This is the 7×7 team on the line. This newsletter has been written by Oleg Gradov. What inspired the environmental protests at Shiyes and why there is no mass protest nowadays is the subject of our newsletter today.
Approximate reading time: 4 minutes.
I’m sorry if you’re from Moscow and our headline hurts your feelings. No one will be scolding the residents of the capital in this newsletter. The quote “Moscow lost its fucking mind” refers only to the leadership of that city and our country, but we will talk more about this later.
One of the few successful cases of protest in Russia’s recent history is Shiyes. In 2018, the authorities decided to construct a landfill in the Arkhangelsk Region to dispose of the waste produced by residents of the Russian capital. The locals did not like it, they started holding protest rallies, and eventually the landfill project was canceled. For this newsletter, I spoke with Dmitry Sekushin, one of the participants and coordinators of the Shiyes protest movement. Marina Feldt, an ex-staffer with the Navalny organization in Arkhangelsk, spontaneously joined our conversation.
What is Shiyes?
Shiyes is a small railway station in the southeast of the Arkhangelsk Region on the border with the Komi Republic. Protests against the landfill took place between 2018 and 2021. The protests at Shies were heavily supported by residents of the Arkhangelsk Region: [according to a poll by the Levada Center] 95% were opposed to the landfill, while 25% were willing to attend unsanctioned protest rallies. The activists were supported by both Russian and foreign journalists, as well as by residents of thirty Russian regions who were concerned about environmental problems and held protests in their own cities.
“The metropole does what it wants”
Where does such support for a regional protest come from? “The landfill itself would have made only a few people want to fight back,” says Dmitry Sekushin. “You have to understand how people feel about this. In our case, it was the feeling that we are a colony, and the metropole does what it wants with us. The idea that Moscow had lost its fucking mind united people.”
Realizing that you were part of a whole, not a splinter, was an important piece in the protests at Shiyes. People were aware of their responsibility for their native land and were proud of their background. “If someone in 2017 in Arkhangelsk had said that he was a Pomor, people would have thought that he was a freak. But in 2019, everyone was already proud to call themselves Pomors. This does not mean that we want to see Pomorye separated from Russia. It was just a unifying factor,” says Dmitry.
People can unite without becoming a homogeneous mass. The protests at Shiyes were environmental, not political: the activists’ demands had to with the basic human right to a decent environment. “One shouldn’t see the mass of protesters who defended Shiyes as ants,” Dmitry says on this score. “They were completely different people. I don’t see anything surprising about the fact that many of the protesters turned out to be fascists [i.e., they now support the war or are involved in it — 7×7]. They were like that in the first place.”
The goal makes all the difference
An achievable goal defines the methods of protest. “We had a goal — getting the [Shiyes landfill] project canceled. Not overthrowing Putin, not overthrowing Orlov, our [regional] governor. The goal was to shut down the project,” Sekushin emphasizes. Politicizing the protests at Shiyes could have a negative impact on the movement.
However, every day the activists were approached by people who argued that they were “protesting the wrong way.” “Some were dissatisfied with the fact that we did not talk about politics and did not chew out Putin,” says Sekushin.
To preserve the environmental component of the protests, Dmitry had to partly abandon media publicity from the opposition. “In the first few months of our protest, around December 2018, I wrote to Leonid Volkov asking Navalny not to say anything about Shiyes. I understood that the authorities would hold Navalny against us,” he says.
If you hang out on VK, you’ll go down on criminal charges
The activists used social networks to unite the protesters: they ran accounts on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, as well as a group page on VK. In Russia’s regions, VK remains one of the primary social networks even now, despite all the security risks. “We used VKontakte for contact with the outside world. It is wildly popular in the Arkhangelsk Region — 85-90% of social media users are on it. But for internal matters, we used only Telegram, which is a more secure network,” says Sekushin.
Nowadays, many activists do not trust Telegram, preferring instead such open-source messaging apps as Signal and Element.
Why are there no mass protests now?
Whereas, during peacetime, activists tried to separate environmental protests from political protests, it is almost impossible to do so now. On 26 February 2022, the Pechora Rescue Committee published a post on its VK group page demanding an end to the hostilities. “Protecting social, environmental and other human and civil rights is impossible in conditions of war,” the activists wrote in their statement. Movements that were originally focused on the environment began to make political demands, and the environmental protest movement was politicized.
