Gazprom Over Nature

08 November 2011
ByVladimir Ryzhkov

Russia’s first chief of the secret police, Alexander Benkendorf, served two centuries ago under Tsar Nicholas I, and it is his portrait that should be hanging in every office at the Federal Security Service and Interior Ministry. Benkendorf gave a classic definition of the Russian authorities’ relationship to the law when he said: “Laws are written for subordinates, not for rulers.”

That is precisely the principle at the heart of the current Russian government. It justifies everything — from state officials using flashing blue lights to speed through Moscow traffic to governors and mayors continuing the rich tradition of lining their pockets and those of their close associates at the public’s expense.

State officials often abuse their influence and power to avoid answering to the law after committing illegal acts. A vivid example of this principle is the gas pipeline to China thatGazpromis eager to build over the Altai Mountains and directly through the Ukok Plateau, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Because the Ukok Plateau has been part of the Golden Mountains of Altai UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1998, the law requires special permission before any heavy construction can be performed. What’s more, environmental impact studies must be made in advance. But, according to a Natural Resources and Environment Ministry letter issued in July, this has not been done. Nevertheless, preliminary work has already begun along the path of the intended pipeline through Altai and in the region that includes the Ukok Sanctuary.

According to many eyewitnesses who visited the region between July and September, the work to construct the pipeline through the protected plateau is proceeding at full steam. Heavy drilling rigs are operating, and surveyors have marked out the path of the pipeline all the way to the Russian-Chinese border. I personally saw the equipment and the surveyors’ markings when I visited the region in October. What’s more, Gazprom contractors have admitted to local environmentalists that they have not obtained permission for the work.

Worse, in September a fire destroyed about 4,000 hectares of alpine steppe in the Ukok Plateau. This area is the habitat for many rare species of birds and animals, including the endangered argali sheep and snow leopard. Local guides suspect that Gazprom contractors might have intentionally caused the blaze in the hope of removing the area’s protected status under a new amendment that would change the borders of nature reserves if those territories “lose their value.” Of course, it is also possible that the fire was caused by the carelessness and negligence of Gazprom workers.

Once remote and inaccessible, Ukok has become a popular tourist destination for travelers all over the world thanks to dozens of articles in top travel and nature magazines, television documentaries and the recent archeological discovery of the 2,500-year-old Ice Maiden found intact in the permafrost. If the gas pipeline is built, the nature of the Ukok Plateau and its ecosystem will be destroyed.

UNESCO already lists the Ukok Plateau as a World Heritage Site that might be under threat. Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund are closely monitoring the situation and regularly send inquiries to Russian authorities responsible for protecting the environment. UNESCO plans to send its own mission to Ukok in May to check on compliance with its requirements.

Why doesn’t Gazprom consider alternate routes that would bypass the nature reserve and pass instead through Mongolia or Kazakhstan?

The Chinese are also wondering why the Russians are in such a rush. Chinese authorities have not signed any purchase agreements with Gazprom mainly because they are not willing to pay the high Gazprom gas prices. What’s more, China has its own source of gas in Xinjian as well as a newly opened pipeline bringing gas from Turkmenistan. Beijing officials claim that Prime MinisterVladimir Putinpersonally insists on the pipeline through Altai at almost every meeting with Chinese leaders. Could it be that Putin and his colleagues who have top positions in the gas sector have the most to gain from the project?

The Gazprom pipeline through the Ukok Plateau could become the largest, most expensive and most environmentally damaging white elephant in history. Members of the ruling elite have already built palaces and luxurious villas in nature reserves on the Black Sea coast and in Adygeya.

The country’s ruling business and political elite have completely corrupt values. For example, at a public hearing in Gorno-Altai, a Gazprom representative gave himself away when he referred to the holiest spot of Russian Orthodoxy, saying, “We will lay a pipeline right through the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius [in Sergiyev Posad] if we have to!”

Read more:
The Moscow Times

Unique Dog-Search Engine for the First Time Took Part in An Expedition to Search for Traces of the Snow Leopard

WWF summarizes research on the potential snow leopard habitat in the northeastern part of South-Chu Ridge and Southern Ridge Chikhacheva (Altai Republic), performed by members of the Altai Nature Reserve with the support of WWF in the monitoring program

In Russian:

20 October 2011

Russia starts expedition to track snow leopards 2011-10-21 19:29:51

IRKUTSK, Russia, Oct. 21 (Xinhua) — Russian scientists started Friday an expedition to track the endangered snow leopards in southern Siberia, the RIA Novosti news agency reported.

