Tsukanov S.S. – Problems of ecological security in the Russian Far East

In January of 2013 the head of the Russian government D.A. Medvedev conducted a meeting on the environment issues. He urged the government to continue taking measures to decrease negative effects on the environment, preserve and restore the unique natural resources and systems as well as increase ecological control and order in this sphere.  The Prime-Minister considers neglectful attitude to the ecological issues to be wild.  “No developed country allows such an attitude to the environment,” – Medvedev claimed.  This concerns both the state and private business.  Meanwhile, the year of 2013 is declared to be a year of environmental protection. Besides, in the end of 2012 the government sanctioned a national program of the environmental protection that will exist until 2020. Medvedev stated that the problems of ecology had not been prioritized in Russia for the last ten years, but now the situation is changing dramatically. “Everyone wants to be in touch nowadays: the state, the public institutions, informal leaders, and representatives of the opposition, and it is absolutely normal,” said the Prime-Minister. “Such is the state of things all over the world, and it means that we measure up to the civilized standards.”

On average estimate, Russia’s supply of natural resources is currently distributed across the country the following way: about 25% is located in the Urals and the European regions, around 40% in Siberia, and 35% in the Far East (including the marine shelf). More than 18,000 kilometers of sea and ocean coastline are located in the Russian Far East, thus making the region Russia’s main access to the sea. The importance of the sea food industry has dramatically increased. For example, the amount of fishing yield and sea food production in the Far East of Russia reaches up to 60% of the total amount in the country (compared to around 40% in the Soviet Union). 70% of the sea goods turnover goes through the ports of the region. Out of seventeen shipping lines being used in the Soviet period, only eight are left by now, the biggest four of which are located in the Far East. By some estimations, multiple and diverse natural resources (biological, mineral, oil and gas) could be found in the Far Eastern seas and on the Pacific Ocean shelf. Up to 80% of the Russian seacoasts are located in the southern part of the Far East. On the rise is the significance of many kinds of natural deposits of the Far Eastern region. Among them are non-ferrous and precious metals (such as gold, silver, diamonds), raw materials for timber industry, and fuel and gas.

Given the low population density (1.3 pop. per km2 overall, and just 1 pop. per km 2 in areas like Yakutia, Kamchatka, Chukotka, and Magadan Oblast), urbanization is very low all across the region. There are 6 cities in the Far Eastern Federal District, scattered around a vast territory, (approximately one city per100, 000 square kilometers). Though about 75% of the population is concentrated in Southern districts of the Far East (Amur and Sakhalin Oblasts, the Jewish Autonomous Oblast, the Maritime and Khabarovsk Krais), only 5.9 million of people live in the same huge territory with only 47 urban settlements present. The problem of attracting casual labor force from the western regions of Russia and foreign countries is very acute, especially considering that such work forces disregard matters of ecology.

Traditionally Russia is the biggest supplier of hydrocarbon fuel in Asia Pacific which is especially important given the multiple increase of supply all over the region. According to the Convention, “international energy security means reliable and trouble proof supply of all participants of the world market with energy resources necessary for their stable development, with minimal damage to the environment.”  This interpretation of the international energy security endows Russia with a role of the most crucial supplier of energy resources, but at the same time this denotes to some terms under which the supply security is acceptable. The terms are formed under the influence of external and internal threats against Russia’s energy security, among which are: export restrictions against Russia on the world market, as well as lack of access to new energy-related technologies; unfavorable competitive conditions for Russia in the oil-gas world market (demand and price restrictions); real and alleged threats of global warming, which bring about a decrease in demand and impose the restrictions on the use of Russia’s hydrocarbon resources; development and growth of the Russian market of energy-saving devices, which often goes against our real industrial capabilities and needs; equipment wear, potentially provoking  high risks of accidents and damage; an excessive dependence on technology import partially caused by the lack of fully functional national power-plant engineering; an increase of investment and production costs needed to maintain and develop the power base,  etc.

Such concept is a direct result of complicated relationships in the energy sphere between Russia and other countries, which use a rather specific collaboration model. It combines both a consumer initiative and a monopoly model. Naturally, such relationships bring about competition for a price, control over the supply and distribution networks, etc. Partnership within such model is limited to a cooperative investment in infrastructure and projects of oil-gas production, while cooperation in technology development, which is so important to Russia, does not take place. Similar situation may be observed in Sino-Russian relations. China compels Russia to give it a high price discount for its hydrocarbon resources, taking advantage of the fact that the oil-pipeline to Dacing is already built, and Russia currently has no opportunity to change directions of supplies. In addition, China, one-sidedly, exchanging the assets energy companies, thus affecting  Russia’s oil and gas production assets, which in turn hinders the flow of Russian investments in mining and distribution within the People’s Republic of China.

