on her work. “But I’m also constantly monitoring everything that is happening with the Red Book, writing memos and substantiations, and giving interviews. My life is spent dealing with paperwork, and I’m unable to do real work!”

At the last meeting of the rare species commission, Rosenfeld represented geese.

“We proposed listing the greylag goose (Anser anser) in the Red Book: it has been doing poorly in Russia,” she recounts. “When spring hunting for geese was opened (in Soviet times, it was outlawed—Takie Dela), it was a real blow to the greylags, because that is right when the species is nesting. Spring hunting causes huge damage to all our geese. This is a horror and a disgrace for Russia, and no civilized country has it anymore. Imagine: geese fly across fifty regions to breed, and everywhere they are shot! And later the rest of them are shot at their breeding sites. A goose is sitting on her eggs, and hunters are running around the wetlands. A goose flies up from under a hunter’s feet—bang! Or the male tries to lead people away from the nest—bang! And geese are monogamous birds, after all. You kill its mate—that is it, it will no longer breed, at least this season. Or maybe not at all. Geese are like people: some grieve so much for their partner that they won’t form another couple for the rest of their lives. The whole world has understood this, but we in Russia have not! On hunting sites and forums, hunters talk about how cool it is to hunt geese when they are sitting on their eggs or have just flown into breeding sites, having traveled thousands of kilometers! They say things like, ‘They don’t fly off, they try and lead us away,’” explains Rosenfeld.

Rosenfeld recounts that in 2018, the website The Petersburg Hunter posted a photo with the results of the previous year’s spring goose hunting. One of the users reported that their team of three people had bagged 183 geese in a single day. In the Nenets Autonomous District, a group of hunters bagged 700 geese in the spring of 2017. And there are many such examples.

musk-5Autumn migration of birds in the Dvuobje Wetlands. Photo by Sofia Rosenfeld

“I have nearly lost my mind trying to fight this. Personally, I don’t understand how it is possible to have fun murdering another living being, but I am not a crazy Green. I am convinced that hunting has a right to exist as long as it does no harm to what is hunted. But what I am seeing now is terrible. Quick, quick, shoot, before they fly off to a neighboring region, or to Europe, or to China, quick, quick! The main thing is that our neighbor does not get it! It is obvious that current hunting regulations cannot cope: it is essential to make protective measures stronger. And the only way to save the birds that are disappearing right before our eyes is to list them in the Red Book,” Rosenfeld says.

When asked how many greylag geese are left today, Rosenfeld says that it is not a matter of numbers, but of speed. If the population has fallen by half in ten years, that is enough to list the species in the Red Book.

In addition to the greylag goose, scientists have proposed listing three subspecies of the bean goose (Anser fabalis) in the Red Book. In twenty years, the numbers of the taiga bean goose have fallen from 110,000 to 45, and this is a disaster.

“There are motorboats and good equipment nowadays. A motorboat sails by a spot where a female is sitting in her nest, and the male tries to lead the hunter away and is shot. The bean goose remains only in places impassable to boats. But there are no geese left where the rivers are navigable. All these arguments in defense of geese were rejected by the commission. I think that everyone is under the influence of high-ranked oligarchs who hunt. Do you know what birds will definitely be listed in the Red Book? Two subspecies of godwit. Because nobody wants them—they’re not hunted. The battle is over the geese, ducks, sheep, goats, and deer,” Rosenfeld explains.

Yamal Gets It
When Rosenfeld is not doing paperwork, she is doing field work. For many years, she and her colleagues have been doing air counts and ringing Anseriformes on the Yamal Peninsula, in the Nenets District, and on the Taymyr Peninsula. In some places, they go out into the field with telescopes and count birds. Where there are no roads, they use an airplane.

“Across our huge country, all of the data we get is the result of the incredible work of mad scientists,” says Rosenfeld, smiling.

Rosenfeld says that the attitude toward bird monitoring in the country’s northern regions should be an example to other Russian officials.

“In Russia, monitoring has been entrusted to bureaucrats who have no money, gasoline, or concept of what to do and how to do it. It is set up like this: the federal government subsidizes the monitoring of wildlife. Here are three rubles for you to spend on monitoring rare species, and for hunted species, here are three hundred rubles. Next, region, you can do as you like: if you want, you can count geese. Or deer. Or seals. There is no system. A region can spend money on monitoring from its own regional budget, but, in our country, there are few wealthy regions that want to monitor anything. We have established a system only in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District,” Rosenfeld explains.

musk-6Wild reindeer on Shokalsky Island. Photo by Sofia Rosenfeld

This year [2019], Rosenfeld was in the field from April to September. First, she counted moose and deer on the Yamal Peninsula from the air. Next, she did an aerial survey of waterfowl and hoofed mammals on the Yamal and Taymyr peninsulas and in Yakutia (from Taymyr through the Lena River delta). Then she counted waterfowl during their autumn migration in the Nenets Autonomous District.