“Last year there were no mass protests in Russia because people are afraid,” he says. “Because they’ve learned to be helpless. This is the result of the yearslong destruction of critical thinking and political competition, and the yearslong implicit social contract [between the Putin regime and the Russian people]: ‘You don’t meddle in politics, and we don’t interfere with your lives.’ This agreement is no longer valid, but it’s too late to change anything.”
At this point, Marina Feldt, an ex-staffer at the Navalny organization’s office in Arkhangelsk, joins my conversation with Dmitry. She argues that people in Russia support the war because it gives them positive emotions.
“The main idea of the protests at Shiyes was ‘Moscow is fucked in the head,'” she says. “This is the idea of disconnection: there is Moscow, and and then there is us — Pomorye. But the war in Ukraine is driven by the idea of unification. People in the regions often lack a sense of involvement with the rest of Russia; it seems to them that that they are unwanted. But this war is where people can feel needed by their Motherland. The government has humiliated people so much that now they can rejoice in something that would not be considered decent under normal circumstances.”
Dmitry Sekushin argues that any country can be brought to such a state: “If you propagandized a European country like this for twenty-two years, it too would become fascist.”
Building on the work of Sergei and Elena Smirenski, Muraviovka Park for Sustainable Land Use was established in 1994 through a collaboration between the International Socio-Ecological Union, the International Crane Foundation, and Pop Group Co., Ltd. A year later this land and adjacent areas were added to the list of wetlands of international importance by the Ramsar Convention. Muraviovka Park boasts over 700 species of vascular plants and over 300 species of birds, including six species of cranes. It is a critically important area for White-naped, Red-crowned and Hooded Cranes, Oriental White Stork, Yellow-breasted Bunting and other avian species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species. The park’s activities include monitoring numbers of wild cranes, managing a captive breeding program of endangered cranes to release the cranes into the wild. The park works to prevents forest fires, conducts reforestation, organizes annual international summer camps at Muraviovka Park and in other parts of the Amur River Basin, including China, hosts tourists, and organizes festivals. The 16,000 acres on which this park sits is leased to the park through 2058. Sergei and Elena will update us on the park and its inhabitants.
Presented by the Kirtland Bird Club. To register, head HERE.
Thanks to the Monterey Audubon Society for the heads-up. ||| TRR
Violetta Ryabko, head of Greenpeace Russia’s media department
“Better not open the refrigerator: I brought back radioactive mushrooms from Bryansk Region for analysis!” Rashid once said. I remember how, at the office, I had voiced my desire to go picking mushrooms, and Rashid replied, “Brilliant! We need to make a map of where the radioactive mushrooms near Petersburg are, and where it is better not to pick them.”
Rashid had so much energy and desire to solve the environmental problems he was dealing with. He could spend days and nights reading thousands of pages of reports to find the truth, as he did with the 2017 ruthenium leak, whose cause was revealed to the world by Rashid. He knew how not to give into despair and write about each new attempt to import uranium tailings into Russia. He was attentive to every detail, word, and comma in the materials that we prepared. We wrote a lot of releases together, fought against the construction of a waste incinerator, and issued a brochure that is still used by activists all over the country. It was never just a job. We supported each other, made each other laugh, and figured out how not to burn out and maintain our enthusiasm, even when things didn’t work out.
I remember how once Rashid was trying to obtain a official report from yet another Russian ministry. (I forgot which one, and there is no one else to ask.) His latest request was sent back with something like the following runaround from a ministry secretary: “Lyudmila Petrovna would be very dissatisfied were these data published.” Rashid said that he had no idea who Lyudmila Petrovna was, and could not understand why the data that the ministry was required to send by law had not been provided. He then looked at me enigmatically and asked, “What’s your middle name?” He dashed off the following email: “Violetta Vladimirovna is extremely concerned that the documents have not been sent on time and promises to take immediate action.” We had the documents the next day.
But not everyone was so honest. I remember receiving a message from him: “Guess who might be the subject of article entitled ‘A Story of Ordinary Fascism’?” It was a disgraceful, slanderous article about Rashid on the website of pseudo-environmentalists. Later, television presenter Vladimir Solovyov took to the air to say that, while he had been unable to find any compromising material on Rashid, he had learned that Rashid had graduated from the faculty of Oriental studies at Petersburg State University. Rashid really did speak several languages perfectly, which only aided him in becoming a brilliant expert and doing research in a variety of languages.
