Kronotsky Nature Reserve Employees Sentenced to Long Prison Terms

The Uzon caldera in the Kronotsky Nature Reserve: Photo: Igor Shpilenok/Kronotsky Nature Reserve

Greenpeace Russia strongly disagrees with the charges against the nature reserve employees.

On July 15, the Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsk City Court found employees of the Kronotsky Nature Reserve guilty of embezzlement in the amount of [454] million rubles [approx. 7.9 million euros]. The money had been allocated from the federal budget to eliminate accumulated environmental damage.

Darya Panicheva, head of the reserve’s scientific department, was sentenced to four years and six months in prison. The court sentenced Roman Korchigin, deputy director for science and educational tourism, to five years in prison. Oksana Terekhova, deputy director for financial and legal support, was sentenced to five years and six months in prison. Nikolai Pozdnyakov, a former employee of the reserve, was also convicted and sentenced to three years in prison. All of them were taken into police custody in the courtroom.

The court also sentenced all the convicted persons to compensate in full the financial damage indicated in the charges and to pay large fines.

None of the reserve employees of the reserve has admitted any wrongdoing. The defense will petition a higher court to review the verdict, seeking to have the charges completely dropped and obtain an acquittal.

The director of the Kronotsky Reserve, Pyotr Shpilenok, commented on the court’s decision.

“I’m in shock,” he said. “Innocent employees have been taken into custody for doing their official duties. We will continue to fight on their behalf — otherwise we wouldn’t know how to go on living and working. There is now only one recourse for us — to go to higher courts and seek the complete dismissal of charges against them. In addition, the reserve is now literally in a state of emergency: it won’t be able to function as before without these key employees. The specialists sent to prison were responsible for the most important areas of work: science, tourism, and economic support. Kronotsky will now have to urgently make some difficult decisions to keep nature protected.”

The Kronotsky Reserve employees were charged with embezzling over 454 million rubles from the federal budget and being involved in an organized criminal group. The money was earmarked for and spent on cleaning up the reserve and eliminating accumulated environmental damage. The Investigative Committee, however, believes that this money was stolen. On June 27, the prosecution requested that the court sentence the accused reserve employees to six to eight years of imprisonment, multimillion-ruble fines, and overall damages of 454.6 million rubles.

The charges caused a massive public outcry, and the trial came to be called the “Clean-Up Case.” The team at the Kronotsky Reserve publicly posted materials that testify to the innocence of the reserve’s employees: paperwork, photos and video footage, witness statements, and official findings by scientific institutions, Rosprirodnadzor, and the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources. They clearly show that there are many discrepancies in the case.

“The Clean-Up Case,” a 21-minute exploration of the case by persons unknown, posted on YouTube on 23 June 2022.
The video is in Russian, without subtitles in other languages.

“I personally know the accused reserve employees and can confirm that they are some of the best and most dedicated specialists in the reserve system,” says Mikhail Kreindlin, project manager for specially protected natural areas at Greenpeace Russia. “Basically, the employees are accused of conscientiously and competently performing their work in assessing the damage caused to the reserve earlier, while the investigation is trying to prove the existence of an organized criminal group by pointing to the organizational structure of the institution that manages the reserve.”

Greenpeace Russia considers the sentence imposed on the employees of the Kronotsky Reserve unfair. Over years of cooperation, the reserve employees have proven themselves to be exceptionally honest and professional people, dedicated to their work.

Source: Greenpeace Russia, “Kronotsky Nature Reserve Employees Sentenced to Up to 5 1/2 Years in Prison,” 15 July 2022. Thanks to Darya Apahonchich for the heads-up. 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