Russian Media Takes Note of “Keeping Pipelines Off Ukok” Campaign

Here is a translation of a piece by Russia’s REGNUM news agency covering the “Keeping Pipelines Off Ukok” campaign. It’s great that the Russian media coverage is fairly nuanced at this point.  On the Listok site (an Altai-based media outlet), the article’s commenters are pretty balanced, although the article’s only recently been posted.

Campaign against the Altai Gas Pipeline gets underway in the United States

12 August 2011

A number of US community-based conservation organizations have begun a campaign called “Keeping Pipelines Off Ukok.” A Regnum News Agency correspondent reports that Mobilization for Climate Justice, Pacific Environment, Global Greengrants Fund, and the special “The Altai Project”, based in California, are calling for participation in the action.

The campaign was prompted by a letter from Roman Tadyrov, leader of the Ere Chui Telengit Obshchina in Altai Republic. He called upon the international community to pressure the Russian government to force Gazprom to cancel plans to build a pipeline to China across the Ukok Plateau. Tadyrov states that among other things, the Telengit have been using Ukok Plateau to bury their dead for 8000 years.** The plateau is held sacred by indigenous residents and construction of a pipeline would do irreparable harm to this place.

As a result, American conservation groups are calling for letters to be sent to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and China’s Hu Jintao. The [model] letter to the Russian president asserts that the pipeline would be built across a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and in the petition letter to Hu Jintao ecologists point out that the pipeline would cross Kanas National Park. Campaigners are calling on China’s and Russia’s leaders to review the Altai Pipeline project and to not build the pipeline in protected areas.

We should point out that in order to avoid a transit country, the pipeline’s route can only pass through the Ukok Plateau and nearby Lake Kanas, located in Xinjiang. If these areas were excluded, then the pipeline could only be built via a third country – Kazakhstan or Mongolia. Russian and Chinese leaders have always found that option unacceptable.  In addition, international conservation groups have long been trying to get this project canceled. According to analysts, European Union member countries oppose the diversification of Russian natural gas deliveries by developing trade with China. “EU countries depend on Russian oil and gas and they believe that Gazprom’s efforts to court China are a threat to European energy security,” wrote the Chinese “Fujian Online” website.

Negotiations between Gazprom and China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) to construct the Altai Gas Pipeline began in 2006, but they have still not led to a final decision thanks to conflicts over pricing. It was anticipated that the delivery contract would be signed in June of this year, but the sides were once again unable to reach an agreement. The latest round of negotiations is scheduled to take place this fall.

In recent months, activity by conservation groups has noticeably increased. They are demanding either that the route be changed or that the project be canceled completely. In January the Fund for 21st Century Altai established the Save Ukok Coalition. In addition, one of the first initiatives of the EU-Russia Citizens’ Forum, established this year in Prague, was a demand for the cessation of any work to design or build the pipeline.

A similar demand was made by the International Committee for Citizen Diplomacy, an organization that “from the moment of its establishment has emphasized propaganda for ‘western, European values’ among the younger generation in post-Soviet countries and conducts regular monitoring of how these ‘new democracy’ countries observe their international obligations with regard to human rights.”

It is worth noting that pressure from the ecological community has been successful in the past. For example, Rinat Gizatullin, Vice Minister of Natural Resources and Ecology, responded to an appeal by the International Committee for Citizen Diplomacy, saying “the intention to build the Altai pipeline across the Ukok Plateau directly contradicts Russian and international law and is also characterized by high environmental risks. As a result, the bureaucrat went on to say, the Ministry of Natural Resources believes that alternative pipeline routes should be studied.

Translation by Jennifer Castner

**Translator’s note: A commenter on the Listok site questioned this number. It does seem high, but can’t be verified one way or another at this time.