I remember how I was angry at Rashid for something stupid and wrote a message about it to a colleague, but ultimately I accidentally sent it to Rashid himself. He read it and thanked me. I was so ashamed and amused, and later we would remember this story and laugh. He was such a wonderful, intelligent man. I don’t believe I’m writing about him in the past tense.
Alexei Kiselyov, head of Greenpeace Russia’s toxic waste program
I would start with the fact that Rashid is the person whom we have to thank for the fact that garbage is not burned in Petersburg. He also made sure that public hearings on the proposed incineration plant in Petersburg were canceled, the investor bailed, and the governor rejected the project.
Rashid Alimov (center, standing) at public hearings on the proposed construction of a solid waste incineration plant in St. Petersburg
Kostya Fomin, media coordinator at OVD Info, former media coordinator at Greenpeace Russia
Rashid was the person with whom I seemingly found it easiest to get along at Greenpeace. At first glance, he was calm, intelligent, and even quiet, but he was terribly in love with his work, purposeful, and assertive. He was never an anti-nuclear fanatic. On the contrary, he always advocated careful, sensitive language. But he was a staunch opponent of dangerous technologies that had misfired many times, ruined people’s lives, and poisoned everything in sight for many years to come. He was a genuine old-school Greenpeace activist.
He was irrepressible in a good way and took on seemingly doomed cases. Not always, but not so rarely, either, he got good results, and I am very glad that I was able be with him at those moments and help in any way I could. I remember how he told me about Petersburg poets and revolutionaries as we walked along the embankment, and boatloads of Greenpeace activists sailed toward a floating nuclear power plant: in the end we made sure that its reactors were not activated in Petersburg, a city of five million people. I remember how a guard at a hospital in Arkhangelsk tried to detain us as we measured the background radiation in the yard, where bags of corpses had been piled after the incident in Nenoksa. I remember how we drew a bucket of water from the radioactive Techa River, in Chelyabinsk Region, to prove that people from the surrounding villages were still in danger. I remember how we spent all day and half the night negotiating a press release reporting that Roshydromet recognized that ten of its weather stations had recorded extreme levels of ruthenium in the atmosphere, and in the morning at the airport, I heard our words repeated on REN TV.
Yesterday, Facebook reminded me that exactly a year ago, Rashid and I had been together too. Activists opposed to the import of uranium tailings to Russia set up barrels marked with radiation danger signs outside Gostiny Dvor, in downtown Petersburg, and Rashid had stood next to them holding a poster. No one was detained, and we celebrated the successful protest at a bar. But when Rashid went home, he telephoned to say that a whole squad of police had caught up with him at the front door of his house. Why the front door? Because they had tried to trick their way into his house, but Rashid’s daughter wouldn’t let them in, and the whole ridiculous “tactical team” had to freeze to death. My friends and I thought that Rashid had raised his daughter well. We’ll all miss you.
Vladimir Chuprov, project director, Greenpeace Russia
I spent a long time forcing myself to start writing these lines. I couldn’t even imagine that I would have to do this. I don’t want to say anything trivial: Rashid, of course, deserves more. Such blows make you stop and think about how fleeting life is, and how important it is to appreciate each other here and now, in this life. Rashid knew how to do it. With a kind of incomprehensible oriental inner contemplation, he would calmly accept the most unpleasant news and difficult tasks. He would shrug, hunch his shoulders more than usual, and start listening. Being able to hear means being able to hear life, to halt its quiet elusive moments, even if they are compressed in a telephone receiver’s silence.
Reproaches and complaints to others were all things that Rashid somehow knew how to avoid. Or they bypassed him. Sometimes, I would get mad at something or someone, then I would look at how Rashid reacted to it, and realize that it was all a passing trifle. The nuclear power issue has always been difficult and in many ways thankless, since it is almost impossible to help people affected by radiation: the forces are too unequal, and the inhuman system that Rashid struggled with is too clumsy. But it was Rashid who managed to work calmly in the face of this abyss of grief and powerlessness and give people hope.
