Daily Archives: October 23, 2006

Toxic Russia

As revealed by the Blacksmith Institute (hat tip to Vilhelm Konnander), the map above shows red dots for the ten most polluted places on the planet. Seven out of them are closely affiliated with Russia, and three out of ten are actually in Russia itself. Two more are in former Soviet republics, resulting from pollution directly caused by Russian imperialism. In other words, half of the world’s most serious pollution sites were created by Russian behavior.

Within Russia itself, first there’s Dzerzinsk. The report states:

In Dzerzhinsk, a significant center of the Russian chemical manufacturing, the average life expectancy is 42 years for men and 47 for women. Until the end of the Cold War, the city was among Russia’s principal production sites of chemical weapons. According to figures from Dzerzhinsk’s environmental agency, from 1930-1998, almost 300,000 tons of chemical waste were improperly disposed of. Of this waste, around 190 separate chemicals were released into the groundwater. These chemicals have turned the water into a white sludge containing dioxins and high levels of phenol – an industrial chemical which can lead to acute poisoning and death. These levels are reportedly 17 million times the safe limit. The city draws its drinking water from the same aquifers into which these old wastes and unused products were pumped. Now that many of these industries are no longer in operation, the local groundwater has risen, along with the water level in the canal. This rise in the canal’s water level threatens to dump arsenic, mercury, lead and dioxins into the Oka river basin, a source of drinking water for the nearby city of Nizhny Novgorod. Despite the heavy toll on the population’s health, a quarter of the city’s 300,000 residents are still employed in factories that turn out toxic chemicals. According to a 2003 BBC report it is the young who are most vulnerable. In the local cemetery, there are a shocking number of graves of people below the age of 40. In 2003 it was reported that the death rate exceeded the birth rate by 2.6 times and it is easy to see why. The dioxins that get into the water as a by-product of chlorine production are reported to cause cancer even in minute doses.

Next comes Norilsk. The report reveals:

An industrial city founded in 1935 as a slave labor camp, the Siberian city of Norilsk, Russia is the northernmost major city of Russia and the second largest city (after Murmansk) above the Arctic Circle. According to the Mines and Communities website the city is considered one of the most polluted places in Russia – where the snow is black, the air tastes of sulfur and the life expectancy for factory workers is 10 years below the Russian average. This city houses the world’s largest heavy metals smelting complex, and over 4 million tons annually of cadmium, copper, lead, nickel, arsenic, selenium and zinc are dispersed into the air. Mining and smelting operation started in the 1930s, and is the worlds largest nickel producer. Norilsk Nickel, a recently privatized firm, is one of Russia’s leading producers of non-ferrous and platinum-group metals. It controls one-third of the world’s nickel deposits and accounts for a substantial portion of the country’s total production of nickel, cobalt,platinum, and palladium. It is also a major polluter, ranking first among Russian industrial enterprises in terms of air pollution. Due to the geographic location, reports on ecological impacts and contamination are infrequent from this location. In 1999, a report found elevated copper and nickel concentrations in soils up to a 60 km radius. The city population has been affected by air quality in this region of smelters, where it has been shown over half of all samples exceed the maximum allowable concentrations for both copper and nickel. A report in 1995 indicated that high levels of respiratory diseases have been observed in children around this area, and that these are most likely related to the air pollution from the smelter activity. Investigations evaluating the presence of ear, nose and throat disease among schoolchildren revealed that children living near the copper plant were twice as likely to become ill than those living in further districts. Similarly, children living near the nickel plant were shown to become ill at a rate 1.5 times higher than children from further districts. Analysis also showed that problems during the last half of pregnancy as well as premature births were much more frequent in Norilsk than in the Taimyr and Kransnoyark regions. Furthermore, mortality from respiratory diseases is considerably higher than the average in Russia, which is 28/1000 or 15.8% of all deaths among children. Since November 2001, Norilsk has been shut to foreigners, one of 90 “closed towns” in Russia where Soviet-levels of secrecy persist.

