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Putin’s State of the Nation, Part V – the Environment

In our series of articles on the State of the Russian Federation speech given last week by President Vladimir Putin, we now move to a topic that was once very neglected in Russia, but now is taking its place in the scheme of things – the environment.

Russia is the largest country on Earth by land area, and it is relatively depopulated – only about 145 million people in a territory nearly twice the size of the United States. The combined effects of both post-Communist malaise among some of the citizenry and the extremely rapid economic development of others created some amazing gaps in terms of environmental controls. Many Russians have noted this with the thought that “we have the largest country on earth, so we tend to be very lazy with how we just throw our garbage everywhere and do not care.”

Yet, that statement also shows that the concern for the environment is increasing. In recent years, many steps were taken around Moscow to clean up unsightly areas of refuse in plain sight of railway and Metro stations, and these efforts are expanding their reach across the country.

There does not appear to be a strong environmentalist “lobby” in the Russian Federation, certainly not like the American counterpart with both the EPA and the charitable foundations directed towards conservation, but there is a simple practical reality that part of Russia are actually deadly for life because of past handling of radioactive or other toxic wastes, and it has become obvious that now is the time to act to clean this up to preserve the country for its future generations.

We have excerpted and commented on some of the relevant sections of the President’s speech below:

I would like to focus on the objectives set forth in the May 2018 Executive Order and detailed in the national projects. Their content and the targets they set are a reflection of the demands and expectations of Russia’s citizens. People are at the core of the national projects, which are designed to bring about a new quality of life for all generations…

…At the same time, I would like to emphasise and repeat: our development projects are not federal and even less so agency-based. They are national. Their results must be visible in each region of the Federation, in every municipality. It is here, on the ground, that the majority of specific tasks is implemented…

The environment: a topic long-neglected in Russia, but now getting attention:

Colleagues, people have increasingly high demands on environmental safety issues. Perhaps, the most painful topic is municipal waste. If you remember, it came up for the first time during one of my Direct Lines. Yes, we have probably neglected the waste disposal problems for maybe a hundred years, which means we have never paid attention to them. Many landfills are overfilled because waste has been accumulating there for decades. The landfills have turned into real mountains of garbage near residential areas.

By the way, I am also interested to know how you issued permits for the construction of residential neighbourhoods next to these dumps and landfills. Didn’t you think of that? You should have. I urge the representatives of the authorities at all levels: pretending that nothing is happening, turning away, brushing aside people’s needs is absolutely unacceptable. These issues are difficult, of course, but difficult issues must also be addressed.

This year, the regions began adopting a new system of solid municipal waste management. However, if the only change is a rise in rubbish clearance prices – well, this is not real work; it is a sham. People need to see what they are paying for and what real changes are happening. It is necessary to restore order in this area, to get rid of shady businesses that do not bear any responsibility and only get super-profits dumping trash at random sites.

There remains quite an element of Communist-era inertia and corruption, and here we see how the President addressed it. (and, no, no one disappeared and died in the night)

This year, the regions began adopting a new system of solid municipal waste management. However, if the only change is a rise in rubbish clearance prices – well, this is not real work; it is a sham. People need to see what they are paying for and what real changes are happening. It is necessary to restore order in this area, to get rid of shady businesses that do not bear any responsibility and only get super-profits dumping trash at random sites.

We need to build a civilized and safe system of waste treatment, recycling and disposal. Surprisingly, a year ago I personally had to interfere on some matters. I had to talk to the Interior Ministry and the Prosecutor’s Office several times.

You know, surprisingly, I would like to say it again, almost nothing moved forward until I gave an order to station a guard there and not to let anyone in. This is the only way it works, because these shady companies, the so-called fly-by-nights, they just make quick profits and shut down their so-called business…

I ask the Russian Popular Front to ensure effective public control here, including reliance on public environmental inspectors. Their signals regarding any violations must be considered by the authorities, who must adopt specific measures. In the next two years, 30 large problem landfills within city boundaries must be closed and rehabilitated, and in six years, all the rest. At the same time, it is necessary to increase the share of waste treatment from today’s 8–9 percent to 60, so as not to accumulate new millions of tonnes of trash.

It is necessary to introduce stricter environmental requirements when it comes to utility services and energy and transport enterprises. In part, I am urging businesses to play a more active role in natural gas motor fuel projects, and invest in the formation of a network of fueling stations and fuel systems using liquefied natural gas. We have enough of it, more than any other country. Indeed, this is a complicated and costly project but it should be carried out because it will produce results not only for businesses but for the people as well.

A positive effect from the industry’s transfer to the best affordable technologies and strict environmental standards should be felt by residents of major industrial centres of the country, primarily the 12 cities I mentioned in the 2018 Address. These places should be finally removed from the zone of real environmental disaster.

Over a period of the next six years, the amount of polluting emissions in the air should be reduced there by no less than 20 percent. To prevent anyone from the temptation of dodging the implementation of this job, it is necessary to strictly monitor industrial and other companies responsible for this, to map out the specific steps they should take to minimise environmental damage, and to register all this in a law on emission quotas.

I know all too well what this is all about. I know that fairly influential lobbyists are trying to impede this draft law as much as they can. I know their arguments very well too: the need to preserve jobs and a complicated economic situation.

But this cannot go on endlessly in this manner. It must not. Let me recall that in making such decisions we should be guided by the interests of the people of Russia rather than corporate interests or interests of some individuals. Colleagues, please pass this law during the spring session.

Finding solutions for environmental problems is the job of our researchers and people in industry. Each of us is responsible for this. I am urging young people, among others, to take a more active part in this work. We must hand over to the future generations an environmentally safe country and preserve Russia’s natural potential as well as its specially protected areas.

This year new national parks will open in the republics of Daghestan, Komi and Sakha (Yakutia), Altai Territory and Chelyabinsk Region. However, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that many specially protected areas do not yet have precise borders and their regulations are not observed.

I have instructed the Ministry of Natural Resources to conduct a detailed audit. All sanctuaries must be registered in the cadastre. It is also necessary to adopt a law according to which only environmental tourism can take place in nature reserves, without any withdrawal of territories, wood cutting or major construction work. Naturally, it is necessary to take into account the interests of the locals but these issues should be resolved in a package.

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Olivia Kroth
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Russia has beautiful nature, worth while preserving. Bravo, President Putin.

JNDillard
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JNDillard

Long overdue, due to an economy traditionally dependent on carbon-based fuels. Putin is definitely playing catch-up here, but based on both his popularity and the relative weakness of corporate lobbies, he should be able to advance environmental legislation a great deal in the remaining time he is in office. I expect to see him push this issue ever harder with each passing yearly presentation to the National Assembly.

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