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Grigory Pasko: Forgotten Baikal

baikal_paper_mill.jpgOut of all the things that could pop up to drive a wedge between Kremlin elites, from foreign meddling to money to competing powers of the clans, you would have never guessed that the environment could become so troublesome an issue. At the end of May President Dmitry Medvedev openly criticized Prime Minister Vladimir Putin for his ruinous record on the environment, namely his decision to re-open the Lake Baikal pulp and paper plant mill, which has drawn scores of protesters in recent months.

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But Lake Baikal now seems to be a topic officials are keen to avoid. At a relatively recent speech at an international conference entitled “St. Petersburg – Marine Capital of RUSSIA!”, Vladimir Kirilov, the chief of Rosprirodnadzor [Russia’s government environmental watchdog agency–Trans.], gave a long speech on our nation’s policy toward its waters. Although the speech took place some months ago, I only just recently discovered a transcript of his comments, which I had naively hoped would contain at least some kind of explanation for the actions (past and future) of the government with respect to waste discharge into Lake Baikal.

Judging by the dramatic account of Kirilov’s speech on the Rosprirodnadzor website (apparently the bureaucrat’s comments “evoked the lively reaction of the hall, laid the beginning for a hot discussion“), I prepared myself for the typical letdown that comes after such great moments in propaganda. Just what might we expect from this “lively reaction” and ensuing “hot discussion”?

And so, Kirillov reported to the listeners that «on the whole in Russia there are around 2.5 mln. rivers with an overall linear extent of over 8 mln. km. By quantity of river flow our country occupies second place in the world, conceding only to Brazil with its famous Amazon». If the Kirillovite speechwriters had attentively read the lead article from the website, then they no doubt would have added words about how «the rivers of Russia — this is her pride and glory».

Have you been enlivened? Not I, because these common truths are known to me from pre-internet times, from the school desk. By the way, the conference – was international. It is entirely possible that a representative of some backwards America, say, might not have known these fascinating numbers.

We read on. «The task of the Federal Service for Oversight in the Sphere of Nature Use is the implementation of state control and oversight…»

About how the task of a service for oversight is oversight, this, of course, is interesting, I would say – on the bombastic side. But still, as the youth say, «it doesn’t insert».

We read on, still hoping for the appearance in the text of the word «Baikal».

Aha, here it is, the section «Discharges of waste waters in the RF». Even numbers are cited: «Into the water objects of the Russian Federation are discharged in a year up to 52 cu. km of waste waters, of which more than 19 cu. km are subject to treatment».

About Baikal – not a word. Perhaps, Lake Baikal – this is not a “water object”, but merely a structural subdivision of oligarchic enterprises?

In the section «Principal sources of polluted waste waters» Baikal is also not mentioned. The only unfortunate object named is the Amur River: into it and its tributaries are discharged in excess of 60 thsd. m3 of untreated wastes per day.

Baikal is once again not named. So it seems that it – while it may be a water object, is – a fortunate one. Well, thank God, ’cause I sure was worried there: ecologists are raising a fuss, writing petitions… Including, by the way, to Mr. Kirillov.

But if we are to believe Kirillov, then there’s nothing at all to worry about concerning Baikal. No, we do, it goes without saying, have problems : now and then…, here and there… And all that’s needed for their resolution is «a state program of construction of new treatment facilities» (Interesting, which one is this already? I’ve lost count.).

Unconditionally, I was gladdened by the Rosprirodnadzor chief’s comprehension of the circumstance that «in the near future, in a situation of acute deficit of fresh water, Russian water is going to become an important object of economic and political influence». Say what you will about them, but in the part of «economic and political influence», those boys from Petersburg sure do know a thing or two: it is sufficient to recall how they recently threw tens of billions of dollars at Ukraine for the right to store rusty iron on the shore of the Black Sea. It is understandable, after all, that it wasn’t the iron they were concerned about, but just that same notorious “influence”.

But still, Mister Kirillov, what’s the deal with Baikal? Your speech may entertaining in places, but it is incomprehensible just who it is calculated for. Sometimes it seems that it’s for morons: it’s just way too simplistic in style and on the stupid side in content.

If this is the style and content of the work of Rosprirodnadzor in general, then we should certainly be worried for Baikal.