I am grateful that I was able to work with Rashid for many years and, most importantly, that I was able to communicate with him in his final days. He conversed with me cheerfully and humorously as always, the way he knew how. It is a pity that Rashid did not live to see what he fought for: a harmonious green world without landfills and smog. May the atheists forgive me when I say this, but although we shall not see Rashid, Rashid will listen to us just as calmly tomorrow and the day after. One day I will tell him how he did it. Just wait, Rashid.
Yevgeny Usov, investigative research and expertise specialist, Greenpeace Russia
Rashid and I first became closely acquainted many years ago while inspecting an illegal landfill in the Kingisepp District, where I filmed an interview with him for television. Then there were trips with him to attend a rally in Pushkin and sample radioactivity in Bryansk Region, expert work for the Presidential Human Rights Council and air quality research in Petersburg, long conversations about various matters and editing international reports.
Calm, reasonable, and interested in many different and surprising subjects—that was Rashid. He did many extremely important things for Russia.
Rashid measured the concentration of solid particles outside the window, the level of radiation in the mushrooms picked by his grandmother, was involved in the blockade of a German train, loaded with radioactive waste, going to Russia, investigated the true size of the country’s mountains of industrial waste, and dug up the truth and helped the truth make its way to people.
Vladimir Slivyak, co-chair, Ecodefense
I met Rashid about fifteen years ago when Ecodefense organized a campaign against the importation of uranium tailings. He was a journalist. In 2007, he joined the campaign and organized protests in Petersburg, where uranium waste was delivered by sea. By 2009, we had managed to stop the import of tailings from Germany, and Rashid made a huge contribution to this victory. Later, we interacted a lot in various campaigns against dangerous nuclear projects.
Rashid was one of the most important people in the Russian anti-nuclear movement. An uncompromising activist, he always adhered to the principle of protecting the public interest come what may. Last year and this year, we corroborated a lot as part of a new campaign against the import of uranium tailings from Germany: we organized a number of protests in Russia and Germany, and, in the end, Germany decided to temporarily suspend this activity. I am certain that Ecodefense and other organizations that were involved in the campaign will continue to fight if the imports are resumed—not only for the sake of preventing harm, but also in memory of Rashid. He would have liked that.
Rashid’s family, as well as the environmental movement in Russia, have suffered an irreparable loss. There is no way to compensate for it. We will remember Rashid as a man who made a huge contribution to the fight against dangerous nuclear projects in Russia and other countries, as a great friend and knowledgeable colleague. It is impossible to repair what has happened, but the memory of our beloved friend Rashid will live on, and we will continue to do what we did with him and in his memory.
Elena Sakirko, head of Greenpeace Russia’s energy department
When I became part of the Greenpeace team, Rashid was almost the first person I met. That was when thirty of our colleagues were in the Murmansk pre-trial detention center and a support group was organized in the city. We had to work with lawyers and journalists, and also get letters, food, and clothes (everything they needed) to the detained activists . I was the translator, and Rashid organized the deliveries. Working almost around the clock, we still found time to communicate. Rashid talked about Greenpeace and environmental protection in Russia: it seemed that he knew everything and was acquainted with all the activists and experts.
From the very first day, Rashid radiation so much warmth and attention, so much patience and endurance, that I just wanted to be as brave and calm, as well-versed in environmental issues as him. Another quality of his that saved me was his amazing sense of humor, his ability in the most difficult situations to look deeply and see what mattered the most. And there was his constant willingness to help. The Murmansk period and the case of the so-called Arctic 30 came to an end—all the activists were released and returned to their homes—but the most important thing about Greenpeace for me seems to reside in the calmness, kindness and courage of Rashid, something that put me in touch then with environmental protection.
Then there was my first picket, in which I stood with Rashid on the anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster. There were also collaborations and projects where we did not intersect, but every time I went to Petersburg, I knew exactly who I wanted to see and with whom I could discuss all my difficulties and problems, who could take me on interesting walks in the city and tell me so much. I think people like Rashid just cannot disappear, they have so much energy and goodness that they shared with us—a whole world.
Rashid had his life’s work to do: regardless of the projects he was involved in, the most important thing for him was always radiation safety. I think it’s very important to continue this work.
Environmentalist and Activist Rashid Alimov Has Died Activatica
December 18, 2020
Rashid Alimov, an environmentalist, anti-nuclear and climate activist, and project manager of Greenpeace Russia’s energy program, died last night. His death was reported to his wife Olga Krivonos by the doctor on duty at the intensive care unit of the hospital in St. Petersburg where Rashid was being treated for complications of the coronavirus.
