Altai Republic officials approve pipeline construction despite legal questions

Photo by Andrei Pokidaev

On August 30, Greenpeace-Russia’s Mikhail Kreindlin called on the Altai Republic to cancel its August 2nd decree  giving Gazprom and its contractors permission to conduct construction work on the Ukok Plateau within the regional Ukok Quiet Zone Nature Park. In a Greenpeace press release, Kreindlin stated, “If the work currently underway is not halted quickly, then Russia will once again be forced to justify its actions to the global community, but this time the likely outcome will not be forgiveness but that the “Golden Mountains of Altai” site will be shamefully put on the List of World Heritage Sites in Danger along with Russia’s other troubled World Heritage Sites.” Kreindlin went on to say that the Republic government’s decree violates several federal and regional laws, not the least of which is the federal law requiring a Government Environmental Impact Report (including public hearings) of the draft decree itself. In addition, any changes to the Ukok Quiet Zone Nature Park’s status must first be approved by the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources. Lastly, the decree and the proposed construction are in direct contravention of Russia’s international commitments to the UNESCO World Heritage Commission with regard to the “Golden Mountains of Altai” World Heritage Site.

The same decree also enables pipeline-related construction to occur in Uch Enmek Nature Park in central Altai. Although that nature park, home to the sacred Karakol Valley, is not part of the UNESCO site, its status also requires that any such construction plans and changes to charter documents be approved by the federal Ministry of Natural Resources. The decree, entitled “On amendments to several decrees of the Altai Republic government”, states that “construction, operation, landscape restoration, and capital improvements of transportation, communications and utilities lines are permitted to meet government and municipal needs, as are structures that form an inextricable technological part of such projects and are required for environmental protection activities aimed at reducing the negative impacts of construction on the surrounding environment and its natural components… [These activities are permitted] on the basis of an approved federal Environmental Impact Report.”

In a repeat of last summer’s events, this summer Gazprom subcontractors once again used mobile exploration and drilling units on the Ukok Plateau to further delineate the pipeline’s future route. The activity was documented by multiple visitors to Ukok this August and was also reported on by Altapress.ru, which commented that work on Ukok took place this summer even prior to the decree coming into force on August 17, including work in the more strictly protected Zone B of the Nature Park

In a related August 17th decree, Aleksandr Berdnikov, Altai Republic’s leader, tasked his government with monitoring the list of registered sacred sites to “prevent barriers to the construction of bridges, roads, and other structures.” The Republic legislation defining and protecting sacred sites in the region was only just approved in June of this year and is still in the implementation  phase.   Altai Republic’s independent Listock.ru newspaper published a guest editorial by Irina Fotieva (Fund for 21st Century Altai) highly critical of this move, citing a clear lack of understanding about the purpose of sacred sites when Berdnikov calls for permitting construction of recreational, industrial, or infrastructure buildings on sacred sites: “If a cathedral is in the way, for example, of building a factory or laying a pipeline, should it be demolished?”

Groups including Greenpeace-Russia and the Save Ukok Coalition are now in the process of filing legal and regulatory complaints with relevant federal and regional authorities in an attempt to pressure the Altai Republic and federal governments to meet their legal obligations.

Other background and sources (in Russian and English):
http://www.downstreamtoday.com/news/article.aspx?a_id=37105
http://siberiantimes.com/ecology/casestudy/news/a-row-has-erupted-over-illegal-gas-pipeline-through-burial-site-of-ancient-tattooed-princess/
http://www.listock.ru/25361
http://www.gorno-altaisk.info/news/17681
http://www.listock.ru/25074