A research team will travel to the Altai-Sayan mountainous region to collect data on the snow leopard population and its habitat range.

This is the third phase of the expedition “On the Trail of Snow Leopards.” The results will be presented in late November.

In 2010, Russia launched a five-year program to study and monitor the snow leopard population in southern Siberia.

Under the program, a reserve will be set up in the western Sayan region for the conservation of the snow leopard.

The snow leopard is a rare and quickly vanishing animal, which ranks as Category 1 — critically endangered — on Russia’s list of threatened species. The number of snow leopards in Russia was 150 to 200 in 2002. The number might have been further reduced as a result of poaching.

Editor: Wang Guanqun

Supreme Court in Russia’s Altai overrules acquittal of VIP poachers

GORNO-ALTAISK, August 11 (RIA Novosti)

he Altai Republic’s Supreme Court has overruled the acquittal of poachers, two of them high-ranking officials, convicted of hunting endangered mountain sheep, and ordered a retrial with a new panel of judges.

A helicopter carrying government officials crashed near Chernaya Mountain in Altai in January 2009, killing seven people, including the Russian president’s envoy to the State Duma, Alexander Kosopkin, and an environmental off icial.

The officials were allegedly on an illegal hunting expedition when the helicopter crashed. Three of the four people who survived the crash – the republic’s deputy prime minister Anatoly Bannykh, deputy chief of a Moscow university, Nikolai Kapranov, and State Duma official and businessman Boris Belinsky – were brought to trial.

The investigation into the case was closed twice over the lack of evidence of the suspects’ involvement in poaching. The court eventually acquitted them, frustrating environmentalists and animals rights activists.

The Argali sheep is included on Russia’s list of protected species as well as on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) list. Hunting wild rams has been forbidden in Russia since 1930.

The case sparked public outcry after images of the helicopter’s wreckage, in which dead wild rams were clearly seen, a ppeared on the internet soon after the crash.

Putin’s animal antics questioned in Russia

By Maria Antonova (AFP) – 19 hours ago

MOSCOW — “There’s a good kitty, a pretty kitty,” Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was shown by state media telling snow leopard last weekend, who stared back at him, covered in fresh blood.

The rare species is the latest to go under “personal control” of the Russian leader, who is overseeing research programs on a handful of mammals, including the tiger, beluga whale and polar bear.

As part of that work he has taken part in several tagging missions with scientists from the Moscow-based Severtsov Institute.

But other scientists have said the snow leopard was harmed, and that the program is scientifically unreasonable and directed more towards publicity.

The leopard, called Mongol, had to be flown to Khakasia, about 160 kilometers (100 miles) away from its habitat in the Sayano-Shushensky reserve, and was held in captivity for five days, released only after meeting Putin.

The removal of the animal was “criminal”, according to the regional UNDP-funded programme on biodiversity, since the Severtsov institute only had permission to tag Mongol, which could have been done in 15 minutes.

On Sunday, the Severtsov institute said on its website that the animal had to be held and treated for wounds on his neck and cheekbone.

“He was ill,” Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told AFP, dismissing allegations that the animal had been held captive in order to meet the prime minister as “absolutely groundless.”

But Alexander Bondarev, the manager of UNDP’s program, argued: “That any treatment was necessary is a big question.

“It is as though he was cured as soon as he saw the prime minister,” he added.

“If he really needed treatment, he could be treated in a zoo or in a veterinary center.”

Mongol could even have harmed himself as he was trying to break loose, said another observer.

“The important question is: how was the animal affected by staying in a cage?” said WWF Russia head Igor Chestin.

“Big cats, when disturbed, start hitting against it and can break their teeth, and without teeth they will not survive in the wild.”

There are only 100 snow leopards in Russia. “Each is literally golden,” said Bondarev.

They were easier to catch in the Sayano-Shushensky reserve, but tagging its population was not scientifically valuable, he added.

“There are only seven or eight specimens there, they are isolated and well studied,” he said. Tagging had to be done together with on-ground monitoring to see why the animal was moving in a certain way, he added.

“That cannot be done in a strictly protected area such as a reserve,” he said.

The Severtsov institute’s program, which studies animals in the Red Book of endangered species “and other especially important animals of Russia” currently lists six mammals, most of which were tagged, patted, or kissed by Putin.

The programme is funded by state oil transport monopoly Transneft, and a Saint Petersburg-based charitable fund “Konstantinovsky”, which is chaired mostly by government officials.

