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.

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

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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

Always Open for You

always for you

It is important, I guess, to make note of the Putin regime’s now innumerable crimes at home and abroad, although it is practically pointless.

At home, in Russia, the progressive intelligentsia is more interested in debating meaningless “issues” like the virtues or, alternately, the vices of Greta Thunberg than it is in doing much of anything about the regime that has happily trampled all of its real and imagined opponents and enemies scot-free for twenty years while also destroying the rule of law, the welfare state, the education system, medical care, the environment, etc., and, just for fun, has also brutally put down a rebellion in Russia’s hinterlands (Chechnya), invaded three countries (Georgia, Ukraine, Syria), assassinated numerous “enemies” on foreign soil, and recklessly meddled in the domestic affairs and elections of numerous other countries all over the world.

But who cares? My experience of writing about these things for twelve years is that most people (including most people in Russia itself, bizarrely) are keen to give the Putin regime a free pass whenever possible, meaning it has only gained more confidence in the “justice” of its perverted cause over the years.

What is this cause? Ensuring that Putin and his circle remain in power in perpetuity and thus, in control, of the country’s vast wealth, which they dispense of as if it were their personal property.

Public indifference has been most depressingly on display when it comes to Russia’s decisive and murderous military intervention, launched four years ago, in defense of Bashar Assad’s criminal regime in Syria.

Frankly, I have no clue why Russians would need unfettered access to the World Wide Web when they signally have failed to make any noise or, as far as I can tell, even find out anything about their government’s baleful role in the world today.

In fact, if they think about it at all, I imagine they kind of like it. It makes them feel important. [TRR]

Thanks to Harald Etzbach and Boycott Russia Today for the heads-up. Thanks also to Sheen Gleeson for her abiding support. Photo by the Russian Reader

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Putin Begins Installing Equipment To Cut Russia’s Access To World Wide Web
Zak Doffman
Forbes
September 24, 2019

Earlier this year, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the Russian Internet (Runet) [sic] into law to protect the country’s communications infrastructure in case it was disconnected from the World Wide Web—or so he said. Critics argued it was opening a door to a Chinese-style firewall disconnecting Russia from the outside world.

Now, Alexander Zharov, the head of the federal communications regulator Roskomnadzor, has confirmed to reporters that “equipment is being installed on the networks of major telecom operators,” and Runet [sic] would begin testing by early October. Such testing, reporters were told, is known as “combat mode.”

When the legislation was introduced there was some debate as to whether it would work in practice. The government claimed its objective was to deal with “threats to the stable, safe and integral operation of the Russian Internet on Russian territory,” by centralizing “the general communications network.” This would work by deploying an alternative domain name system (DNS) for Russia to steer its web traffic away from international servers. ISPs are mandated to comply.

The Moscow Times reported at the time that “Russia carried out drills in mid-2014 to test the country’s response to the possibility of its internet being disconnected from the web—the secret tests reportedly showed that isolating the Russian internet is possible, but that ‘everything’ would go back online within 30 minutes.”

As for this “combat testing,” Zharov has assured [sic] that everything would be done “carefully,” according to local media reports, explaining that “we will first conduct a technical check—affects traffic, does not affect traffic, do all services work.” The plan is for all of this testing to be completed by the end of October.

Although the regulator has been keen to emphasize that Runet [sic] is only for deployment when the system is perceived to be “in danger,” there is a clear question as to where and how such a decision would be taken. Such threats have been classified as “impacts to the integrity of networks, the stability of networks, natural or man-made impacts, or security threats,” all pretty wide-ranging classifiers.

Russia’s recent moves to shut down cellular data traffic to stymie anti-Putin protesters and government warnings that social media access may be curtailed have not brought much confidence to its tech-savvy citizens.

Runet [sic] is due to go live in November. According to Freedom On The Net, “Russian internet freedom has declined for the sixth year in a row, following government efforts to block the popular messaging app Telegram and numerous legislative proposals aimed at restricting online anonymity and increasing censorship.”

And there are no signs of that getting any better any time soon.

NB. “Runet” is a term that has long been used to denote the Russian or Russian-language segment of the Internet. Why Mr. Doffman thought it was something that would go online only in November or was “signed into law” is beyond me. But then I also do not understand why a respectable magazine like Forbes would not only fail to fact-check his article but also neglect to proofread it. I had to do the proofreading for them. [TRR]

“Really Frightening”: Trees Dry Up and Toadstools Vanish in Karelia After Explosion near Severodvinsk

“Really Frightening”: Trees Dry Up and Toadstools Vanish in Karelia After Explosion near Severodvinsk
Guberniya Daily
August 22, 2019

Residents of Karelia’s Kem District have sounded the alarm. Tree in the district have turned yellow and mushrooms have disappeared after the explosion near Severodvinsk, they claim.