Exactly a year ago, on December 17, 20198, Rashid Alimov held a protest action entitled “Russia Is Not a Nuclear Dump” on Nevsky Prospekt outside of Gostiny Dvor. Alimov stood with a banner reading “Russia is not a nuclear dump” at the central entrance to the Gostiny Dvor shopping center. Behind him were activists eleven metal barrels painted with the radioactive danger sign and letters forming inscription “Happy New Year.”
Alimov had worked in environmental organizations since 2001. He was the author and editor of numerous publications on environmental issues, including radiation safety. From 2005 to 2011, he led a campaign in Petersburg against the import of depleted uranium hexafluoride into Russia, as well as the construction of new nuclear power plants. He was involved in Below Two Degrees, a bulletin issued by Russian observers at the UN climate talks.
“Rashid was involved in dealing with issues of waste management, air pollution and nuclear energy. He helped close several landfills, and thanks to Rashid’s work, public hearings on a planned trash incinerator in St. Petersburg were canceled and the governor abandoned the project. Rashid wrote a pamphlet, “What to Do with the Garbage in Russia”, which is still used by thousands of activists throughout the country,” Greenpeace Russia wrote in its obituary.
A 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.”
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.”
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.”
And then, at its last meeting, the commission did not even review the case of the Manchurian sika deer (Cervus nipponmantchuricus), 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.”
The 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.”
“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.
Autumn 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.
This year , 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!”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The workers who arrived are hurrying to dismantle the pipes!
Рабочие, вызванные на место, в спешном порядке демонтируют трубы! Напомним, «Новая» и Гринпис сегодня обнаружили и засняли, как «Норникель» сливает ядовитые отходы в реку, а оттуда в озеро Пясино.
“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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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
Andrei 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.
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].”
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.
Several 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.
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
1 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.
Rudomakha 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.
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!”
An 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.
“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.
“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.
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.”
“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.
“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.
Dmitry Poletayev, Vyacheslav Kryukov, Ruslan Kostylenkov, and Pyotr Karamzin, defendants in the New Greatness trial, during a court hearing. Photo by Pyotr Kassin. Courtesy of Kommersant and Republic
Russia’s Most Important Trial: The New Greatness Case as a Model of Relations between State and Society
Ivan Davydov Republic
July 11, 2019
The term “hybrid war” has been in vogue for a while. The folks on Russian TV, who long ago unlearned how to do anything good or, maybe, never knew how to do anything good constantly mention the “hybrid war against Russia.” The term is infectious. At any rate, I have the sense you could not coin a better phrase for describing the Russian state’s attitude toward Russian society.
The Russian state has been waging a hybrid war against Russian society, and it has also been a guerrilla war. It is as if the state has been hiding on the edge of the woods, lying in ambush, sometimes leaving the woods on forays to do something nasty, like hitting someone over the head with a billy club, fining someone, passing a law that defies common sense and threatens the populace or just blurting out something terrifying and stupid. Then it goes to ground in the woods again. The sound of steady chomping is audible and, occasionally, peals of happy laughter.
Russian society sometimes tries to fight back, of course. Actually, society exists only when it tries to fight back. When there is no fightback, there is no society, only confused, atomized individuals whom the “guerrillas,” happily chomping their food in the woods, consider food. Society rarely tries to fight back, and it scores victories even more rarely. This summer, it managed to drag reporter Ivan Golunov out of jail before the guerrillas could chew him up. I cannot recall any other victories.
Although I am mistaken. Last summer, for example, society secured house arrest for the two teenaged girls, Maria Dubovik and Anna Pavlikova, accused in the New Greatness case. They were nearly killed in remand prison, but they were finally released. There was a tidal wave of articles in the press, an angry buzz on the social networks, and a March of Mothers that the authorities decided not to disperse.
It is not clear why: the riot cops would have made short work of the mothers. The tough guys who constitute the rank and file of the OMON would have enjoyed beating up women armed with stuffed animals.
Even Margarita Simonyan emerged from the woods to shout something about the “serious people” in the Kremlin who cut short their summer holidays to make the right decisions. Then it was back to the woods, whence the steady sound of chomping and slurping could be heard.