“When the work is done,” Rosenfeld explains, “we say to the authorities, ‘Here’s where you have geese; there are the deer; here you need to make a nature preserve; forbid hunting here; there, oilmen are a danger.’ And they follow our recommendations. That is how it should be, but only the Yamalo-Nenets District and the Nenets District work with us in this way. They have realized the importance of waterfowl. The officials themselves admit it: ‘But we have no other hunting resources left—all the rest have been knocked out!’ And that is the case: the wild reindeer and moose have been knocked out, and if the geese are knocked out, what will you have left?”

Proper Monitoring and How it Works
When Rosenfeld explains how the work of protecting and monitoring wildlife is done in the west, she rolls her eyes.

“Europe understood long ago that in order to use something, you have to keep track of it. Understand what is happening with the resource—how it is doing, whether it is decreasing or increasing, and how much you can remove without harming the population. This thing was thought up in the U.S. in the 1800s, and ever since they have had the best system for monitoring hunting resources.

“The U.S. and Canada have government-funded fish and wildlife services, and their officials work in every state and province. For the management of waterfowl alone, there are special councils for every migratory route. And how many and which animals can be hunted and how to protect them are decided only after an annual report is submitted. The annual report includes data about the numbers, the success of breeding programs, and other population parameters. It is the result of a colossal amount of work by government teams!”

“If the monitoring data is off, they immediately give scientists the signal: ‘For some reason we have too few of this duck. Figure it out, and here is the funding!’ They spare no expense. In two or three years, the scientists figure it all out and say, ‘Here is what is happening, do this and that.’

“‘Good,’ says the government. ‘We did what the scientists told us, and everything is fine with the duck again.’

“That is what monitoring is for! When we were [in North America], looking at all this, my heart nearly broke!”

Маршруты экспедиций в 2019 г.
Routes of the field trips made by Sofia Rosenfeld and her colleagues in 2019. Image from Rosenfeld’s personal archive

Rosenfeld is sure that something can still be done to protect nature in Russia.

“We can save species that are going extinct and put everything back on track. However, we have to amend the legislation and the hunting rules, and adopt strategies for migratory birds. We need to free ourselves of xenophobia and cooperate with all countries. But the most important rule is not to push things to the point of no return, when a species is slowly dying out and nothing can be done about it,” she says.

At the next meeting of the commission, which will be held tomorrow, November 29, scientists expect a separate vote on “disputed species,” a list that includes the Asian black bear, the Yakutsk bighorn sheep, the Barguzin reindeer, the greylag goose, several types of bean goose, and others.

According to Rosenfeld, the natural resources ministry has been rushing to complete all of the procedures for adopting the final list for the Red Book’s reissue.

“We’re still battling for the geese and others, but I don’t know what will happen. At some point, they can bang their fists on the table and say, ‘This is how it’s going to be!’ Then we will rouse the public again. What do we have to do to save these poor birds and beasts? We will stop fighting only when Russia starts listening to scientists again,” says Rosenfeld.

Translated by Mary Rees. All photos courtesy of Takie Dela

*How the Red Book Works
The Red Book is an annotated list of rare and endangered species of animals and plants in need of total protection. Species listed in the Red Book are withdrawn from economic use: they cannot be hunted, caught, or sold. In Russia, the Red Book has legal force, and criminal or administrative liability is stipulated for causing harm to Red Book species.

In addition to the Red Book of the Russian Federation, each region in the country has its own Red Book. A species listed in a regional Red Book is not necessarily included in the federal Red Book. For example, a species in the Saratov Region may be threatened, but in the Tambov Region it is doing well, and its state nationwide is generally good as well. In this case, it will only be listed in the Saratov Red Book. On the other hand, a species included in the federal Red Book must be listed in all regional Red Books.

In the Red Book, animals and plants are divided into six categories: probably extinct; threatened with extinction; population is rapidly declining; rare species; undefined status; vulnerable species. Listing each species in the Red Book is the result of many years of work by botanists and zoologists across the country. Scientists study the numbers, dynamics, and state of a species to decide whether to include it in the Red Book or not, whether to re-categorize already listed species—for example, if there has been a positive trend over ten years, the species has spread its habitat or increased its numbers, scientists think about whether to change the category from rare species.

Scientists report the results of their research to a special commission, which consists of expert sections on birds, mammals, fish, higher plants, lower plants, fungi, and so on. Experts analyze and discuss the collected data and then submit their proposals for including species in the Red Book to the commission’s bureau, which consists of scientists (who constitute the majority of members) and officials from the hunting, fishing, agriculture,  etc., authorities. Proposals made by scientists to include a particular species in the Red Book had always been approved, but this has not been the case since 2017, when things went awry.

Translated by the Russian Reader. In the spring of 2020, the Red Book of Russian Federation was officially amended and reissued. Forty-three mammals and birds were added to the new Russian federal list of endangered species, including the saiga antelope, the wild reindeer, the greylag goose, the Siberian bighorn sheep, and the bean goose.