Finally there is Dalnegorsk. The report reveals:

Dalnegorsk and Rudnaya Pristan are two towns in the Russian Far East whose residents suffer from serious lead poisoning from an old smelter and the unsafe transport of lead concentrate from the local lead mining site. According to the most recent study, lead concentrations in residential gardens (476-4310 mg/kg, Gmean=1626 mg/kg) and in roadside soils (2020-22900 mg/kg, Gmean=4420 mg/kg) exceed USEPA guidance for remediation by orders of magnitude. These data suggest that drinking water, interior dust, and garden crops also likely contain
dangerous levels of lead. Water discharged from the smelter averages 2900 m3/daywith concentrations up to 100 kg of lead and 20 kg arsenic. Limited initial testing has revealed that children’s blood lead levels are 8 to 20 times the maximum allowable U.S. levels. Preliminary biokinetic estimates of mean blood levels suggest that preschool children are at significant risk of lead poisoning from soil/dust ingestion with levels predicted to average 13-27 microg/dl. Annual air emissions found 85 tons of particulate matter with lead and arsenic concentrations being 50 and 0.5 tons, respectively. Since 1930 there has not been any attempt to address associated health concerns by either an educational or a technical environmental program. In fact, as Sharov points out, the residents of the area were simply left to deal with their health risk problems on their own and are largely unaware of the risks. Furthermore, some residents in Rudnaya use old casings of submarine batteries that were recycled by the smelter in order to collect precipitation for watering their gardens.

So, Russia has less than 3% of the world’s population but 30% of its most toxic living evnironments. This is the legacy of the USSR being continued by proud KGB spy Vladimir Putin. Beyond these three major Russian sites are to be added the infamous Chernobyl in Ukraine, still toxic two decades after its nuclear plant meltdown (which the Russian government at first failed even to acknowledge) and Mailuu-Suu in Kyrgyzstan, another site contaminated by Soviet-sponsored radiation.

What’s even more shocking about this data than its direct impact on human life, which is catastrophic, is that not only does Russia lack any significant domestic environmental movement but it is in the process of totallly destroying its network of foreign non-governmental organizations working to correct these problems at no cost to Russia. Last week, Russia invoked its new anti-NGO statute to shut down virtually every such group within its borders. Under this action, neither Greenpeace nor Blacksmith will be able to continue gathering data in Russia, leaving Russians totally blind as this insidious killer continues to poison them, just as in Soviet times. The inevitable result is that Russia will collapse just as the USSR did.


La Russophobe is happy to announce a new blog feature, post tags. From now on, all posts will have a tag at the bottom indicating the topic area. If you are interested in reading more about that topic (for example “racism” or “Cold War II”) you can simply click on the tag to pull up all the other posts on that topic. Until now, this material has been available in the sidebar index, and older material will continue to reside there until the blog is fully updated. More recent material, however, will be conveniently accessible under the new system, and soon the sidebar will include an entry listing all the post tags alphabetically, for even easier access to the archives by subject matter.

This is La Russophobe‘s 800th post. On Sunday, she recorded her 17,000th visit to the blog.

Kremlin Sponsoring Georgian Pogrom

Vilhelm Konnander explains how we know that the Kremlin is behind the Georgian pogroms. La Russophobe is convinced. Now Vilhelm, the question is: What can we do about it?

Greenspan Warns Off Russia

The Moscow Times reports that esteemed economics guru Alan Greenspan has put the kibosh on Russia:

Former U.S. Fed chief Alan Greenspan on Thursday criticized Russia’s national champions as economically harmful and anti-competitive.

Greenspan, one of the world’s most respected financial minds, said the very idea of creating industry titans blessed by the state was antithetical to modern capitalism because it protected corporations that were inherently less competitive.

“I don’t believe in national champions — national champions by definition are those which do not maximize profitability,” Greenspan said at an investors conference in New York.

