Vienna, April 21 – Having failed to force Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to reverse his decision to allow the Baikalsk cellulose and paper plant to restart and dump chemical wastes into Lake Baikal, the leaders of the Baikal Movement have sent an appeal to chiefs of state and leaders of major businesses, asking them to bring pressure to bear on Moscow to save Baikal.
Noting that already today, two billion people in 80 countries lack sufficient access to potable water, the appeal says that it is “impossible to overestimate the role of Lake Baikal … as a unique, natural water-producing factory that constantly replenishes a reservoir containing more than 20 percent of the world’s liquid fresh water” (news.babr.ru/?IDE=85273).
Moreover, the appeal continues, it was the opposition of governments abroad that “saved Lake Baikal” in 2006 “from the deadly threat of the Eastern Siberia-Pacific Ocean oil pipeline” that Putin hoped to build. But tragically, it continues, that success has not yet been translated into a change in Moscow’s policies toward the environment.
“Today,” the appeal says, “Baikal’s unique ecosystem [including but not limited to the lake itself] is yet again under threat of complete destruction by unethical and irresponsible business, specifically by an oligarch who wields unlimited influence over the Russian state’s thoroughly corrupt administrative structures.”
Until officials closed the Baikalsk Mill in October 2008, the appeal recounts, it was “the only industrial polluter to discharge dangerous toxic wastes directly into Lake Baikal and the surrounding atmosphere.” But on January 13th of this year, Putin owed al the mill “not only to resume its harmful operations but to work without the closed wastewater cycle” earlier required.
Prior to its closure in 2008, the plant had been dumping up to 200,000 tons of toxic liquid wastes every day directly into Lake Baikal as well as various pollutants into the atmosphere, the appeal notes. Since 2002, the plant has been owned by a company controlled by Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, a close friend of Putin’s and someone guilty of “financial impropriety.”
According to the appeal, Deripaska and his firms “squeeze everything possible from their factories,” while “investing next to nothing into repair, maintenance and upgrades of equipment,” a pattern that leads not only to “serious accidents” but also guarantees that the plants pollute the environment more than necessary.
“Ever-increasing toxic and poisonous emissions from Mr. Deripaska`s factories can at any point,” the appeal says, “irreversibly change the quality of water in Lake Baikal, a lake that could provide almost the entire population of our planet with clean water in the future,” a reality the authors of the appeal call on governments and businesses to take into consideration.
In almost all countries around the world, the appeal says, the kind of “unethical and irresponsible” behavior that Deripaska has engaged in “would have been stopped with fines and criminal prosecutions a long time ago.” And even in Russia, Deripaska has tried to hide his personal role through shadow companies.
Because of this and because of the Russian government’s failure to take action, the Baikal Movement “appeals to all responsible heads of state who respect international environmental legal norms to demand that the Russian government fulfill consistently its international environmental obligations.”
The Movement urges that foreign governments and businesses “demand that the Russian Government enforce its own laws, including the Law on the Protection of Lake Baikal, to halt the operations of the Baikalsk mill which has already polluted Lake Baikal and the water treatment systems of Baikalsk with industrial effluents.”
And in what may prove to be the most provocative appeal, the Baikal Movement calls on “the international banking and business communities” to follow the World Bank “in renouncing all joint projects with any corporations and companies belonging to Oleg Deripaska” as a way of bringing pressure to bear on him and his patrons in Moscow.