Our Power Doesn’t Run on Nothing

Norilsk Nickel Dumping Toxic Waste into Lake Pyasino Right Now
Elena Kostyuchenko
Novaya Gazeta
June 27-28, 2020

Vasily Ryabinin, a former employee of the Norilsk office of Rosprirodnadzor (Russia’s federal environmental watchdog), Greenpeace activists, and Novaya Gazeta reporters have discovered that Norilsk Nickel has continued to dump industrial waste into the Kharayelakh River and Lake Pyasino.

sliv-1
The place where waste from a Norilsk Nickel facility is being discharged into the tundra and thence, via streams, into the Kharayelakh River. Photo courtesy of Novaya Gazeta

Water contaminated with heavy metals, sulfurous acid, and surfactants is currently being pumped from the tailings storage facility at the Talnakh processing plant, owned by Norilsk Nickel, and drained into the tundra. The waste flows via streams into the Kharayelakh River, which empties into Lake Pyasino.

“Norilsk Nickel discharging toxic waste right now into the river.”

Witnesses have called the police, the Emergencies Ministry, Rosprirodnadzor, and the prosecutor’s office to the drainage site.

“This is a complete breakdown of law and order, and a crime against nature and our children. The clean-up must start immediately,” says Vasily Ryabinin.

UPDATE

The Norilsk Nickel security service has arrived at the scene. The pumping station that has been discharging waste into the river has been shut down.

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Employees of Norilsk Nickel’s security service. Photo by Elena Kostyuchenko for Novaya Gazeta 

Almost immediately after that, the Norilsk rescue service arrived at the scene.

Vladimir Zhenikhov, senior duty officer of the rescue service: “Now the brass will decide what to do. It’s a good thing everything has been documented. I had heard before that something was being discharged into the tundra here.”

Vladislav Shatura: “It’s amazing that they let us in here at all. Norilsk Nickel can decide not to let anyone in. Norilsk Nickel can do anything it wants.”

And now the police have arrived.

UPDATE 2

The workers who arrived are hurrying to dismantle the pipes!

“Workers called to the scene are hurriedly dismantling the pipes! Novaya Gazeta and Greenpeace today discovered and documented how Norilsk Nickel has been dsicharging toxic waste into the river, and thence into Lake Pyasino. Less than a month has passed since the diesel spill at Power Plant No. 3.”

UPDATE 3

People from the prosecutor’s office have arrived at the scene. The police car in which the prosecutors got here has been crushed by the Norilsk Nickel tractor removing the pipes.

sliv-4
Photo by Elena Kostyuchenko for Novaya Gazeta

Prosecutor Vladimir Bolshunov: “We have called the Investigative Committee, and Rosprirodnadzor is now waiting for a car and is also on the way. They will be taking samples. We have ordered a copter and will be trying to lift [what?] up, despite the wind. It’s all we needed, of course, but we’re going to go to work and do a comprehensive job with the whole thing.”

The Emergencies Ministry officers thank the journalists and activists: “Well done.” Officer Denis Makarov says of Norilsk Nickel: “They aren’t afraid of anything.”

A month ago, Lake Pyasino was contaminated by 21,000 tons of diesel fuel from Power Plant No. 3, also owned by Norilsk Nickel.

All photos courtesy of Novaya Gazeta. Translated by the Russian Reader

power doesn’t run on nothing

we are just a child
we are just a child
we are wide awake
but our legs are shaky

we’re unaware
we’re hyper and we stare into space
with grins on our faces

so give us what we’re asking for
cause either way we’re gonna take it
our power doesn’t run on nothing
we need the land you’re standing on
so let’s go, move it

we are old as hell
we are old and tell the children
when to kill, when to sit still

everyone doing what we say
til our dying day
til our breath is empty

they’ll give us what we’re asking for
cause either way we’re gonna take it
our power doesn’t run on nothing
we need the land you’re standing on
so let’s go, move it

you need to let go, move it
we’re more equal
we’ll move you people off the planet
cause goddamn, we need the fuel

so let the beat roll over
let the beat roll over everyone in line
everyone in line
let the beat roll over
let the beat roll over everyone in line
one at a time

they’ll give us what we’re asking for
cause god is with us
and our god is the richest
our power doesn’t run on nothing
it runs on blood
and blood is easy to obtain
when you have no shame

when you have no shame

so let the sun fade, let the sun fade
we’ll still have light
we’ll burn even brighter

we’ll drain the well
we’ll tunnel to hell
and leave the earth’s surface
for the worthless and dirty

let the beat roll over
the beat roll over everyone in line
everyone in line

do you think we’ll cease?
do you see a reason?
do you think it’s fair?
do you think it’s fair?
do you think we care?

Source: The Thermals

Dear Greta! (Norilsk Oil Spill)

Norilsk: Exposing the Lies and Appealing to Potanin
225,518 views • Jun 18, 2020
Ekologika

There has been an environmental disaster in Norilsk, but another one is about to happen. My measurements show that oil products are moving towards the Kara Sea, and all the “cleanup measures” are nothing more than a profanation, a pretty picture for journalists. This is a crime, and there is a specific criminal behind it.

I have two demands for Mr. Potanin:
1) Stop lying and concealing the real state of affairs from the public.
2) Take urgent measures to prevent the pollution of the Kara Sea.

To give the head of Norilsk Nickel more incentives to act, we will appeal not only to him, but also to the international community! Together, we can prevent a large-scale environmental catastrophe.