He said that the creation of United Company Russian Aluminum — from RusAl, SUAL and the alumina assets of Glencore — would indeed produce a giant aluminum company, but he observed that such giant companies do not tend to be innovators, especially if they are protected by the state.

The former chairman of the Federal Reserve also warned of the onset of Dutch disease, an economic malady that affects countries with natural resource wealth.
His remarks came in stark contrast to a largely upbeat assessment from Renaissance Capital CEO Stephen Jennings.

“Russia is also building national champions, in oil and gas, metals and mining, transportation, defense, aerospace, machinery and nuclear power,” Jennings told the conference, sponsored by RenCap Securities. “It’s building these industries in a different manner and by different means than it is done in the U.S. and Europe today, but ultimately with the same effect and purpose: governments supporting financially and politically industries they deem ‘strategic.'”

Oil, gas and aluminum are classic 20th-century industries, and Greenspan said Gazprom would have done better to follow through with its plans to produce liquefied natural gas, a newer technology that would be more competitive in the 21st-century economy.

“Competitiveness will not come from the large companies — it will come from the medium size,” he said.

Greenspan said Russia’s heady rate of GDP growth could help its economy resemble Western Europe’s in the near future, as long as the Kremlin avoided certain missteps.

“If it weren’t for this national champion issue, which I find very disturbing, … it could close the gap on Western Europe very quickly,” he said.

In response to an investor’s question, Greenspan acknowledged that the governments of European countries and even the United States could be protective of certain large, successful industries that lie within their borders.

“It’s the same malady, but I’m just fearful that Russia’s got a deeper virus than the rest of us,” Greenspan said. “The Russians are just doing it with a little more fervor.”

Besides the national champions, Greenspan warned of the dangers of Dutch disease, in which a country with natural resource wealth experiences a sharp rise in the value of its local currency, strangling the competitiveness of other industries, especially manufacturing.

But he praised the work of his “friend,” Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, in keeping oil revenues flowing to foreign reserves and the stabilization fund, where they are effectively “sterilized” from having a damaging effect on other parts of the economy.

Besides Central Bank intervention in the currency market, Greenspan said the best defense against Dutch disease in the past had been a large, healthy economy diversified away from natural resources. “Russia is somewhere in the middle on this issue,” he said.

Greenspan said Russia’s economy continues to be hobbled by an underdeveloped banking system, partly as a result of the small role of banks during Soviet times.

In addition to a couple of large, state-controlled banks, Russia is filled with a “very large group of institutions which are called banks, but I’m not sure what they are.”

The banking sector will benefit from the death of these financial institutions, as well as the growing presence of foreign banks in Russia, he said.

“They will spread 21st-century banking throughout the Russian system,” Greenspan said of the foreign banks. “Remember, they operate under Russian law — this is not a foreign invasion.”

Foreign participation in the financial sector has been a contentious point in Russia’s negotiations to join the World Trade Organization.

In all, Greenspan struck a cautiously optimistic tone on the future of the Russian economy, assuming the people and their elected representatives eventually recognize the folly of establishing national champions.

“I trust that in the years ahead the Russian people will see that is the case and venture forth with the type of economy which they deserve, finally,” he said.

Annals of the Neo-Soviet Union

A British art dealer was arrested at the Moscow airport on Friday when he tried to leave the country carrying paintings with critical, satirical images of Russian “president” Vladmir Putin. How Neo-Soviet can you get? EnglishRussia says that the above is one of the images found potentially criminal. The Scotsman reports:

A BRITISH art expert was seized at a Moscow airport when border guards found satirical cartoons in his luggage depicting the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, naked. Matthew Bown, owner of the Matthew Bown Art Gallery in London’s Saville Row, was last night being held at the Sheremetyevo-2 airport. According to initial reports, guards spotted art works which he had bought at the Moscow Marat Gelman gallery the day before. The pictures included cartoons depicting Mr Putin, the president of the United States George Bush, the terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, the former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and a female suicide bomber. Mr Bown was prevented from getting on his flight while an inquiry assessed whether the images constitute “anti-government agitation”. It was not clear whether he was actually under arrest.