I still cannot get used to the fact that we in Russia consider house arrest for the victims of police lawlessness a victory for our side and incredibly good luck. I mean to say I understand why people think this way, but I cannot get used to it.
And now all of them—Maria Dubovik, Anna Pavlikova, Vyacheslav Kryukov, Ruslan Kostylenkov, Sergei Gavrilov, Pyotr Karamzin, Maxim Roshchin, and Dmitry Poletayev—are on trial.
Pavel Rebrovsky and Rustam Rustamov have already been convicted. They made a deal with investigators and prosecutors before the case went to trial. They were sentenced to two and a half years in prison and two years probation, respectively.
It is not as if there is no buzz in society about the case, but it amounts to background noise at most. Our society is short of breath: it has enough air in its lungs to make one attempt at resistance. Meanwhile, amazing things have been happening at the trial.
In brief, the story is that young people who were not entirely happy with their lives shared their thoughts in chat rooms. (By the way, have you ever seen young people who were completely satisfied with their lives? Didn’t you feel like going out of your way to avoid them?)
A nice man emerged in their midst. He suggested they organize a group to fight for everything good and oppose everything bad. They met in real life a couple of times. Prompted by the nice man, they drafted a charter for their movement. The nice man, it transpired, was a police provocateur, and the members of the so-called New Greatness movement were detained by police, not without a certain amount of pomp and ceremony, right before the 2016 presidential election.
And how could the security services get by without pomp and fanfare? They had apprehended dangerous criminals and exposed an entire group of “extremists.” If you believe the case investigators, New Greatness were planning “mandatory participation in popular uprisings, revolutionary actions, [and] clashes with authorities of the current Russian regime.”
Can you imagine someone using the phrase “voluntary participation in popular uprisings”? Security services officers who specialize in such matters have decided to destroy the lives of these unfortunate young people. In fact, they have already destroyed them. But these same security services officers have a slippery grasp of Russian and are not terribly worried whether what they write makes any sense. The takeaway message is that the New Greatness kids have to be sent to prison whatever the cost and the words used to do it play an auxiliary role.
The goings-on at their trial leave no one in doubt that this is the point. None of the defendants has pleaded guilty. Pavel Rebrovsky testified against his friends as part of the pretrial deal he made with prosecutors. In court, he testified he had been promised probation, and so he had agreed to say what state investigators wanted him to say, not tell the court what had actually happened.
“You call me. Do you have Whatsapp? I’ll send you the testimony you need to give in court,” Investigator Anton Malyugin had said to Rebrovsky to encourage him.
I don’t know how to judge Rebrovsky’s actions. It is easy to feign you are an honorable person when you are not locked up in remand prison. Rebrovsky was locked up in remand prison. Nevertheless, the investigator pulled the simplest trick in the book on him. Rebrovsky was sentenced to actual prison time, not probation, but he had the guts to tell the truth in court.
Except the court does not want the truth. Prosecutor Alexandra Andreyeva petitioned the court to examine the witness again, and Judge Alexander Maslov granted her motion. Investigators now have the time they need to explain clearly to the defenseless Rebrovsky how wrong he was to do what he did and what happens to people who pull what he pulled so everything goes smoothly the second time around.
It is vital we know the names of all these people. They should become household names. We should not think of them as generic investigators, judges, and prosecutors, but as Case Investigator Anton Malyugin, Judge Alexander Maslov, and Prosecutor Alexandra Andreyeva, who pulled out all the stops to send these young people down on trumped-up charges.
Rustam Rustamov, whose testimony is also vital to the investigation’s case, mysteriously vanished the day he was scheduled to testify in court. He was in the court building, but he did not appear in court. Apparently, the prosecution decided not to risk putting him on the stand. There are also ways of making a person on probation realize that the desire to tell the truth can be quite costly. It is better to coach the witness properly. There is no hurry.
The Russian State’s Self-Defense
The whole story is quite pointed. The case has been cobbled together haphazardly. This was already clear last year, but now it has become completely obvious. No one plans to retreat, however. When the Russian state’s guerrillas come out of the woods, they always bag their prey. Otherwise, their prey might get funny ideas.