Don’t forget to click on the “subscribe” button and share this video! Watch the previous videos on this channel about the environmental disaster in Norilsk.

Contacts for the press:
https://www.instagram.com/gkavanosyan/
https://vk.com/kavanosyan
https://t.me/ecozhora
https://t.me/time11
george@kavanosyan.ru

View this post on Instagram

Dear Greta! My name is George Kavanosyan, I’m a hydrogeologist, an environment and climate activist from Russia. The worst Arctic ecological disaster ever happened in my country at the end of May. More than 20 thousand tons of diesel fuel spilled into the Daldykan River, the Ambarnaya river, Lake Pyasino and the Pyasina river. Now the contaminant is getting closer to the Arctic Ocean or it is already there. Such an enormous amount of fuel contaminating the shore, the sludge and the water can culminate in total elimination of the most sensitive world ecosystem. The situation requires urgent actions of international environmental institutes and extensive media coverage. ⠀ The main problem is that the accident causer Mr Potanin is trying to hide the true scale of the tragedy. The responsible authorities under his control deliberately hush up the fact that the contaminant is moving to the north. The media is trying to downplay the magnitude of the disaster. I personally had to visit the oil spill and to make some analyses confirming the catastrophic state of Arctic rivers and lakes. I published the results on my YouTube channel. I’m taking a big risk proclaiming these problems since it isn’t known how Mr Potanin and his security service will react. ⠀ That’s why I ask you, Greta, to support the dissemination of this information, to show this letter to your colleages, honest reporters you know, environmental activists and organizations. It’s the only way for us to impact on the local oligarchs, it’s the only way to save the most sensitive Arctic region and to preserve it for future generations. ⠀ Yours faithfully George Kavanosyan ⠀ @gretathunberg @leonardodicaprio @fridaysforfuture.russia @fridaysforfuture @greenpeace @wwf #potaninarctickiller #getpotaninpaid

A post shared by George Kavanosyan (@gkavanosyan) on

Thanks to Anastasia Shaboltas and Gabriel Levy for the heads-up. For more mainstream accounts of the environmental disaster in Norilsk, see the accounts published by the Moscow Times and the Norwegian-Russian environmental organization Bellona. YouTube video annotation translated by the Russian Reader

greta

Total Victory for Protesters in Shiyes

znakcom-862247-580x387Shiyes Railway Station. Photo courtesy of Znak.com

Arkhangelsk Authorities Announce Closure of Shiyes Landfill Project 
Znak.com
June 9, 2020

The Arkhangelsk regional government has unilaterally terminated its agreement with Technopark LLC on overseeing the investment project for the construction of a landfill at Shiyes. The decision was announced on June 9 by the press service of the region’s governor and the regional government.

The project has lost the preferential granted to priority investment projects in the region, including tax incentives and special conditions for leasing land plots. Arkhangelsk authorities had earlier asked Technopark to terminate the contract by mutual agreement, but the company did not respond, officials explain.

“Alexander Tsybulsky, the acting governor of Arkhangelsk Region, ordered the regional government to terminate the Shiyes Ecotechnopark project,” said Yevgeny Avtushenko, the regional government’s deputy chair. “The decision to remove it from the register of priority investment projects in the Arkhangelsk Region was the next stage in this process.”

Construction on the landfill near Shiyes railroad station in Arkhangelsk Region began in 2018. The plan was to bring about half a million tons of waste annually from Moscow and Moscow Region over twenty years. Technopark LLC invested in the construction project. Residents of the region strongly opposed the dump, and environmental activists set up a camp near Shiyes station and declared an indefinite protest campaign. In 2019, there was a series of clashes between opponents of the landfill and security forces.

Construction of the landfill was supported by the now-former governor of Arkhangelsk Region, Igor Orlov, who called environmental activists “riffraff.” Orlov was forced to resign in early 2020. Alexander Tsybulsky, who took his place, had criticized the landfill.

Construction work at Shiyes was suspended in June 2019 due to protests, and a few months later Shiyes was excluded from the list of places where authorities planned to ship Moscow’s garbage. In January 2020, the Arkhangelsk Regional Arbitration Court ruled the permanent buildings on the site of the future landfill illegal, ordering the investor to demolish them. The lawsuit, which took almost a year, was filed by officials in the neighboring village of Urdoma with the support of the local population. Environmental activists hailed the court’s decision as a historic victory.

Translated by the Russian Reader. If you’d like a sense of what the struggle in Shiyes looked like before the court and local authorities took the side of the protesters, read “Shiyes: The Cost of Solidarity” and “Neocolonialism.”

Fishers of Men

Riot Police Prevent Fishing Near Local Power Plant
SIA PRESS
April 27, 2020

Riot police [OMON] in Surgut prevented fishing in a body of water near the local power plant. Some fishermen had to be caught on the run with machine guns at the ready, while others refused to fall afoul of the security forces and voluntarily returned their catch. No one was injured as a result of the operation.