“Ten days after [the accident], the vegetation on the islands in the White Sea near the settlement of Rabocheostrovsk took on a very unhealthy appearance. I get the impression the trees, grass, and moss burned flamelessly. Even toadstools and fly agaric, habitues of these locales, have disappeared on the islands. I would like you to clarify whether any tests will be made, what the republic’s government plans to do in general in response to this issue, and how people’s health will be affected,” a user identified as “Irina Kudryashova” wrote in a letter to Karelian Governor Arthur Parfenchikov, which she also posted on the VK wall “City of Kem Public Oversight.

Kudryashova posted the following photos to back up her claims. She also posted a short video entitled “Yak Island Today August 18, 2019.”

In the same thread, someone identified as “Galina Ivankova” wrote that she was “really frightened.”

“Some men from Belomorsk went out to sea, but when they got to Shuyiretskoye there were warships at anchor there and a yellow cloud overhead. They got turned back: they weren’t allowed to go out into the sea. So welcome to Chernobyl Karelia. Thanks to the mad nuclear scientists,” a person identified as “Oleg Bachanov” wrote in another discussion on the same wall.

“The situation is the same on Yak Island: everything withered and dried in no time. In recent years, especially after 2009, I have noticed that, from the north and the northeast, all the woods and grass on the islands look as if they have been covered in brown paint. There are no berries or mushrooms in these patches,” replied a user identified as “Sandro Avtushenko.”

On August 8, a liquid rocket propulsion system exploded during testing on an offshore platform in the Arkhangelsk Region. Eight Rosatom employees [sic] were hurt; five of them were killed. Fearing radiation, residents of Severodvinsk and Arkhangelsk made a run on iodine in pharmacies.

After the explosion, radiation levels were sixteen times higher than normal in Severodvinsk. Higher levels of background radiation were also recorded in Norway a week after the blast.

Translated by the Russian Reader. NB. The original text was heavily edited to reflect the fact that the claims cited in the article were made by four discrete users on a VK community wall in Kem, Republic of Karelia, not by an indefinitely large number of “residents.”

areaThe area of Northwest Russia, encompassing parts of the Republic of Karelia and Arkhangelsk Region, discussed in the article. Image courtesy of Google Maps

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Putin Says No Radiation Threat from Recent Explosion, But Mum on Details of Accident
The Associated Press (via CBC News)
Aug 21, 2019

Russian President Vladimir Putin insisted Wednesday that a recent deadly explosion at a military testing site in northwestern Russia hasn’t posed any radiation threat, but he remained coy about the circumstances of the mysterious incident.

Speaking after talks in Helsinki with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto, Putin emphasized that neighboring nations haven’t recorded any spike in radioactivity.

“These are the objective data,” he said. “These things can be tracked.”

The Aug. 8 incident at the Russian navy’s range in Nyonoksa on the White Sea killed two servicemen and five nuclear engineers. It was followed by a brief rise in radiation levels in nearby Severodvinsk, but the authorities insisted the recorded levels didn’t pose any danger to local residents.

Russian officials’ changing and contradictory accounts of the incident drew comparisons to Soviet attempts to cover up the 1986 explosion and fire at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine, the world’s worst nuclear disaster.

The Russian Defense Ministry at first denied any radiation leak in the incident even as the authorities in nearby Severodvinsk reported a brief rise in radiation levels and advised residents to stay indoors and close the windows. Frightened residents rushed to buy iodine, which can help reduce risks from exposure to radiation.

Russia’s state weather and environmental monitoring agency said the peak radiation reading in Severodvinsk on Aug. 8 was 1.78 microsieverts per hour in just one neighborhood, about 16 times the average. Peak readings in other parts of Severodvinsk varied between 0.45 and 1.33 microsieverts.

The announced peak levels were indeed lower than the cosmic radiation that plane passengers are exposed to on longer flights or doses that patients get during some medical scans.

No detail on weapon tested
The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization (CNTBTO) said earlier this week that several Russian radiation monitoring stations went silent shortly after the explosion in Nyonoksa. Lassina Zebro, the organization’s executive secretary, said Tuesday that the two Russian stations reported to be offline were back in operation and are now backfilling the data.

Observers said that several stations coming offline at the same time appeared to reflect a coordinated effort to conceal the radiation data, which could help identify the technology that was being tested at the time of the explosion.