The first time the general public heard about it was in 2008, when Putin voiced support for the endangered Amur Tiger and participated in a tagging expedition in the Russian Far East.

A video about the expedition on the prime minister’s website relates how a helicopter carrying Vladimir Putin landed in the taiga.

Just as the prime minister is overseeing the facilities, “a tigress stumbles across a trap,” the video relates.

Putin personally drives the SUV to the scene, and “appears on the trail just at the moment the tigress makes a leap.” Handy with a gun, Putin shoots a syringe with the sedative, says the video’s commentary.

But that version of events does not gel with that told by some members of the conservation community, as one Far Eastern tiger expert told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Local conservationists believe the animal was flown in from the Khabarovsk zoo (about 500 kilometres away) in time for the visit.

It was placed in the trap, sedated just enough so it could start stirring when the delegation drove up, he said.

Later the animal was returned to the zoo and a different wild tigress was eventually captured and released with the tracker.

“This could be confirmed by a stripe pattern comparison,” the source said: “For each animal the pattern is unique.”

The big cat programmes advertised as pioneering on the Institute’s website have no synergy with local research, which has been going on for 18 years, he added.

“They like to say their project is supported by the government, so nobody voices any serious criticism. But locally scientists don’t like them, since they structure programmes based on convenience and PR.”

At the WWF, Chestin complained of low salaries, a cut in the number of rangers and other changes introduced after the government did away with its federal environmental protection committee.

“While considerable money is being spent lately on research, systematically, conservation of animals is in very poor shape,” he said.

It was Putin himself who signed the decree to end the committee’s existence on May 17th, 2000, ten days after his inauguration.

Copyright © 2011 AFP

‘Ordinary guy’ Putin meets snow leopard

‘Ordinary guy’ Putin meets snow leopard
(AFP) – 6 hours ago

MOSCOW — Prime Minister Vladimir Putin stood metres away from a snow leopard in his latest stunt involving a threatened animal but insisted Monday he was just an “ordinary guy” in touch with Russia’s problems.

Putin knelt metres away from the snow leopard, kept in a wire-mesh enclosure, as the mythical animal warily eyed the man who has dominated Russia for the last decade in Siberia, state television pictures showed.

The close encounter with the creature — one of the mascots for the 2014 Sochi Olympics championed by Putin — helped further burnish his tough-guy image ahead of 2012 presidential elections.

“What a beautiful little cat,” Putin, dressed in a Russian hat and a quilted jacket marked with the Russian eagle and the initials V.V. Putin, whispered as he stared at the snow leopard.

There had been controversy over the fate of the snow leopard, a 10-year-old named Mongol, which the Russian branch of the World Wildlife Fund said had been languishing in captivity since its capture on March 14 by scientists in a neighbouring area.

The animal was then taken by helicopter to Khakasia in southern Siberia and the WWF on Thursday issued a statement calling for the animal to be urgently returned to the wild.

Mongol was finally released at the weekend just after Putin’s visit but the WWF said it would not be giving further comment on the issue for the moment.

In an interview with Russian state television, Putin said that Russia’s protection of endangered species like the snow leopard was symbolic of how the country had changed over the last years.

“That one of the symbols of the Olympics is a beast that was wiped out by man in the 1950s shows that Russia is different. Russia cares about nature, about its riches and preserves them for future generations.”

Putin has now over the last years met the full range of Russia’s rarest big beasts, ranging from bears and tigers in the Far East and a polar bear in the Far North.

But in the interview, Putin said he had lived simply almost all his life “with the exception of the last 10 years”.

“I lived like a normal ordinary guy and I will keep this link all my life,” he added. “Whenever I take a decision, I think about how this will impact the ordinary citizen,” he added.

Copyright © 2011 AFP.

Snow leopard heads trio of Sochi 2014 mascots

Sat Feb 26, 2011 4:59pm EST

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin got his wish when a snow leopard, polar bear and hare were chosen as the official mascots of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics on Saturday.
Putin, who was largely responsible for Sochi’s successful bid to host the 2014 Games, said earlier in the day that a snow leopard would be his “symbolic choice.”

The snow leopard received 28 percent of the votes during a live broadcast on Russia’s main Channel One, followed by the polar bear in second place with 18 percent and the hare in third (16 percent).

“There are three mascots for the Olympic Winter Games, representing the three places on the Olympic podium,” Sochi 2014 chief Dmitry Chernyshenko said in a statement.

“All top-three characters will become the Olympic Winter Games mascots. The mascots are the choice of our whole country and will remain in the history of the Olympic movement.”

