The effects of environmental degradation and pollution in the Russian Federation are particularly acute due to the low priority placed on ecology by the Soviet and post-Soviet governments. Joseph Stalin’s industrialization projects had an incredibly harmful impact on the environment, leading to the disruptions of entire ecosystems (e.g., the Aral Sea). During the Cold War, the Soviet government invested hugely in space exploration, mining, nuclear weapons, and massive building schemes, while ignoring the impact of such activities on the environment. Areas such as the Kuznets basin, the Kola Peninsula, the Urals, Kalmykiya, Lake Baykal, and the Caspian Sea all suffer from unacceptable levels of pollution. Grandiose projects such as the diversion of rivers for irrigation and canal building rarely took into account the long-term effects; the same can be said for nuclear testing in Kazakhstan and other areas of the former Soviet Union.
   Further compounding the problem, the Soviet government treated environmental disasters as an issue of state secrecy. The prime example is the Chernobyl disaster of 1986, which led to radiation poisoning in Ukraine, Belarus, and elsewhere. Some areas of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) have become dangerous to live in because of nuclear experiments or intensive industrial use. In Russia itself, the main rivers in the European part of the country, including the Volga and Don, have very high levels of water contamination due to industrial waste, sewage, and use of pesticides and fertilizers. Aluminum smelting in the Far North—and its accompanying pollution—has emerged as a transnational issue, creating problems with Norway and other Arctic states. The economic turmoil of the 1990s diverted public interest and funds from nascent ecological problems to everyday survival issues. A number of powerful interests were arrayed against the environmental movement, including the military and Russian and multinational corporations, thus making environmental management during the 1990s a difficult task. The improved economic situation of the 2000s resulted in more cars appearing on Russian roads, leading to high levels of air pollution, despite new initiatives to support environmentalism. For instance, recycling is virtually nonexistent in the Russian Federation, and when it is used it is driven by financial rather than ecological interests (rather than having a compulsory regime, Russian citizens receive monetary compensation for recycling paper, glass, and metals). Pollution and environmental problems are one of the main causes of poor health and low life expectancy in Russia, thus contributing to overall demographic challenges.

Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. . 2010.


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