The given logic does not allow taking into account a wide range of opportunities for development of innovative, technological partnership with the countries of Asia-Pacific. Most of these countries are net-importers of hydrocarbon raw products. The spring events of 2011 in Japan demonstrated the problem of dependence from power import. Thus, Russia’s supply, which, in addition, is supported by its export infrastructure, is an attractive reason for a close partnership. Besides, the countries of the region also have modern technology, such as hydrocarbon processing. Including the existing industry of Siberia and the Russian Far East into the market structure of Asia-Pacific may help establish new businesses in the regions. International corporations should use local companies as resource and service suppliers, support the expenditure structure of their projects with new subprojects of regional importance, to take into account needs of the local regional complex.

Building new electric power stations can lead to a catastrophic damage to the wild nature of the Far East. All the more so, there has already been a negative experience related to the three main tributaries of the Amur river, namely the Sungari, the Zeya and the Bureya rivers. Scientists say that products of coal combustion will pollute Russia’s territory, contaminate and deplete its fresh water supply. The inhabitants of the Russian Far East would be left with their landscapes disfigured by the hydro-  and heat power stations and their fish stocks decreased. The Chinese, on the contrary, would benefit from receiving new cheap energy.

Regulation of environmental protection is essential to the international partnership in the sphere of energy production. Such control can be implemented through construction of new research centers dedicated to exploration of the ocean, its flora and fauna. As far as the environmentalists are concerned, the Russian Far East is a unique region, where the factor of ecology can fundamentally change an economic estimation of any project. Priority should be given to the investment offers that do not harm the fragile natural balance of the region. The above mentioned research centers must be closely integrated into the technological processes of the projects, which would allow to perform a role of a so-called “internal ecologic audit.”

Countries, alarmed by the problems of ecology, set ambitious goals before the world community: to reduce industrial energy consumption within twenty years, lower transport emissions, and switch to the “green” economy. Vice-president of the Russian APEC Study Center – G.A. Ivashentsov believes that an independent environmental working group may soon be formed within the framework of APEC.

“A solution to the problems of ecology lays in the use of new technologies,” says A.M. Bagin, a scientific adviser of the Natural Resources Economy Department within the National Research University “High Economy School.” Bagin believes that economic activity, by definition, is impossible without intervention into the environment, thus everybody’s to aim at achieving a reasonable balance, called ‘the ecological security”.  As an example, he brings environmental problems of the Russian Far East: “Resolving the problem of using various natural resources is a problem of the Far East. For instance, the Sea of Okhotsk is an area of intense harvesting of aquatic resources, and, at the same time, it is important for oil production industry… It turns these industries into competitors, unless they are organized to co-exist. The main challenge of the Far Eastern economic activity is a balance between the use, economic development and preservation of its resources, which are nothing but a treasure chest of mankind. “APEC forum debates the problems,” Bagin adds, – “It does not take binding decisions. The existing environmental problems were taken into consideration at a conference of ministers for the environment, which took place in Khabarovsk in 2012. I think that it will soon be necessary to establish a special working group on environmental protection.”

Not only legal but also illegal businesses may possess danger to the environment. Poachers are one of the greatest threats to the Far Eastern ecosystems. According to the head of Federal Agency for Fisheries A.A. Krayniy, Russia is currently negotiating with APEC members about fighting poaching and establishing a new fishery order in the region. “We are working on international fishing agreements, and some countries have already signed them. One of the most essential factors here is to attract funds for environmental organizations. Russia closely observes international experience in environmental protection and mitigation of ecologic damage.”

Meanwhile, the Governor of the Khabarovsk Kray V.I. Shport suggested lifting the ban on sturgeon fishing in the Amur River. This project is being prepared by the regional Ministry of Natural Resources on the Governor’s proposal, and it can destroy last hopes for recovery of the sturgeon population in the river, as well as lead to a rise of poaching. The local government’s reasoning is simple:” millions of sturgeon fry are bred by the “Amurrybvod” – fish farming facility, and according to some scientists, the sturgeon population is being slowly restored – “if we receive a fishing quota for 100, 000 tons of sturgeon, the Kray budget will receive almost 500 million rubles in taxes.” Governor Shport emphasized. “I think it is a promising opportunity, given that we release over 3 millions of sturgeon fry annually. Besides, control over sturgeon fishing should help us effectively oppose poaching.”