This is a story about decay, you see. It is not that Russia’s law enforcement agencies have nothing else to do. Unfortunately, there are real criminals aplenty. Nor have the Kremlin’s military adventures abroad been a panacea for terrorists. But it has been harder and harder for Russia’s law enforcers to find the time to deal with real criminals and real terrorists.
Recently, a friend’s elderly mother was taken to the cleaners by scammers. When he went to the police, they worked hard to persuade him there was no point even trying to investigate the crime. Everyone remembers the case of the serial poisoner in Moscow, who was released by police after he was detained by passersby. He was apprehended again only when a scandal erupted, the press got involved, and the big bosses voiced their outrage.
Who has the time to work on silly cases like that if you have been ordered to take down a reporter who has been snooping around? And why should you bother when you can “solve” a terrible crime you concocted in the first place and you also had the good sense to detain your homemade “extremists” right before an election?
All you have to do is remove one rotten log from this house for the whole thing to come tumbling down immediately. The Golunov case, which cost several police commanders their jobs, was an excellent illustration of this fact.
By the way, there are no suspects in the new Golunov case, which has been entrusted to the Russian Investigative Committee. The drugs planted themselves on the reporter. They were treacherous drugs. No wonder they say drugs are bad.
The investigators, the judge, and the prosecutor handling the New Greatness case understand this perfectly well. They will use all the means at their disposal to put away the defendants, most of whom have been locked up in remand prison for over a year. As they themselves like to say, it is a matter of honor or, simply put, a matter of self-defense. The investigators, the judge, and the prosecutor are defending themselves: if the case comes unglued, a scandal would be inevitable, and a scandal could cost them their cushy jobs. It would also do irreparable damage to the system, to the fabled woods, because the more such unhappy endings there are, the less comfortable it will be for the guerrillas to chow down in the woods.
This is a curious aspect of what I have been describing. When the current Russian authorities engage in obvious wrongdoing, they do not experience discomfort. Of course, they don’t: when they defend themselves in this way they only aggravate the injustice. The lives of villagers who are raped and pillaged by brigands hiding in a forest mean nothing to the brigands, naturally. What the big men of the woods do not like is noise. The sound of their own slurping is music to their ears. If a hullabaloo arises, they could lose the little things that make life in the woods so pleasant.
So, I would like to write that the New Greatness case is the most important criminal case in Russia at the moment. The lawlessness and injustice evinced by the Russian authorities have been obvious and flagrant. But there is also the Network case, whose takeaway message is that the FSB can torture anyone it does not like, and it is nearly legal for them to do it.
Finally, there is a mountain of smaller cases, which are no less terrifying even though they have generated less buzz or no buzz at all.
The menu of the forest brothers is too extensive, while Russian society is short of breath, as I wrote earlier. All arguments about Russia’s future boil down to a simple question: are their appetites hearty enough to eat all of us? None of them have complained about a lack of appetite so far.
And yet it would be unfair not to mention Anna Narinskaya, Tatyana Lazareva, and the other women involved in March of Mothers, who have been forcing their way into the courtroom and supplying accounts of what has been going on there. This is no easy task: the Lyublino District Court simply lacks room, but the judge has refused to have the trial moved to another court.
Then there are the musicians (Alexei Kortnev, Boris Grebenshchikov, Andrei Makarevich, Roma Zver, Pyotr Nalich, Vasya Oblomov, Maxim Leonidov, and MANIZHA) who recorded a video with Lazareva in which they performed an old song by the group Chizh & Co. about the “commissar contagion” as a way to draw attention to the case.
Finally, there is the website Mediazona, which has scrupulously chronicled the deeds of Russia’s law enforcers. It has also attempted to make the investigators, the prosecutor, and the judge in the New Greatness case household names.
It says a lot about Russia that a news website wholly devoted to covering the lawlessness of so-called law enforcers can function here and enjoy well-deserved popularity. Thank you, colleagues.
Climate change demonstrations took place in many cities around the world today.
Schoolchildren and adults took to the streets to demand implementation of the Paris Agreement, which primarily aims to counter global warming.
Maybe you have heard of Greta Thunberg, the Swedish schoolgirl who organized the movement #fridaysforfuture by skipping classes at school every Friday and picketing the Swedish parliament instead.
It makes sense. What is the point of going to school if the future is threatened? Humankind has killed off 70% of wild animals in the past four years. The oceans contain more discarded plastic than fish. And the list goes on.