Fishing is prohibited in Yugra till May 31 due to flowing ice and spawning. In addition, there is now a ban on people leaving their houses due to the self-isolation regime imposed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

As SIA PRESS learned, the regional fish conservancy has been carrying out raids at bodies of water and fining fishermen for violating the law. Inspectors have been assisted in their raids by the security forces, including regular police, riot police [OMON], and the Russian National Guard.

fishermanSurgut fisherman fleeing from riot police

All violators face two fines at once—the first, from one to thirty thousand rubles, for violation of isolation, and the second, for fishing. When bans are in effect, double penalties are applied to the entire catch, so the amount of the fine depends on how many fish the men managed to catch.

Image courtesy of SIA PRESS. Translated by the Russian Reader

Andrei Rudomakha, Russia’s Most Famous Environmentalist

rudomakhaAndrei Rudomakha. Photo courtesy of his Facebook page and the Moscow Times

On the Watch: The Story of Andrei Rudomakha, Russia’s Most Famous Environmentalist
Vladimir Prikhodko and Angelina Davydova
Proekt
October 2, 2019

Protests against waste landfills, the clearcutting of parks, and illegally enclosed forests—the environment has been a frequent topic of regional protests in Russia. Persecution by the authorities, criminal cases, beatings, and even murders are everyday risks for environmental activists. Proekt tells the story of the persecution of the head of Environmental Watch of the North Caucasus (EcoWatch), which has been going on for almost forty years.

They go to bed late in the private house on Kerchenskaya Street in Krasnodar. The place resembles a commune. This is the home and office of Andrei Rudomakha and Environmental Watch of the North Caucasus aka EcoWatch, perhaps the most famous grassroots environmental organization in Russia. Rudomakha has led EcoWatch for fifteen years.

At 5:55 a.m. on July 30, everyone was asleep. At that moment, Investigative Committee investigator Sergei Kalashnikov and an unidentified FSB officer in a mask rang the doorbell. Not waiting for the homeowner to open the door, they ordered Emergencies Ministry officers to break down the gate. Within a couple of minutes, officers in masks had flooded the house, and two masked men with automatic rifles had thrown Rudomakha to the floor. When Rudomakha attempted to get up, the officer holding the activist pepper-sprayed him in the face.

Enemies of the State
This was the fifth search at EcoWatch in less than three years, and the second in the last four months.

“That morning, I was supposed to go to court in Maykop to face charges that we allegedly broke the law on ‘undesirable organizations’ by linking to Open Russia’s website on our sites and social media pages. My trip was canceled because of the search, and no one from our group was at the court hearing. Naturally, we lost the case,” says Rudomakha, meeting with our correspondent at the selfsame commune-like house.

EcoWatch was the first nonprofit organization in Russia to be found guilty of collaborating with Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s Open Russia.

In recent years, the number of environmental protests in various regions of Russia has certainly grown—from campaigns against waste landfills in parts of European Russia to protests against coal dust in the port of Nakhodka, in the country’s Far East, says Svyatoslav Zabelin, coordinator for the International Socio-Ecological Union. The most turbulent environmental protests of the past summer were in the village of Shiyes in Arkhangelsk Region, where the authorities wanted to transport garbage from Moscow. It was in the village of Loginovskaya in Arkhangelsk Region where Rudomakha was born fifty-five years ago.

rud-2
A 2018 protest rally in Severodvinsk against the Shiyes landfill. Source: activatica.org

“My father was a descendant of Kuban Cossacks. My mother is from Perm. That is where my parents met when they were at university. After their studies, they were assigned to work in the taiga in Arkhangelsk Region, on one of the local farms. Shortly after, we all moved to my father’s native land, the Taman Peninsula. I was still a very young child when my parents divorced. My mother raised me on her own. She worked for more than forty years in the village of Oktyabrsky in the Seversky District, where we relocated. The test fields of the Tobacco, Shag, and Tobacco Products Research Institute were located there.”

At the age of sixteen, Andrei set out for Cuba. He went to Moscow, supposedly to matriculate at the university, and along the way, he hopped a freight train in order to leave the Soviet Union—but he was found by frontier guards at the Romanian border.

“During the interrogation, the KGB guys thought long and hard about what to do with me,” Rudomakha says with a laugh. “After all, I had said to them, ‘Send me to Cuba, to a school for revolutionaries.’ The KGB officers reacted to this with their peculiar sense of humor and sent me to the Kishinev Mental Hospital. I was retrieved from there by my mother. From that point on I’ve never been out of the sight [of the authorities].”

rud-3
Andrei Rudomakha and his mother

This was how the secret services, rebellion, and forests came into Rudomakha’s life.

“A military coup occurred in Chile in 1973. All of the news contrasted sharply with the reality in which I lived. Oktyabrsky was a very boring place. Books were my salvation. And the forest. I rather quickly got keen on hikes in the woods. Che Guevara was my idol and hero.”

Rudomakha studied Spanish and Greek, began playing guitar and formed a band. He calls his mid-1980s self a “rocker.” In 1987, immediately after his army service, Andrei was offered a job at the Krasnodar House of Young Pioneers, in the Candle Amateur Song Club.

The Rocker
Peaceful and troubled
Troubled and easy
What infuses the air
In the meadows around Pseushkho?

