Saturday, July 6, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Collateral Damage from Three New Russian Laws

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 6 – Three new pieces of Russian legislation appear likely to inflict serious collateral damage on that country, eliminating a defender of Lake Baikal against industrial pollution, inflicting new suffering on the already hard-pressed numerically small peoples of the north, and destroying some of the last vestiges of federalism in the Russian Federation.

            First, while the Russian government’s plan to “reform” the Russian Academy of Sciences has already drawn fire for its impact on that country’s science and scientists, “Izvestiya” suggests that “the first victim” of that reform may be the Irkutsk institute charged with studying the waters of Lake Baikal (

            The Moscow paper says that sources in the education and science ministry plan to evaluate the Limnological Institute of the Siberian Division of the Academy of Sciences and that because of “suspicions” that that body is “working ineffectively” ultimately shut it down, a plan that the Duma natural resources committee confirms.

            A staff member of the Limnological Institute speaking on condition of anonymity said that this threat may be related to the opposition of Mikhail Grachev, the institute’s director, to the reform of the Academy of Sciences as a whole. But however that may be, its shuttering would have serious consequences for Baikal and indeed all of Siberia.

            The institute’s studies of the environment in and around Lake Baikal and in other rivers and lakes of Siberia and the Russian Far East have often been cited by ecological activists opposed to industrial development. If the institute should be closed, such activists would be forced to look elsewhere for data, and Russian firms would face one less obstacle to business as usual.

Second, Moscow has prepared draft legislation cutting the size of the areas in the Russian North classified as Arctic lands and thus reduce the number of governments and peoples who can obtain the special tax and other benefits such a status provides. And it blocks private firms from getting involved in air transportation within that territory ( and

This measure, backed by the government and thus almost certain to be approved, will give the central government even more control over coastal territories, but it will have the effect of reducing still further the resources available to the numerically small peoples of the North and force even more of them to leave the region.

That exodus (For a discussion of that issue, see will have a negative impact on almost all of the 26 numerically small peoples of the North and may even call into question the long-term survival of some of the smallest of these Northern groups.

And third, legislation that will make the heads of Russia’s regions responsible for maintaining ethnic peace, passed by the Duma on first reading yesterday over the objections of Just Russia and the LDPR, will because of its vagueness give Moscow an even freer hand than it has now to remove governors it does not like ( and

Because the measure makes governors responsible not only for prevent inter-ethnic conflicts but also for promoting ethnic “harmony” but does not define those terms, the central government will, once the measure is passed, be able to invoke it to remove anyone it doesn’t like, thus compromising still further Russia’s federal system.

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