In August 2009 Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, climbed into a mini-submarine for a first hand inspection of Lake Baikal. After the his tour, the former KGB agent declared the lake “ecologically clean” then gave permission to the OAO Baikalsk Pulp and Paper Mill permission to resume dumping waste there, reversing what had been a landmark victory for Russian environmentalists.
Last week Putin signed a decree removing waste discharges in the production of pulp, paper and cardboard from the list of operations banned by environmental legislation. As a result of that decree, the mill will restart operations it halted in October 2008 after environmental authorities instructed the company to introduce a closed-loop waste treatment system, that would prevent discharges into the lake.
Putin’s decree has brought relief to Baikalsk where workers have staged hunger strikes and blocked highways. It has also resolved a problem for Oleg Deripaska, the well connected tycoon whose control of the plant had cast him as the villain of those protests.
“This decree undoes more than two decades of struggle to defend the lake,” said Roman Vazhenkov, head of Greenpeace’s Lake Baikal campaign. Greenpeace appealed to President Dmitry Medvedev to reverse the measure. “To allow chemical wastes to be dumped there, what else can you call it but a crime?”
“The only thing I can conclude is that Putin is doing this to protect the interests of one person – Oleg Deripaska,” added Vazhenkov.
The decree to rescue the Baikalsk mill, published on the government website, was first reported late Monday by Russian media. Oksana Gorlova, a spokeswomen for the Baikalsk mill said on Tuesday the government decision allowing the mill to be reopened had been made in July, a month before Putin’s televised dive in the mini sub.