Putin hailed the victims, saying they were doing “very important work for the nation’s security,” but kept mum on what type of weapon they were testing.

Russia’s state nuclear corporation Rosatom said the explosion occurred on an offshore platform during tests of a “nuclear isotope power source” for a rocket engine, a statement that led some experts to conclude that the weapon undergoing tests was the Burevestnik (Storm Petrel), a prospective nuclear-powered cruise missile first mentioned by Putin in 2018 that was code-named Skyfall by NATO.

U.S. President Donald Trump has backed that theory in a tweet, saying that the U.S. is “learning much” from the deadly explosion. In a tweet, he said, “The Russian Skyfall explosion has people worried about the air around the facility, and far beyond. Not good!”

The U.S. worked to develop a nuclear-powered missile in the 1960s under Project Pluto, but abandoned the technology as too unstable and risky.

A Holiday in Chernobyl

Watch Kate Brown’s stunning lecture about the real, terrifying aftermath of the disaster at the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant.

Then buy her fabulous, groundbreaking new book Manual for Survival: A Chernobyl Guide to the Future and read it from cover to cover.

Once you have done this, ask yourself what kind of cynical lunatics would take people on holidays to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.

Chernobyl Cooling Tower

Day 5: Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant
Friday, July 31, 2020

Leaving early from our hotel, we’ll travel by private bus to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. We’ll meet our Chernobyl guide, while a documentary film playing on the bus will bring us up to speed on the accident, its causes, and its many repercussions. On our first day in Chernobyl we’ll visit the reactors themselves to witness ground zero of the accident, admire the new containment structure installed in 2016, as well as check out some of the other facilities around the nuclear power plant. Between excursions, we’ll take lunch in the Chernobyl workers’ canteen, surrounded by scientists and engineers currently stationed at the plant. Later, after a long day of exploring, dinner will be served at a restaurant in Chernobyl town. Our accommodation for the night is at a hotel nearby, located inside the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.

Day 6: The Streets of Pripyat
Saturday, August 1, 2020

At the time of the Chernobyl accident, the workers’ city Pripyat had a population of 49,000 people. It was evacuated soon after the event, and now survives as one of the world’s most famous ghost towns. Today, we’ll get to know this empty city intimately, walking its desolate streets, and visitings its abandoned schools, hospitals, and theaters. We’ll see all of Pripyat’s main landmarks, including the fairground, swimming pools, and also some fabulous street murals. After lunch back at the Chernobyl canteen, we’ll then get to visit one of the Exclusion Zone’s best-kept secrets: the DUGA radar installation, or “Russian Woodpecker,” that rises to a height of 150 meters at the heart of an abandoned Soviet military base. Late in the day we’ll return to the capital for one last night at our Kyiv hotel.

Source: Atlas Obscura. Photo of Chernobyl Cooling Tower by Darmon Richter. Courtesy of Atlas Obscura. Thanks to Louis Proyect for the heads-up on the lecture.

The World’s Largest Toxic Landfill

very toxicThe EU Dangerous Substances Directive classifies methyl mercaptan as “very toxic.” Why has the Russian government increased its maximum allowable concentration in the air by sixty times? Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Russia Raises Limits for Airborne Toxic Chemicals Sixtyfold
finanz.ru
February 19, 2019

The Russian Federal Sanitation and Epidemiology Service and national consumer watchdog Rospotrebnadzor have drastically raised the maximum allowable concentrations (MACs) of harmful substances in the air, including formaldehyde, nitrogen dioxide, and methyl mercaptan, a chemical typically emitted by waste landfills.

The current MAC of methyl mercaptan in the air is sixty times higher than it was ten years ago and 660 times higher than it was in 1999, Greenpeace Russia has reported in a press release.

Moreover, the new MAC for methyl mercaptan exceeds the odor threshold by one and a half to three times, meaning the level at which people living near waste landfills can smell the substance.

Greenpeace Russia noted that the MACs of a number of other air pollutants were increased in 2014 and 2015, for example, formaldehyde and nitrogen dioxide.

According to the previous standards, about 50 million Russians lived in cities where formaldehyde concentrations had been exceeded. After the MACs were relaxed, the statistics “improved.”  They now show, allegedly, that fewer cities are at risk, and only 20 million Russians may be affected by increased concentrations of carcinogens.

“However, according to assessments by Russian and international scientists, the risks presented by formaldehyde concentrations under the new, current guidelines correspond neither to the standards adopted by the Russian Federation nor common sense,” writes Greenpeace Russia, noting that phenol, formaldehyde, and methyl mercaptan are poisons. Constantly inhaling them increases toxicity in the body and reduces immunity.