Television viewers voted for the mascots from a pool of 10 candidates including a Russian bear and Grandfather Frost (Russian Santa Claus) by sending text messages or by calling the studio.

The characters were shortlisted by the organizers from more than 24,000 ideas that were submitted during a nationwide contest.

Earlier on Saturday, Putin told students during his visit to Sochi: “(The snow) leopard is a strong, powerful, fast and beautiful animal.

“Leopard species had been destroyed around here but now they are being regenerated. If the Olympic project, at least in some way, should help the local environment, then it (picking a leopard) would be symbolic.”

(Reporting by Gennady Fyodorov; Editing by Stephen Wood)

Transboundary reserve to be established in Altai

14 Jan 2011

The Russian Federation’s Cabinet of Ministers approved an agreement between the governments of Russia and Kazakhstan to establish the “Altai Transboundary Reserve.” A corresponding decree was signed by Vladimir Putin, Russia’s Prime Minister, on 27 December 2010.

The draft agreement states that the Altai Transboundary Reserve is being established with the goals of protection wildlife and landscape diversity in mountainous Altai, facilitating bilateral cooperation in environmental conservation and rational natural resource use with the consideration of ecological, social, and cultural perspectives.

RIA Novosti reports plans for conducting environmental monitoring and research on natural habitats and sites in Altai, increasing environmental education outreach to the local population, and ecotourism.

The transboundary reserve will include Katunsky State Biosphere Reserve (Russian Federation) and Katon-Karagaysky National Nature Park (Republic of Kazakhstan).

Translation by Jennifer Castner

Land of the Snow Leopard is preparing to receive tourists (Altai)

29 Oct 2010

Master classes and a practical seminar on felted souvenirs took place in Kosh-Agach at the end of September. This event was hosted by the Fund for Sustainable Development of Altai as part of its project
“Development and marketing of the transboundary Land of the Snow Leopard route. The project is aimed in part at involving local Altai and Tuva residents in the protection of rare species in the Altai-Sayan Ecoregion and is conducted with support from UNDP/GEF.


23 people participated in the training, residents of Kosh-Agach, Ulagan and Ongudai rayons, where the Land of the Snow Leopard project is underway…. Some participated in the training for the first time…. People also participated who already work with felt but lacked experience and expertise.


Moving ahead, each point along the Land of the Snow Leopard route will be provided with original and locally-produced souvenir production. Similar trainings are planned for the Mongun-Tayginsky rayon in Tuva Republic, which will also be part of the Land of the Snow Leopard route.

[translation Jennifer Castner]

29.10.2010 Земля снежного барса готовится к приему туристов

В конце сентября 2010 г. в с.Кош-Агач в рамках проекта Фонда устойчивого развития Алтая «Разработка и продвижение на рынок трансграничного маршрута ‘Земля снежного барса» как механизм вовлечения местных жителей Алтая и Тувы в охрану редких видов Алтае-Саянского экорегиона’ при поддержке Проекта ПРООН/ГЭФ прошли мастер-классы и практический семинар по изготовлению сувениров из войлока.

Для проведения мастер-классов были привлечены опытные мастера Центра развития народно-художественных промыслов «Энчи» (четыре мастера под руководством директора Бабрашевой Татьяны Кундучиновны). В ходе занятий мастера сделали основной упор на изготовление сувениров из войлока: маленькие коврики сырмаки, войлочные игрушки, сувениры, – с использованием образов ирбиса и аргали.

В ходе семинара и мастер-класса было обучено 23 заинтересованных жителей из Кош-Агачского, Улаганского, Онгудайского районов (районы реализации проекта «Земля снежного барса»). Участников можно было разделить условно на новичков и тех, кто был уже знаком с этой отраслью народного промысла. Некоторые принимали участие в таких мастер–классах впервые и им было очень интересно познакомиться с первыми шагами создания войлока. Их учили, как валять шерсть, какие технологии применять. Как они потом признались, они даже представить не могли, сколько интересного можно узнать и научиться всему всего за пару дней. Были и люди, которые уже занимались войлоком, но им не хватало опыта, знаний. Они в основном интересовались методами оформления продукции. Например, мастер из Улаганского района Юнчакова Нина Кирилловна познакомила с методом фильцевания (наложения рисунка, орнамента), также показала с помощью каких инструментов можно работать. Она также оформила два коврика с эмблемой ПРООН/ГЭФ.

