Friday, July 31, 2015

New Putin Law Eliminates Environmental Protections on Bridge to Crimea, Bellona Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 31 – Vladimir Putin has just signed legislation which “radically simplifies” provisions in existing Russian law governing environmental protection for the planned bridge between the Russian Federation and Russian-occupied Crimea across the Kerch Straits, the Bellona environmental protection watchdog organization says.

            And that means, the organization’s Dmitry Shevchenko suggests, that in the course of the planned construction of this bridge “everything is possible,” including the elimination of environmental assessments, something that opens the way to a possible ecological disaster there (

             The new law, Russian officials say, simply “”lifts administrative barriers”” in order to speed the building of the bridge, the Bellona analyst says; but that is little more than a euphemism for gutting even Russia’s limited environmental protection laws. Consequently, this should be a source of serious concern for Russia, Ukraine and the international community.

            That is just the latest in a long line of steps the Russian authorities have taken in the Kerch Straits that represent a problem. Most people would have expected that the Russian bridge, designed to carry more traffic to Crimea than the existing ferry services can, would at least take the shortest route, as the Germans unsuccessfully attempted in World War II.

            “However, as often happens in [Russia], for inexplicable reasons, another variant was chosen – the most illogical, expensive and ecologically dangerous” one, Shevchenko says, one that crosses the very widest part of the straits near the entrance to the Black Sea.  That will guarantee only that the price will be extraordinarily high – allowing for corruption – and that environmental damage will be massive.

            “Having received carte blanche” from Moscow, Arkady Rotenberg’s firm, Stroygazmontazh have simply plunged ahead and ignored all calls to conduct the usual environmental assessments. The new legislation Putin has just signed simply puts a legal cover over his oligarch friend’s actions.

            This is not the first time Moscow has taken such a step: to prepare for the Sochi Olympiad and to build facilities for the Asia-Pacific summit in Vladivostok, the Russian government declared that work in these places was not to be delayed by ecological concerns. The result was massive destruction of the environment and massive corruption as well.

            The law about the Kerch Straits project was rushed through the Duma, Shevchenko reports. It was submitted by the government on June 10, passed on first reading a week later, and by July 1 passed on second and third reading with little debate. On July 13, Putin signed the measure.

            As a result of this haste, there was little opportunity for and little evidence of any public debate about what the new law will do – and whether it should be passed or implemented.  Groups like Ecological Watch on the North Caucasus which have reviewed the law in detail find it deeply flawed and dangerous, “a fig leaf” covering another disaster.

                The Bellona organization concurs with this finding, Shevchenko says.

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