These are lines from a poem by the bard poet Vladimir “Berg” Lantzberg. In the 1980s, he was living in Tuapse, putting together amateur song festivals and establishing the first communes. It was then that Rudomakha first encountered the communard scene, whose principles he would later adopt. The Pseushkho of which Lantzberg sang is a mountain with an Adyghe name in Krasnodar Territory’s Tuapse District. In 2019, Rudomakha would protest against the construction of a limestone quarry there.

In the 1980s, however, the Kuban was fighting another construction project. A nuclear power plant was slated to be built in the Energetiki district of the village of Mostovskaya. In its waning years, the Soviet Union had planned to build dozens of such plants, from Crimea to the Ural Mountains.

rud-4Several Soviet nuclear plants whose construction was begun in the late 1970s and early 80s were not completed. After the breakup of the USSR, one of those stations, Krymskaya, came in handy anyway—not, however, for the nuclear energy industry, but for purveyors of electronic music: it became the venue for the Republic of KaZantip festival of electronic dance music.

“Back in the early 80s, the mammoth construction of a power plant similar to Chernobyl began. In 1988, I was one of the people behind a protest rally. We organized it near Goryachy Klyuch on Lysaya Gora.  I remember how we went underground and hid from the KGB. It was then that I first crossed paths with the Nature Conservation Brigades (DOPs), which had been organized at the universities,” recounts Rudomakha.

During perestroika, university students were often certified as conservation, fishing, and hunting inspectors; these groups were then dispatched into the forests to arrest poachers. Later, alumni of the DOPs would become the backbone of the Russian branches of the WWF and Greenpeace.

Like nearly all the nuclear power plants whose construction kicked off at the turn of the 70s and 80s, construction at the Krasnodar plant was soon frozen. But Rudomakha’s career as a music teacher also came to a screeching halt: KGB officers showed up at the Young Pioneers House, and Rudomakha lost his job. His employment at the Candle Club would be the only entry in his official work record book.

The Communard
Over the last nine years, four criminal cases have been brought against Rudomakha, and seven police searches conducted. He has been jailed on misdemeanor convictions more than fifty times. In the end, EcoWatch was even declared a “foreign agent,” although the decision was reconsidered last year.

In recent years, the growing physical and legal pressure on environmental activists has been as big a trend as the increase in the number of environmental protest rallies. Among the main methods of pressure are forcible dispersal of protests by police, pressure on activists at work, threats to relatives, court cases, straightforward violence, and even murder. In March 2019, environmental activist Denis Shtroo was murdered in Kaluga while participating in, among other things, a campaign against the building of a waste landfill near the village of Mikhali.

______________________________________________________________

Intimidation of Russian Environmental Activists in the First Five Months of 2019
According to information from the Russian Socio-Ecological Union

rud-5Denis Shtroo

activist murdered. In March 2019, environmentalist Denis Shtroo died of stab wounds in Kaluga. He was involved in a campaign against the construction of a waste landfill in the village of Mikhali.

5 cases of criminal prosecution.

7 attacks on activists, attacks on dwellings, property damage, and police searches.

110 cases of administrative prosecution. The total in fines has amounted to more than a million rubles [approx. 12,000 euros].

In 2019, cases of intimidation against environmentalists were most often recorded in Shiyes, Arkhangelsk Region, where illegal construction of a landfill for Moscow’s solid household waste is underway; in Yekaterinburg, where activists were defending the city’s green spaces; and, as in years past, against activists from Stop GOK, in Chelyabinsk, and EcoWatch.

______________________________________________________________

When the New Russia of the early 90s dawned, Rudomakha was in the woods.

“I decided to build a commune at Kisha Station in the Caucasus Nature Reserve. It is a secluded place in Adygea’s Maykop District. Later, our base moved to Ust-Sakhray. In 1988, for a ridiculously small amount of money (the cost of a Zaporozhets car), we bought a house there. It was an area of abandoned villages that people were trying to leave, but we were doing the opposite. I lived in Ust-Sakhray until 1995. I won’t mention the names of the comrades with whom I started out. Many have their own lives and families now,” he says.

Andrei has his own way of viewing everyday life. Remembering those days, he says with regret that the communes fell apart because people started romantic relationships and left.

“We had a lot of ideas: we wanted to transform all of Sakhray and build a public school. My first daughter was born there, and my wife left — she preferred me to another. All of our ideas were shattered by the internal conflicts and disagreements that arose among the settlers. And, basically, I regret that we sat out perestroika in the mountains. It would have been better, of course, in the city,” he says.

The New Russia brought big money to the Kuban. With its sea, mountains, forests, and springs, the southern region attracted businessmen and politicians from Moscow. Some businessmen began to cut down wood on the unique Bolshoi Thach Mountain and haul it out with helicopters.

“And I came out of the woods. The times had drastically changed, as it turned out. Grassroots organizations were on the upswing,” Rudomakha says.