В течение двух дней участники семинара научились валять шерсть, делать различные сувениры, коврики, башмачки. Участники и мастера делились опытом, знаниями, раскрывали свои секреты при работе с шерстью. Кто-то из участников вспоминал, как давным-давно делали войлок их мамы и бабушки, какие методы применяли. Бабрашева Татьяна Кундучиновна отметила, что данное мероприятие прошло очень успешно, по сравнению с другими мастер-классами, которые они проводили раньше. Участники были очень заинтересованы в получении новых знаний и опыта в этом нелегком деле. Женщины из с. Курай принесли показать на семинар свои работы. Несколько участников уже собираются открывать свое собственное дело по изготовлению сувениров из войлока, и даже обучать других желающих.

Итак, в дальнейшем каждая точка маршрута «Земля снежного барса» будет обеспечена оригинальной сувенирной продукцией местного происхождения. Подобное выездное мероприятие планируется и для Монгун-Тайгинского района Республики Тыва, где также будет проходить часть трансграничного экотуристического маршрута ‘Земля снежного барса’.

[This was paid for by a grant from Altai Assistance Project.]

Wind power is our future!


As part of the Land of the Snow Leopard project, a wind power installation (1 kw) has been installed at the Otok Obshchina’s tourist camp on the shores of Lake Tarkhatinskoye.

The installation is in addition to the solar panels and electrical batteries installed in 2009. Otok Obshchina’s camp, which was established with funding support from the Project, now has around-the-clock electricity for use around in camp, in the bathhouse and a nearby cafe. The camp is located 30 km from Kosh-Agach. Funding for these renewable energy sources for Ukok Nature Park and obshchinas in Kosh-Agach rayon are provided by the Fund for Sustainable Development of Altai as part of the international Land of the Snow Leopard project. [….]

[translation Jennifer Castner]

Altai Republic residents will become guides along the “Land of the Snow Leopard” route, Russia
16 Sep 2010

16 Altai Republic residents will become guides along the “Land of the Snow Leopard” route

In Altai Republic 16 local residents were trained in ecotourism for work as tourist guides along the Land of the Snow Leopard route. Tatyana Ivanitskaya, Press Secretary for the WWF’s Altai-Sayan project.

Participants learned new applied skills during the training, traveling practice routes along the Sailyugem and southern Chuisky Ridges, Dzhumalinsky Springs, Karagem Breach, and the Argut River. Upon finishing the course, participants will submit independently developed routes for evaluation. If approved, those routes will become part of the planned transboundary “Land of the Snow Leopard” route.

“These freshly minted guides – residents of Bel’tir, Mukhor-Tarkhata, Dzhazator and Argut located in close proximity to the main areas of snow leopard and argali habitation in Altai. The residents of these villages have been hunters since time immemorial. Because of a lack of steady work and the need to feed their families, some of them become poachers,” said Mikhail Paltsyn, WWF Project Coordinator. “We are confident that the opportunity to earn a regular annual income from tourism will reduce poaching among local residents, and the idea behind the Land of the Snow Leopard routes is to allow people to see animals in the wild. In this way, protecting fauna will ensure financial well-being.”

Similar ecotourism has been successfully created in India, where snow leopard can also be found. Local residents host tourists in their homes, accompanying them on one- and two-day tours with the goal of seeing animals in nature.

Another piece on this from the UNDP/GEF site:

[another article on the same subject as above, with different details,
excerpts only]


Eco-routes developed by “Irbis”and “Arkhar”

The short term vocational training program for guides was developed and conducted by experienced instructors from Gorno-Altaisk State University, Olga Shvakova and Tatyana Zyablitskaya, who are participating in a second year of this project led by the Fund for Sustainable Development of Altai. The protected areas development training program was specially developed within the framework of the Center for Training Protected Area Specialists. 16 participants were divided into five small groups, where they developed the aforementioned routes from Tarkhatinskoye Lake and Dzhumalinsky Springs down to the village of Dzhazator and another two days on horseback along the Argut River to the confluence of the Karakem River. Along the way, participants were divided into two groups (Irbis and Arkhar) and practiced good horse and people management along the trail, how to teach, guide and operate horseback tours, keeping on schedule, calculating distances and time management. The field experience strengthened their learning and facilitated the final development of the tour routes.

….Over the last fours years, 58 participants have completed the guide training program financed by the UNDP/GEF program. Of those, 8 excellent students participated in short-term internships in foreign protected areas. Another 16 guides can be added to this total as of September 2010.

Translation courtesy of Jennifer Castner, The Altai Project.

Note: UNDP/GEF, FSDA, Altai Assistance Project and The Altai Project were also involved in this project.