Grigory Pasko has brought to my attention to a recent issue of VESTNIK ATOMPROMa, a Russian “magazine about the nuclear industry”, which has been published by an enigmatically named Federal state unitary enterprise «Firm of commercial advertisement and scientific-technical propaganda» only since April 2007. Clearly, the real organization behind the magazine is the historically extremely secretive Rosatom – Russia’s Federal Agency for Atomic Energy, formerly known as Minatom. The cover of issue No.5, dated September 2007 (available online on Rosatom’s website), sports a full-page photo of Rosatom head Sergei Kiriyenko having an intense discussion with his boss, Vladimir Putin, against a backdrop of the Russian and Australian flags. The cover story, entitled “The Australian Success of Russia”, naturally has nothing but praise for the controversial Australia-Russia Nuclear Cooperation Agreement, which we’ve been discussing here on the blog for several months already. The article actually shows several photos of the environmental devastation caused to Aboriginal lands by the giant open-pit operation at Rio Tinto’s Ranger site in the Northern Territory, but you’d never guess from this breezy text, a single paragraph of which simultaneously manages to suggest that the dirt-poor Aboriginals are wealthy and to belittle their religious beliefs as mere childish superstition standing in the way of human progress:
PECULIARITIES OF NATIONAL EXTRACTIONThe Ranger field is located in the very center of the national park Kakadu, on land traditionally belonging to the wealthiest family of aborigines in the district. Inasmuch as research conducted by specialists of ERA with the aim of the possible expansion of production point to a deeper stratification of the continuation of the ore body, the company is pondering underground mining. However, the problem is that digging will have to be done in the direction of the cliff Brookman, which is an object of worship of the aborigines. And in order to implement their plans, Energy Resources of Australia, and, who knows, perhaps their Russian partners too, will first have to convince the native population that the underground spirits of the sacred cliff will not be disturbed. (p. 14)
All of which makes it doubly important that people speak out before it’s too late. The Russian government clearly understands that it’s trying to pull a fast one on the Australian public and on the world. As if any further proof of this were needed, the largely positive article actually goes out of its way to sling (radioactive) mud at me and Grigory Pasko personally for having been “lone voices in the wilderness” crying out against the uranium deal:
An election campaign even on the seemingly happy “green continent” can’t manage to avoid black PR. Thus, on the eve of the first visit in the history of bilateral relations of a head of the Russian state, which the government of John Howard served up as its political achievement, publications appeared in the local press that have nothing in common with journalism. Inasmuch as the central bilateral document became precisely the agreement on cooperation in the area of the peaceful atom, it was here that the attack of the opponents of the prime minister who is running [for re-election] came: some lawyer for a convicted Russian oligarch, Mr. Amsterdam, and a journalist who recently came out of a [prison] colony, Pasko, each in his own way “warned” Canberra in front-page articles of newspapers about the dangers of cooperating with Moscow. “How can you possibly sell uranium to Russia if there’s no freedom of speech there, while a jail is found right next to the Priargunsky amalgamation. If you’re going to work with the Russians, then have in mind: just one little thing, and they’re going to shut off your gas!” Why, if this is all the arguments of the opponents of cooperation between the two countries, then this is simply marvellous.Pitiful last-minute attempts to throw in the subject of the transfer of the Australian material to “unreliable” countries collapsed right after the proclamation of the document. “Nuclear material, equipment, components and technology shall only be used for peaceful purposes and shall not be used for the manufacture of nuclear weapons”, is said in the agreement. In it is likewise noted that “nuclear material shall not be transferred beyond the territory of the receiving Party without the prior written consent of the supplier Party”. In other words, uranium from Australia may be transferred to another to another country only upon agreement with Australia itself, whoever may be heading its government.” (p. 13)
Where do I start? I don’t know how the Russians flew in, but on my flight to Sydney, which took me right across all of Australia, I didn’t see much green at all. And I don’t quite see how a Russian leader’s decision to finally acknowledge the existence of Australia by visiting it for the first time, simply because it’s got uranium Russia now wants, can be interpreted as a great political achievement for PM John Howard. Note how the article attempts to deflect attention away from the real issue – the uranium – to the upcoming election in Australia, absurdly suggesting that Grigory and I are speaking out only because we want to topple the Australian government. I wonder if the many leading Australian newspapers that chose to cite us in their articles about the uranium deal (and believe me, we weren’t splattered across all the front pages, as flattering as this may sound!) know that such an august publication as VESTNIK ATOMPROMa (founded 2007) thinks these fine publications “have nothing in common with journalism”? (comments can be emailed to vestnikATOMPROMa@yandex.ru)I am not personally offended by the disparaging way this article describes Grigory and me – as “some lawyer” representing “a” Russian oligarch they’re afraid to name and a “recently” released common criminal who doesn’t even deserve a “Mr.” before his name. No, I think this choice of words is a valuable illustration of just what kind of people it is we’re dealing with here. It goes without saying that the quotation attributed to us is a grotesque distortion. Both Grigory and I know our geography, and wouldn’t be so naïve as to suggest that Russia can shut off the gas to Australia when it hasn’t even managed to extend its pipelines as far as its own Pacific coast yet, let alone to Australia. And neither Grigory nor I ever mentioned the “Priargunsky amalgamation” by name in the Australian press. For the record, that’s the uranium mine not far from the Krasnokamensk prison colony where Mikhail Khodorkovsky was incarcerated until late last year.The whole paragraph about how the mere text of the Australia-Russia Nuclear Cooperation Agreement is all the proof you need to “collapse” any arguments that Australian uranium may find its way to third countries collapses for a number of reasons. First of all, it doesn’t even cite the text of the Agreement accurately! Second, you’re not getting the whole story: “nuclear material shall not be transferred beyond the territory of the receiving Party without the prior written consent of the supplier Party” isn’t the complete sentence – the Agreement continues “except in accordance with paragraph 5 of this Article.” Paragraph 5 happens to stipulate the (admittedly limited) conditions under which Russia can transfer Australian uranium to third countries without prior written approval – including for subsequent enrichment.And finally, I’m afraid I don’t have enough bandwidth here to go through the whole list of international agreements solemnly signed and then insolently ignored by Russia. I’ll just mention one example – The European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, which has been flouted at every turn in the conviction of “a” completely innocent Russian oligarch represented by “some” lawyer and an equally innocent journalist without a first name “who recently came out of a [prison] colony”.