Soon Rudomakha would turn up in Maykop, where he lived in a small house at a weather station run by Vladimir Karatayev, leader of the Union of the Slavs of Adygea. There a branch of the Socio-Environmental Union would be opened, the first environmental organization founded by Rudomakha.

rud-6Rudomakha examines a forest clearcutting in the Caucasus Nature Reserve

“With money from western foundations, we bought a computer and a modem—and things took off. We organized protest rallies, spiked tree trunks, and stopped clearcutting. And, as a result, Bolshoi Thach was made part of the Western Caucasus UNESCO World Heritage Site,” Rudomakha explains.

Pandora’s Box
The planet in Ursula K. Le Guin’s cult science fiction novella The Word for World Is Forest is called Athshe. This planet would become the prototype for Pandora in the movie Avatar, and would also give its name to Rudomakha’s 1990s commune, from which EcoWatch arose. Le Guin grew up in leftist Berkeley and was interested in anarchism and environmental movements. In her novella, the kind forest inhabitants, called “creechies” by earthlings, defend their planet from the “yumens.” Athshe Commune was also focused on environmental protests. Commune members took names from the novella’s characters.

Today, activists would be jailed for many of the protest actions carried out then. Rudomakha’s commune took part in many of them alongside the Federal Anarchists of Kuban (FAK) and radical environmentalists from the Keepers of the Rainbow.

“We were always blocking or blockading something,” Rudomakha recalls. “There were tragedies, too. In 1997, we locked ourselves together with metal chains and blocked the road to Sochi. A crazy trucker drove at us, who knows why, and Anya Koshikovaya’s hand was torn off. In the late 90s, this sort of thing brought palpable results. We seriously considered the idea of creating a guerrilla environmental army, to waste everyone. The forests here are wonderful—one could be guerrillas endlessly. Theoretically, if the necessary contingent of people were found, all this would be quite feasible. To do that you would need to break with your usual life and go rogue. Basically, I’ve been ready for that since childhood. If I could find five people just as mad as me!”

rud-7An environmental protest involving Rudomakha, 1990s

In the finale of Le Guin’s novella, the creechies surround and kill almost all the earthlings. They are especially keen to hunt down the women to prevent new generations of humans from taking over their forests.

Palace Coup
“Sanya [i.e., Alexander] is a thief”: in November 2011, Rudomakha’s comrades in arms spray-painted this graffiti, among others, on the fence of a luxurious estate on the Black Sea shore in Blue Bay, not far from Tuapse. The estate was officially called the Agrocomplex JSC Recreation Center, and it was owned by the family of Alexander Tkachov, former Krasnodar Territory governor and former Russian federal agriculture minister. For all of 2011, enviro-activists battled against this dacha, on whose premises rare trees were presumably being clearcut and access to the sea was illegally fenced. A protest action in November, during which one section of the fence fell, was the last for many activists. Agrocomplex soon filed criminal charges for property damage. Rudomakha’s comrade in arms Suren Gazaryan left the country after receiving political asylum in Estonia. (He now lives in Germany.) Yevgeny Vitishko, another EcoWatchman, was given a three-year suspended sentence, with two years of probation; in December 2013, the suspended sentence was replaced with a real one, and Vitishko served more than a year in a work-release penal colony near Tambov. Amnesty International recognized the activist as a prisoner of conscience.

rud-8“Sanya is a thief”: graffiti on the illegally erected fence in Blue Bay

“The constitution is in a noose, Vitishko is in prison,” Pussy Riot sang at the time. And, in fact, environmental protests against palaces owned by high-ranking officials and the upcoming Sochi Winter Olympics were perhaps the main public issue in southern Russia in the early 2010s.

EcoWatch had taken on palaces practically from its official founding in 2004. There was good reason to work on the issue—the Kuban had become a favorite spot for both officials and businessmen.

______________________________________________________________

rud-9Putin’s palace on Cape Idokopas. Source: navalny.com

The Kuban—Homeland of Palaces: Vladimir Putin’s Palace

In 2010, businessman Sergei Kolesnikov told the world about the construction of a luxurious palace for the Russian president. The site was located in the Kuban, not far from Praskoveyevka on Cape Idokopas. In 2006, the land plot was transferred from the Russian Federation to the Tuapse Vacation House of the Office of Presidential Affairs, and then to the Indokopas Company in 2010.

According to EcoWatch, during construction of the residence and the roads leading up to it, more than forty-five hectares of forest were clearcut; among them, parcels harboring the threatened Pitsunda Pine (Pinus pityusa) were destroyed. According to the calculations of EcoWatch and Greenpeace, the damage from illegal clearcutting came to more than 2.7 billion rubles. Inquiries to the authorities from EcoWatch about the illegal cutting on the palace territory went unanswered.

[Note: the original article in Russian also has short briefs on the Kuban “dachas” of Dmitry Medvedev, Yevgeny Prigozhin, Alexander Tkachov, Alexander Remezkov, Patriarch Kirill, and Anatoly Serdyukov. — TRR]

______________________________________________________________

“Lots of federal officials have dachas on the coast. And basically, we don’t care who owns them. We’d like for those people not to behave like swine. It doesn’t matter whose they are,” says Rudomakha.

The first and perhaps most well-known victory was scored in 2009 when the Watchmen halted construction of a proposed dacha for Dmitri Medvedev in the tiny town of Utrish.