Art Daily provides more detail:

At 11 am on 20th October 2006, in Moscow, Matthew Bown, owner of the London-based Matthew Bown Gallery, was removed from flight SU 241 bound for London and detained by Russian authorities for questioning. Bown was held in connection with his attempt to export artworks by the Russian art collective Blue Noses. The artworks in question include photographic images depicting presidents Putin and Bush cavorting with Osama Bin Laden, and of a suicide bomber in a burqa flashing her (or his?) underwear. The works in question are intended for exhibition at the Matthew Bown gallery from 9th November 2006. After his removal from the flight, Bown was questioned by police over a period of approximately nine hours. He eventually flew out of Moscow at 20.45 on SU 247. The eleven works by Blue Noses he was transporting were not allowed to leave the country and are currently held by the Moscow police at Sheremetevo II airport. A selection of the confiscated works is shown on this page: click image to enlarge. When Matthew Bown asked the reason for his interrogation and the confiscation of the artworks, he was told by a police officer that the Blue Noses’ works “contain representations of heads of state and this could not pass unnoticed.” This was a reference to the four works entitled Mask Show depicting Bush, Putin and Bin Laden. The officers were also concerned about the possibly inflammatory nature of an image of a suicide bomber entitled The Girl Has A Date. Matthew Bown pointed out to the interrogating officers the limited effectiveness of confiscating photographic prints when the digital originals could be copied around the world at will. The point was taken by the interrogating officers, but higher authorities would not permit release of the photographs. At present it seems that these works by the Blue Noses will not be allowed out of Russia. The detention and confiscation have attracted attention in the Russian media. Radio station Ekho Moskvy broadcast a phone conversation with Matthew Bown. Leading gallery owner and political activist Marat Gelman has commented on the incident to grani.ru (Russian language). Blue Noses are known for their satirical and provocative videos, photographs and performances which parody and critique Russia’s past and its present day capitalist boom. Their targets include political leaders, sexual and political correctness, and the platitudes of art history. Using low-tech methods they ape the look of high-tec. Blue Noses’ intentions have always been to create work that can be understood and engaged with outside the restrictive realm of contemporary art; a populist approach for ‘pioneers and pensioners’. Their energy, black humour, irreverence and sense of the grotesque distill the spirit of Russian art (and life) today.

Immediately following the arrest of Bown, the Gelman gallery in Moscow was attacked by vandals. Radio New Zealand reports:

A group of young men has ransacked one of Moscow’s best-known modern art galleries, ripping paintings from walls and damaging equipment. The attack was launched on the Marat Gelman gallery a day after photograph montages it had displayed caricaturing the Russian and US presidents were seized by Russian customs at a Moscow airport. The gallery manager says a group of tough-looking men in black jackets smashed paintings and office equipment in the gallery and took staff cell phones. A British gallery owner, Matthew Cullern Bown, believes they were unhappy about the satirical representation of Presidents Putin and Bush in semi-naked poses along with Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. “A group of tough-looking young men in black jackets and hats came into the gallery. They clearly knew the layout,” gallery manager Sergei Serebrennikov said. “They split up into groups and set about smashing all paintings on the wall, attacked our offices, smashed equipment and telephones and took mobile phones away from our staff.” Paintings were trampled on the floor of the gallery, one of Moscow’s best known in operation since the early 1990s, and papers, books and office supplies were strewn about. The assailants ran off. None of the staff was hurt. The gallery’s owners closed their doors for two weeks. Interfax news agency quoted officials at the Moscow prosecutor’s office as saying that a criminal case had been launched into the incident.

In other news, David McDuff reports on how Russian writers are still rejecting Russia, just as if the cold war were still raging (which, in fact, it is).

Talk about Pathetic!

Russia and China are having a joint celebration of women’s rights. Terrific. That’s like Stalin and Hitler having a joint celebration of democracy.