Putin’s Assault on the Russian Ecology

Paul Goble reports:

In the name of economic development and in pursuit of profit, Vladimir Putin, both as president and now as prime minister, has systematically dismantled Moscow’s earlier and limited environmental protection arrangements, a campaign that not only threatens various eco-systems there but also is driving down Russian life expectancies.

In an interview posted online, Aleksey Yablokov, an advisor to the Russian Academy of Sciences and president of the Green Russia Fraction, argues that countries like Japan which have cleaned up the environment have seen their life expectancies rise while those like Russia which have despoiled have seen just the opposite effect.

And he places the blame for Russia’s retreat on this front squarely on Vladimir Putin, who operating on the assumption that the country cannot afford environmental protection yet and pursuing profit above all else has destroyed even the limited environmental protection arrangements set up in Soviet times.

At the present time, Yablokov says, the Japanese have the longest life expectancies. “They spend on environmental protection five to six percent of their national budget. As a result, he continues, what 60 years ago, was “one of the dirtiest countries” in the world with a much lower life expectancy is now one of the cleanest with the highest one.

Russia has been going in exactly the opposite direction. Under Boris Yeltsin, Russia spent 0.5 percent of its budget on protecting the environment. Now, after ten years of Putin, Moscow is spending “a hundred times less!” And not surprisingly, “Russia is the only country where average life expectancy has not been increasing but declining.”

]After his interviewer pointed out that in Soviet times people joked that they could not expect anything good from the environment because of the way they had treated it, Yablokov responded by saying that what has happened in the last decade is that Moscow has adopted a large number of much ballyhooed policies on the environment but not fulfilled any of them.

Russia now has a climate doctrine and an ecological doctrine, both adopted under Putin, “but not one of [their] provisions is being fulfilled even though [in them] there is much that is rational.” Indeed, things have gone so far in the wrong direction under his leadership that it is possible to speak about “the de-ecologization” of Russia.

Putin’s “first decree in the first term of his [presidency] was to destroy the State Committee on Ecology,” Yablokov recalls. “Then, the MVD decided to eliminate the ecological militia, and the ministry of education decided to drop the ecology course that had been offered in middle schools.”

Environmentalists protested, but the government acted according to the ideology of the economic reformers who insisted that Russia could not yet afford environmental protection and the greed of those who saw despoiling the environment or at least not defending it as a key to their own wealth. And now that Putin is prime minister rather than president, he has continued the same course. He has reduced the size of protected water zones by a factor of two, he has permitted the reopening of the Baikal cellulose plant and the dumping of its wastes into the lake, and he has pushed through the Duma a law allowing insecure burial of atomic wastes.

Everywhere else in the world, Yablokov says, the way Moscow is now going to handle radioactive wastes is “prohibited.” But by eliminating the safeguards that had existed, Putin has reduced costs and opened the way for greater profits even as he has ensured that Russia and Russians will suffer. Almost everywhere one looks, the Russian ecologist says, Putin is taking action on behalf of profits over people. Deripaska needed to reopen the Baikalsk paper plant in order to sell it off, and it was reopened even though there is no need for such a plant and even though every environmental protection group in the world has warned against it.

In Khimki near Moscow, an irreplaceable eco-system is being destroyed, not because there is no other choice but because doing so allows the minister of transportation – “the largest landowner” there – to make a profit. And the list goes on, he says, to include among other things the Northern Flow and Southern Flow pipeline systems.

As a result of what Putin has done, Yablokov concludes, Russians cannot count on their government to protect the environment and hence the life expectancies of themselves and their children. “Do you want to live inspire of this?” he asks his interviewer rhetorically. “Then defend yourself.”

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