Friday, July 17, 2015

Russian Naval Activities Seen Polluting Caspian, Threatening Livelihood of Those on Its Shores

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 17 – While most officials are unwilling to say so lest they incur the wrath of the Russian government, the mass die off of fish on the Caspian Sea in recent months is seen by many in Daghestan and elsewhere along the sea’s shores as the direct result of Moscow’s expanded naval presence on that body of water.

            The dying off of fish in the Caspian, Faina Kachabekova writes in “Kavkazskaya politika” has led some to suggest that high temperatures are the cause, although this has been discredited, and others to point to pollution, including pollution from recent Russian naval maneuvers (

Much of the waste water flowing into the Caspian has been insufficiently cleaned (14 percent) or not cleaned at all (three percent), but those levels are little changed from the past. What is new is that the Russian naval flotilla has been increasingly active on the sea, and local people are inclined to blame the death of the fish on that.

Because many people along the shores of the Caspian depend on fishing for their livelihood and because even more count on locally caught fish for an important part of their diet, this is no small thing; and it only adds to the complaints local people have about Moscow and makes them more willing to listen to radical and Islamist critics.

In recent weeks, Kachabekova says, social networks in the region have been filled with talk about the death of fish in the Caspian.  Many of those taking part say that Russian naval exercises in May and June ( are to blame, and experts acknowledge that this could be the cause.

Akhma Abdusamaladov, head of the Daghestani branch of the Caspian Research Institute on the Fish Industry, says he cannot rule that out; but he adds that he cannot confirm it either because he does not have any data on just what the Russian flotilla has done. As a result, he says, he cannot challenge the “official” version that high water temperatures are to blame.

The dying off of fish in the Caspian is “not a new phenomenon,” he points out. “Annually fish die at this time of year. Some years more; other years fewer.” This pattern reflects water temperature, oxygen levels and food. But “in hot weather, fish can’t survive and therefore they die.”

            But such explanations, however correct they may be, clearly do not satisfy local people who want to identify who is to blame for what is happening because of the threat it poses to their livelihoods and even survival. 

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