Saturday, October 5, 2013

Window on Eurasia: If a Tree is Cut Down in the North Caucasus, Moscow Wants to Ensure No One Hears About It

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 5 – The Russian authorities, long angered by the reporting the Ecological Watch for the North Caucasus of violations by President Vladimir Putin and other officials of environmental laws and after a campaign of harassment against the group, appear to have decided to take superficially “law-like” but not legal steps to close the group down.

            This latest attack is almost certainly connected with the group’s continuing coverage of violations of the law by those who are building a road to Putin’s dacha near Sochi and to official anger that such reports are getting national and international exposure as the February 2014 Olympiad approaches.

            Yesterday, the group’s website posted a report on just what has been going on.  It began by reporting that the administration of the Ministry of Justice for the Adygey Republic has given Ecological Watch “a repeat warning” claiming that the group had failed to “react” to an earlier one.  That sets the stage for a move to ban the group (

            The organization notes that “being a group which regularly has revealed serious violations of environmental protection law committed on the initiative and in the interests of senior official of the Russian Federation (and above all, Russian President Vladimir Putin) and also by the leadership of certain regions of the North Caucasus,” Ecological Watch “has long been the focus of particular attention by the special services and other state organs.”

            Over the past year, officials of the FSB, Center E, and the Russian procuracy have conduced searches, demanded that the group register as a foreign agent, and taken a variety of other steps to interfere with its activities.  Recently, the Administration of the Justice Ministry for the Republic of Adygeya, where Ecological Watch is registered, joined this fray.

            In a July 29 letter, that administration called on Ecological Watch to provide a variety of documents for the period 2010-2013. Then the letter said that if it did not provide these documents in a timely manner, the group would receive a warning that it was in violation of the law. On the basis for that, the group received a second warning on September 10.

            It would appear that everything is according to the rules: an organization is asked for documents, doesn’t provide them and is given a warning.  But, the leaders of Ecological Watch for the North Caucasus say, there is just one problem: they did not receive either the July 29 notification or the August 7 warning. 

            Yesterday, the organization’s leaders say, they sent “an official letter to the Administration of the Justice Ministry” in which they explained this Kafkaesque situation. And they conclude their public announcement of this action with the following words:

            “The efforts of various Russian government organs directed at creating obstacles to the activity of the Ecological Watch on the North Caucasus, to prevent it from being involved in ecological and legal defense activity, and to shift the focus of its attention to its own defense instead of the defense of public interests has already become customary.”

            Moreover, the group says, “On the whole, pressure on social organizations which issue sharp criticism of the activity of the present rotting state system of Russia which works not for the interests of society and the state but for the personal interests of bureaucrats and oligarchs and which is penetrated top to bottom by corruption has sadly become in [Russia] the norm.”

            But the latest moves of the Administration of the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation for the Republic of Adygeya “testify that there is an intention not simply to create obstacles for the activities of Ecological Watch but also to close it down.”  If that happens, there may be no one to report on the trees that the authorities are now cutting down.

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