“This is one of the factors contributing to a manifold increase of the incidence of flu and acute respiratory infections over the last twenty years,” Greenpeace Russia claimed  in its press release.

As grounds for its decision to raise the MACs, Rospotrebnadzor refers to complex toxicological, sanitary, and epidemiological studies, as well as an analysis of international practices, but it refused to provide the specific research findings, Greenpeace Russia reported.

The Human Ecology and Environmental Hygiene Research Institute, which reports to Rospotrebnadzor, claimed no such research had been conducted whatsoever, and all it had provided to Rospotrebnadzor were background, reference materials. But even they were not taken into account when the decision was taken to increase the MACs for phenol and formaldehyde.

On February 18, Greenpeace Russia sent an open letter to the relevant committees in State Duma, the Russian Security Council, the Russian Health Ministry, the Russian Natural Resources Ministry, Rospotrebnadzor, and Rosprirodnadzor, the Russian natural resources watchdog. In the letter, Greenpeace Russia pointed out that the unwarranted changes to the sanitary norms jeopardized the implementation of the priority national environment and health projects.

Thanks to Julia Murashova and the Coalition to Defend Petersburg for the heads-up. See my previous entry, “Denis Stark: Welcome to the Clean Country,” on the topic of waste management in Russia. Translated by the Russian Reader

The Injustice Ministry

rainbowWhile rainbows do occasionally appear in the skies above Russia, the Putin regime has pursued a consistent course of official homophobia and avoidance of the country’s out-of-control HIV epidemic. Photo by the Russian Reader

Russian Justice Ministry Proposes Tightening Oversight of Foreign HIV Prevention Programs
Mediazona
September 3, 2018

The Justice Ministry has drafted a law bill that would introduce a new procedure for running foreign programs in Russia for preventing the spread of HIV. The text of the draft law has been published for public discussion.

The ministry proposes introducing a mandatory notification procedure for all noncommercial organizations planning to combat HIV in Russia, but which receive foreign funding, whether from other countries, international organizations, foreign nationals, stateless persons, their representatives, and Russia legal entities and individuals receiving money and other property from these sources.

After receipt of such a notification, the Justice Ministry will have a month to review it. It will then either have to issue permission to operate in Russia or a substantiated rejection. If a noncommercial organization continues to work on preventing HIV after receiving a rejection notice, it will be abolished.

As the BBC has noted, four foundations preventing the spread of HIV in Russia have been registered as “foreign agents” by the Justice Ministry.

Approximately a million Russians are infected with HIV. In July, RBC reported a spike of infections in Moscow. The Russian Health Ministry responded to the report by claiming the situation was stable. It urged journalists to focus only on official statistics.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Alexei Gastev: How to Work

i_001

“How to Work. The ABCs of Work. Central Institute of Labor.”

Since circumstances were such I had to work all day yesterday instead of whooping it up in the streets with my fellow workers, I thought I would share with you the secret of my success as a dematerialized, anonymous laborer of the invisible front. // TRR

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Alexei Gastev
How to Work

Whether we are working at a desk in an office, filing something with a file in a metalwork shop or, finally, ploughing a piece of land, we must impart discipline to our labour and gradually make it a habit.