The decision to resume commercial fishing in the Amur River cannot be only taken without taking into consideration interests of other subjects of the Russian Federation, such as Transbaikal Kray, Amur Oblast, and the Jewish Autonomous Region. Meanwhile, the Khabarovsk Ggovernor’s initiative obviously contradicts to the opinion of the Far-Eastern scientists.

As far back as in 2011, the Plenipotentiary Presidential Envoy in the Far Eastern Federal District V.I. Ishaev sent a letter to President V.V. Putin, in which he argued for prematurity of the plans on sturgeon fishing: “… I ask you, Vladimir Vladimirovich, to turn down lifting of the ban on sturgeon fishing in the Amur River.”

A similar letter was sent to V.V. Putin on behalf of the coordinating Committee on Sustainable Development of the Amur River basin by its chairman Vice-governor of the Transbaikal Kray – E.V. Vishniykov.

Analysis of anti-poaching law violations Kamchatka Kray displayed the following result. According to the information provided by police officer M.A. Polykova performance reports from the duty of Kamchatka Kray regional and local police departments show that 576 crimes and transgressions of anti-poaching law were registered in local waters during the operation “Fishing Season -2012”-, from May 25 to October 25.

Over the course of the preventive operation, local police confiscated over 114, 000 tons of salmon and the other freshwater fish species, 41,900 tons of salmon caviar, and 330 kg of crab meat. In comparison, during the same period previous year the numbers were 265, 000 tons, 10,900 tons, and 10.3 kg respectively. The amount of confiscated illegal fishing gear and additional tools has also grown: fishing nets – 14, 230.3metres (422 pieces) this year vs. 5,295 meters (120 pieces) last year; 206 boats (vs. 112 last year), and 67 rudder boats (vs. 28 last year).

Operation “Fishing Season 2012” saw close cooperation between the police forces of Kamchatka Kray, Ust-Bolsheretsk State Inspectorate for Small Vessels, internal and external personnel of Federal Security Service and representatives of the Public Anti-corruption Committee.

As the actions were conducted, 47 violations of environmental legislation were revealed (14 of which resulted in criminal cases being open under charge of illegal harvesting of aquatic resources and plants). 10 instances of illegal fishing were detected (5 of which resulted in criminal cases under the same article), and five more violations of harvesting of aquatic resources were brought to the light by the members of the Public Anti-corruption Committee.

In order to provide road control over illegal traffic of aquatic resources, a mobile guard-post was set up on the route Elizovo-Milkovo and near the settlement of Nachiki by the Motor Licensing and Inspection Department (MLID) in July 2012. Two guard-posts, three members of Federal Agency of Fishery each, were organized in Elizovsk district, near a spawning area of the lake Nachikinskoye, and an additional guard-post consisting of three members of Federal Security Service was set up near the mouth of the bolshaya River in Ust-Bolsheretsk district.

There are 168 poaching proceedings instituted (last year -116), 130 administrative reports are drawn up. 10 more cases are in sight.

The analysis the environmental security shows that threats to it turn more complex. Modern tendencies of technologic development higher the risks of large-scale man-triggered disasters which number keeps growing. The examples are plenty: Sayno-Shushenskaya hydropower station accident in August of 2009, the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in May of 2010, Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in March of 2011, explosions in Russian military ammunition depots. Human factor starts playing an increasingly important role as a source of this type of technological disasters. However, other basic factors are still present, such as:  constant increase in exploitation of natural resources, growth in size and power of potentially dangerous objects, and decline in professional training and labor discipline of their stuff.

While speaking about the increasing scale of aftermath of natural and man-made disasters in the territory of Russia, we have to stress a lack of productive feedback between eco-forecasting and actions of the federal government. This demonstrates certain drawbacks in legal regulations and standards in the sphere of environmental and social protection. Cooperation between the government and independent public organizations over the national ecological development and protection not only would provide an incentive to solve the above-stated problem, but would also contribute to formation of the civil socity.

S.S. Tsukanov, c.e.s.


Translated by Valery Kazantsev, APIR Center

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