Russia lacking in environmental safeguards

  • 2010-07-28
  • From wire reports

VILNIUS - Environmentalists who traveled by bike along the Baltic coast earlier this month have slammed Russia’s environmental policy, drawing unfavorable comparisons with that of its neighboring Baltic countries, reports the St. Petersburg Times. The group of environmentalists spent two weeks traveling by bike along the Baltic coast through Russia, Lithuania and Poland with the purpose of creating a map of pollution black spots and campaigning against environmental pollution resulting from industrial projects.

The bike trip, which finished last weekend, was organized by a string of local environmental groups, including ‘Friends of the Baltics,’ the Association of Environmental Journalists of St. Petersburg and the St. Petersburg Center for Ecological Initiatives. The first such rally took place in 1999, and it has been an annual event ever since.
The ride began in St. Petersburg and then proceeded to Lithuania and Poland. Along the route, the ecologists-turned-bikers paid special attention to the River Neman, the city of Klaipeda in Lithuania and the Kurshskaya Kosa National Park shared by Russia and Lithuania.

“The aim of these rallies is to give local residents a true picture of a series of new construction projects that pose high risks to the environment,” said Oleg Bodrov, chairman of the Green World organization.

“In order to protect the environment and prevent the authorities from sacrificing it for the sake of placating a deep-pocketed investor, it is crucial that local communities get involved in the decision-making process - in the form of public hearings, the collection of signatures or street protests. These trips are most useful for raising public awareness about environmental issues, getting first-hand testimonials from residents of environmentally endangered areas and joining forces in developing solutions to ecological problems,” said Olga Senova, chairwoman of the Friends of the Baltics environmental group.
According to the rally’s participants, Lithuania and Poland are a striking contrast to Russia in terms of environmental protection. The Lithuanian side of the Kurshskaya Kosa natural park stunned the ecologists with its beauty, while the natural reserve’s Russian side looked neglected. The ecologists were particularly alarmed by an oilrig located within 22 kilometers of Kurshskaya Kosa. The rig is owned by oil giant Lukoil.

The Baltic Sea is abundant with dangerous toxic algae this year, especially in coastal areas. Rescuing the region’s ecology requires a consistent joint effort from all countries of the region, but not all of the coastal states are taking part in environmental clean-up and revival projects. Russia, the country responsible for the lion’s share of the pollution, has shown little enthusiasm for combating the consequences.

The route featured campaign events held at some of the ecological blackspots. “We are trying to increase awareness of the risks that new industrial developments involve and the challenges they pose,” Bodrov said. “To be able to exert substantial pressure on the authorities, locals have to offer solid and coordinated resistance.”
Nationwide, ecology does not appear to be a priority, Bodrov said. Soon after former President Vladimir Putin came to power in 2000, the Russian government closed the Environment Ministry and transferred its responsibilities to the new Natural Resources Ministry, which is also in charge of exploiting the country’s natural resources.

Ecologists from countries around the Baltic Sea express frustration at what they see as a lack of measures in Russia to safeguard the environment. Ecologists warn that the south coast of the Gulf of Finland has become the site of vast construction work including the Baltic Aluminum Plant, the Baltic Silicon Valley project and a center for the treatment of spent nuclear fuel from LAES, the Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant.
“These projects, which are worth more than 20 billion U.S. dollars, are bound to destroy the coastline if fully implemented,” Bodrov said.

According to Green World, genetic mutations have already been found in pine trees around the town of Sosnovy Bor, where LAES is located, and environmentalists warn that risks to the environment would be vastly increased by the launch of a new waste processing facility.

Alexander Senotrusov, deputy head of the municipal council of the village of Lebyazhye, whose name translates into English as “Swan’s Land,” said the village has already lost two-thirds of its inland area owing to aggressive construction. “The area is inhabited by swans during the spring and autumn migration periods,” said Senotrusov. “If it is heavily developed, the land will become unsuitable for swans.”