The campaign against environmental violations in the runup to the Olympics brought Rudomakha and EcoWatch international fame: foreign journalists flocked to them in droves. Rudomakha is now certain that the series of refusals by European cities to bid to host the Olympic games (for example, when residents of Munich voted no in a referendum on the city’s bidding for the 2022 Olympics) came about precisely because “we succeeded in creating an image of the Sochi Olympics as the most anti-environmental, expensive, and absurd in the entire history of the Olympic movement.”

“It was then that the authorities started to vigorously persecute us,” Rudomakha says about the time. “I understood that serious ‘winds of change’ had begun to blow. They no longer tried to sit down at the negotiating table with us, and cops chased us around the woods. It was kind of funny.”

The Autocrat
“Andrei’s authoritarianism has always been my number one problem,” Yevgeny Vitishko now recounts. In 2016, he and another well-known EcoWatch alumnus, Suren Gazaryan, left the organization.

“From the outside, the Watch looked quite democratic, but in fact everything revolved around one person. His leadership style can be described in sociological terms as narcissistic,” says Gazaryan.

Vitishko and Rudomakha have since reconciled. However, for many, the head of EcoWatch remains a fanatic with autocratic manners.

For several years, local and even national media have been publishing stories about Rudomakha hinting that he is guilty of everything from pedophilia to cooperating secretly with officials. Rudomakha calls the reports nonsense, saying that the regional government is behind them.

rud-9“Gazprom is a murderer” / “Stop Blue Stream”: Kuban environmentalists protesting against Gazprom 

Rudomakha does not separate the personal from his work life: he admits that his activism has not affected his family’s fortunes in the best of ways. The first floor of the rented house on Kerchenskaya is used as an office, while the second floor is home to Rudomakha and his second daughter, who, in the wake of her parents’ divorce, enrolled in university in Krasnodar and moved in with her father. Rudomakha had once hoped that his daughter would also become an environmentalist, but now he has lost that hope.

“I am quite pessimistic when I assess the evolution of Russia’s environmental movement,” says Rudomakha. “The population is very inert and severely intimidated, and the level of passionarity among people is at a minimum. People rise up, for the most part, only when they are personally affected. If there were organizations like ours in every region, it would be possible to change the situation in this arena and in the country as a whole. After all, a large number of such organizations would naturally make it necessary for them to unite.”

“I haven’t seen an influx of new people into EcoWatch,” notes Rudomakha’s former colleague Gazaryan. “Andrei’s lifestyle and views are on the fringe, and his office is also his residence. It’s hard to work in this environment. And there is no [broad environmental] movement in Russia. There are separate organizations and local groups, but they have no coordination or goals. They are not represented on the political level, and fall apart after a problem is solved,” Gazaryan says, but after thinking about it, he adds that he could be mistaken. “I haven’t lived in Russia for a long time.”

* * *

Late in the evening of December 28, 2017, Rudomakha, his colleague Viktor Chirikov, and journalist Vera Kholodnaya had just arrived at the commune house on Kerchenskaya. Rudomakha had just exited the car when three men ran up to him. Dousing him in the eyes with pepper spray, they knocked him down to the ground and kicked him repeatedly. He lost consciousness. Chirikov was beaten less, and Kholodnaya was only “blinded” by the pepper spray. After that, the attackers took several cameras and a GPS navigator from the car. The entire incident lasted no more than two minutes.

Doctors diagnosed Rudomakha with broken bones in his face and nose, a concussion, and pneumocephalus—the leakage of air into his cranial cavity. He spent three weeks in the hospital.

An investigation into the attack yielded no results. But the enviro-activists have their own theory. They had returned that day from a trip to the area around the village Krinitsa, a small resort in Gelendzhik. There, in the forest, construction had begun on a site resembling a wine-making chateau—such was EcoWatch’s assessment. A prefabricated chapel had also been erected there by order of Axis Investment JSC.  The owner of this firm is Alexei Toth, a business partner of Nikolai Yegorov, who is a well-known Petersburg lawyer and a personal friend of Vladimir Putin.

Translated by Mary Rees. Except where noted, all photos courtesy of Proekt.

People and Nature

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I can recommend no blog more highly than People and Nature. Whether you’re interested in climate change and the environment, energy, Russia, Syria, Ukraine, the UK, labor and social movements, international solidarity campaigns or history, Gabriel Levy has written so many incise, supremely well-grounded articles and interventions on these subjects since 2011 that it would take a month of Sundays to take all of them in. But since you’ll undoubtedly learn more about our world by reading People and Nature than by subjecting yourself to the endless eardrum buzz of media and social media, this is exactly what you should do.

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I hope, dear readers, you get time for reflection, rejuvenation and relaxation in the midwinter holidays. If you find yourself reaching for your phone for something to read – then, rather than winding yourself up with news of Boris Johnson’s vileness, go a level more thoughtful: look at those People & Nature articles you missed out on first time round. Here is some stuff that has stood the test of time. Thanks for your interest, and see you all (virtually or really) in the 2020s.

Image courtesy of People and Nature