Watch the interview on YouTube (in Russian)
Alexander, thank you very much that you agreed to give an interview to the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum. What was the idea behind establishing the “Plotina.Net!” Movement? What are the issues your organisation, “PLOTINA”, is facing now?
Ten years ago, when the “Plotina.Net!” Association was founded, we had only one local issue on the agenda – opposing the construction project of one of the biggest hydroelectric power plants (HPPs) on the Lower Angara. And, later on, we ourselves did not even realise, how, gradually, one thing led to another, and how we discovered ourselves being engaged in a wide range of environmental problems. We protect the Lake Baikal from potential Mongolian HPPs to be built, we have disputes with the companies of Oleg Deripraska, who owns cascade stations in the Angarsk Region, which are responsible for exploiting Baikal as a water resource. The same can be said about the gold mining in remote areas across the Krasnoyarsk, Zabaikalsky and Amur Region… Very often, the pollution coming from the mines can be seen even on the satellite images taken from the Earth’s orbit. It stretches to hundreds of kilometres downstream. Since the inspectors of the Federal Service for Supervision of Use of Natural Resources are very busy, while the staff itself is very small, it is not possible to trace all the pollution, and that is where we come to help – together with the experts from the Centre of Satellite Monitoring and Civilian Oversight. It is not our first time monitoring the gold mines and identifying all the extreme violations of water pollution.
You mentioned Oleg Deripraska, who promises to make Eastern Siberia carbon-free. To what extent is this project actually environmentally friendly?
My point of view is in an absolute contradiction to his ideas. He claims that he is acting in response to the Paris Agreement, proposes to close down all the coal power plants and build large dams in their place. Given that HPPs are a cheap source of renewable energy, he aims to utilise the entire hydro potential of Siberian rivers, while he also intends to sell the electricity surplus to China. However, having this in mind, we often forget that water is a renewable source, but the rivers are not. A single HPP alone can quietly destroy the river and turn it into a dead water reservoir. Thanks to the enormous effort of the environmental community, we have been able to defend Amur so far, while almost all the nearby Siberian rivers are blocked.
Next year, the Winter Universiade will be held in Krasnoyarsk. From the outside, it looks that there is a multitude of problems inside and around the city. How are the things with air pollution and the construction of nuclear facilities around Krasnoyarsk?
If we talk about the preparation for the Winter Universiade in 2019, the main issue here is a massive amount of trees and bushes being felled inside the city. Judging by the pace of work that has already started, it is unlikely that the constructors will suddenly stop, when the Universiade is over, – we see more and more nearby multi-storey housing projects already planned.
The second issue is the air quality, which is, by the way, the problem the authorities have promised to address. However, we see that, at the end of the day, this is simply not the case, since the plans to improve the air quality do not entail any radical measures stopping the activities of the largest polluters. In our city, we have the Krasnoyarsk aluminium plant, which annually produces a million tons of aluminium and which accounts for a one-third of all harmful emissions (the other two-thirds are made up by thermal power plants and exhaust emissions coming from the transportation). Unfortunately, the policy of our city authorities is aimed at stimulating the growth of private car ownership. As a result, Krasnoyarsk is one of the leaders in Russia in terms of number of cars per capita.
If we look only at these two huge problems, then the third one, regarding the nuclear facilities, might not seem so essential anymore. We already have built two depleted nuclear fuel storage facilities, to which the fuel assemblies are coming from all of Russia. We have manufacturing facilities for the MOX fuel. And now the preparation is under way for the construction of an underground laboratory, which, in the case of scientists being satisfied with their research within the next ten years, could be turned into a federal repository for disposing the highly radioactive waste from all over Russia.
How can this situation be influenced? What do you do about it?
Concerning the deforestation, we have done a lot of things! There were public inspections, and physical checks of the green space run by the public themselves. We have invited the representatives of the administration and made the physical survey of the site, where the trees were intended to be demolished, and even calculated how many trees would be felled and how many of them were going to be uprooted completely, and what was going to be the total damage of it. Unfortunately, the authorities have not accepted our numbers, and made their own estimations instead. We proposed to create a supervisory board for the preparation of the Universiade, so that it would be possible to monitor the compliance with the environmental standards, but it has not worked out so far. In the meantime, we notice that the other zones where the new trees are being planted – as a compensation for the Universiade losses, are planted in such a way that the majority of trees will simply wither before even a year passes.
Have there been any positive moments in recent years regarding the environment in the region, which you could point out?
Probably, it would be the activities and self-organisation of the civil society itself. For example, people have come together and decided to install the air sensors throughout the whole city, so that they could gain independence from the official networks of observation and understand themselves what was the air quality in their city. We immediately witnessed the opposition coming from the authorities, which sought to prevent the activists from measuring the air quality. However, this pressure had zero effects. Besides, this summer a project was implemented, which was aimed at inspection of the trees growing in the centre of Krasnoyarsk, so that in the future it would be more difficult to fell trees without impunity. Each tree is counted, mapped and included in a database. The next step is to legitimise the status of a tree and make the process of felling a tree as hard as possible.
“Plotina. Net!” is a member organisation of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum. Why is it important for you to be in the Forum? How can the Forum assist in running your activities?
First of all, the Forum is one of the rare opportunities to have a dialogue outside the Russian Federation. Now, in response to the introduction of the “foreign agents” concept in the Russian legislation, and as the number of foreign funds have been declared “undesirable organisations”, the opportunities for interaction between the Russian and foreign environmental activists have decreased. But we have a lot of common issues, which are better addressed hand in hand. Or, at least, we need to share our experiences, so that we do not make the same mistakes anymore. In this sense, the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum provides an opportunity to get familiar with public environmental organisations from other countries, to see the whole range of civil society and to understand not only, where do you stand in Russia but also where you can position yourself in a wider pan-European context.
What would you like to wish to the Forum members?
I have one wish – notwithstanding the deteriorating situation and the growing negative rhetoric coming on the part of the Russian government, on the one hand, and the European Union, on the other hand, I would simply like the dialogue among the civil society representatives to be continued.
Thank you very much for this interview.
Interview was shot by the Secretariat of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum on 18 September 2018 in Berlin, Germany.