Saturday, May 9, 2009

Window on Eurasia: RusHydro Charges Evenk Dam Opponents with ‘Extremism’

Paul Goble

Vienna, May 9 – RusHydro, which builds and operates hydroelectric stations for the Russian government, has accused a group opposing a dam it wants to build in Krasnoyarsk kray of extremism, a charge that prompted interior ministry officers there to call in representatives of the website of the opposition yesterday for “an explanation.”
But the charge and the expansive definition of “extremism” interior ministry officials have accepted has prompted the Russian section of the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace, and other environmental protection groups to denounce the company for engaging in such “black PR” against its opponents(
This battle goes back several years. If RusHydro goes ahead with its plans, some one million hectares of land will be flooded, destroying not only a unique natural habitat but also putting at risk the survival of a small ethnic community, the Evenks, who have lived there and depended on that environment from time immemorial.
Earlier this year, the ecological and ethnic objections to this project came together when more than 9,000 Evenks and their supporters wrote an open letter to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in which they reminded him that the UN Council on Human Rights had explicitly called on Moscow to end its support for the construction of this dam.
Despite that, however, RusHydro has pressed ahead, largely because it enjoys the support of Moscow officials who expect to profit from the sale of the electric power to Mongolia and China that such a dam will generate and who feel confident they can ignore an ethnic group few Russians have ever heard about.
Indeed, the acting head of the company, Vasily Zubakin, took the view that RusHydro had nothing to learn from or talk over with its opponents. “We are perfectly justified” in what we are doing, he said. The company’s opponents are simply engaged in “a political game” and thus do not merit attention.
“I am not a supporter of witch hunts and cannot see the hand of [foreign] special services everywhere, but when one observes the increase in the activity of ecological organizations, it is obvious that they are seeking to identify the latest enemy,” pointedly adding that Russians could guess “in what country of the world the site is registered.”
But having gained the support of the environmentalist movement, the Evenks and their local supporters have become increasingly radical in their expressions of outrage about the project. And the expression of this anger reached a new high when a Siberian journalist urged Moscow and RusHydro to back off lest they “force the Evenks to shoot.”
In an April 11th article that was featured on many Runet portals, he recalled that the Evenks are well armed, have a long tradition as sharpshooters – an Evenk was one of the best and most renowned Soviet snipers during World War II – and could be expected to use violence if their views continue to be ignored.
That was too much for RusHydro, and three days after the article appeared, its officers sent a letter to the officials within the Krasnoyarsk internal affairs department responsible for countering terrorism, denouncing the article as a clear call for violence and demanding that the authorities move against (
RusHydro apparently singled out because it has regularly featured articles critical of the company. Indeed, in its complaint about the April 11th article, the company appended a six page list of articles it had produced on its own or carried from other sites such as, and Radio Liberty.
Yesterday, in advance of Victory Day and perhaps expecting that few would notice this latest example of official misuse of Russia’s counter-extremism laws, the Krasnoyarsk militia called in But the quick reaction of environmental groups shows that in the age of the Internet, those who think they can hide such actions for long are almost certainly wrong.

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