These are the first basic rules for all work.
  1. Before taking on a job, you must think it all the way through. You must think it over in such a way that a model of the finished job and the whole order of work methods has taken final shape in your head. If you cannot think everything through, think over the major stages, and think through the first stages of the work thoroughly.
  2. Do not undertake a job until all the tools and equipment you need for the job have been readied.
  3. There should be nothing superfluous at your work station (machine, workbench, table, floor, piece of land) that would cause you to bang into it, fuss about, and stop to look for the right thing among things you do not need.
  4. All tools and equipment must be laid out in a definite order established once and for all so everything can be found without thinking.
  5. You should never undertake a job abruptly and immediately. Do not take off working, but ease into the job little by little. The head and body will then diverge and start functioning. If you jump into the work, you will soon be your own undoing and botch the job. After an abrupt initial burst of energy, the worker soon fades, experiencing fatigue and spoiling the job.
  6. You must sometimes put your shoulder to the wheel, either to cope with something out of the ordinary or take on something in common, as a team. In such cases, you should not immediately go all out, but first get yourself settled. You must tune the whole mind and body, recharge yourself. Next, you must test yourself a bit, feel out the strength required, and only then put your shoulder to the wheel.
  7. You should work as smoothly as possible, avoiding ebbs and flows. Working impulsively and fitfully spoils both the individual and the job.
  8. Your body’s posture while working must be such that you feel comfortable working while at the same time strength is not expended on the utterly unnecessary tasking of keeping the body on its feet. If possible, you should work sitting down. If you cannot sit, keep your legs apart. To keep a leg you have put forward or shifted to the side in place, you must arrange to secure it.
  9. You must rest while working. During hard work, you need to relax more often and, if possible, sit down. Rest breaks are less frequent during easy work, but evenly spaced.
  10. While working you should not drink tea or eat. Drink in extreme cases only to quench your thirst. Nor should you smoke. It is better to smoke during work breaks rather than when you are working.
  11. If the work hits an impasse, do not get worked up, but take a break, get a grip on yourself, and slowly ease yourself back into the work. You should even deliberately slow down to sustain yourself.
  12. During the job itself, especially when things have reached an impasse, you should interrupt the work, put your work station in order, sweep away the rubbish, and take up the work again little by little albeit smoothly.
  13. When working, you should not break away from the work for other matters, except for those neccessary to the job itself.
  14. There is a very bad habit of showing work right after it has been successfully performed. In this case, you should definitely bite the bullet, as they say, get used to your success, and dampen your satisfaction by internalizing it. Otherwise, if you fail in the future, your will shall be poisoned and the work will disgust you.
  15. In the case of complete failure, you must regard the matter lightheartedly and not be upset, start again, as if for the first time, and behave as indicated in Rule No. 11.
  16. After finishing the job, you must clean everything up, including the work, your tools, and your work station. Put everything in a certain place so that when you start work again you can find everything and the work itself does not become unpleasant.

Source: Alexei Gastev, How to Work (1920). Translated by the Russian Reader. Illustration courtesy of ruslit.traumlibrary.net

Denis Lebedev’s Suicide Note

lebedev-1.jpgThe first page of Denis Lebedev’s suicide note. Courtesy of Ivan N. Ivanov

Ivan N. Ivanov
Facebook
26 April 2018

The suicide note of the boy who jumped from a window after the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) intimidated him has been posted on the net.

Denis Lebedev was seventeen years old. He was a brilliant pupil and an Academic Olympics winner in chemistry. Chemistry was his passion in life. He did experiments in a small laboratory at home and dreamed of attending university.

Neighbors complained to the FSB about “explosions” in Lebedev’s flat, and one day the secret services forced their way in Believing Lebedev was either a terrorist or revolutionary, they turned the flat upside down, stole his telephone, computer, and lab equipments, scared him and his parents half to death, and made them sign a nondisclosure agreement.

On April 23, the day of his birthday, Denis was found dead on the ground outside his high-rise apartment building.

lebedev-2The second page of Denis Lebedev’s suicide note. Courtesy of Ivan N. Ivanov

This is addressed to the police, FSB, and other law enforcement agencies.

I’m just completely fucking exhausted. I don’t need anything fucking more from this life. No one induced me [to commit suicide], it was my personal decision.

The only thing I would like to say in the end is that I really fuck hate you motherfuckers.

You took from me the only passion that gave me joy and distracted me from my problems. I really fucking hate your entire government, whose only impulse is to ban the shit out of everything. Well, then you should fucking ban water, because you can use electrolysis to turn water in a canister into a bomb.

And fuck this system, in which my goddamn life depends on a single exam that has been compiled in such a way you cannot make fucking heads or tails of it. It is total shit, tailored to everyone identically.

You don’t need a people. You need a mob of fucking zombies who follow your orders. A separate portion of shit for Yarovaya.

Also, I apologize in advance to everyone to whom I meant something. That is it. I have nothing else to say. The people will say the rest.

To make it easier to identify the pancake on the cement: I am Denis Lebedev.

You can all go fuck yourselves!

Reports on Mr. Lebedev’s suicide in the Russian media:

Thanks to Evgeny Shtorn for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Suicide Invoice

FSB_FlagRussian Federal Security Service (FSB) flag

17-Year-Old, Winner of All-Russia Academic Olympics in Chemisty, Commits Suicide in Moscow Region
Ekho Moskvy
April 25, 2018

The teenager killed himself after the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) paid him a visit.

In his suicide note, the boy wrote, “The state has no need of gifted people.” He also wrote that people like him are “strangled by inspections.”

The teenager was a straight-A student and winner of numerous Academic Olympics. He built himself a mini-laboratory at home, where he did experiments.

Neighbors reported this to law enforcement. Law enforcement officers inspected his flat, and the teenager and his parents signed a nondisclosure agreement, reports Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper.

Thanks to Evgeny Shtorn for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader. Image of FSB flag courtesy of Wikipedia