Environmentalism

   In a country where almost no civil society developed outside the purview of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the environmental cause defied the odds to become one of the first major popular causes in the 1980s. Due to a Leninist approach to the environment, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) suffered from widespread environmental degradation resulting from wasteful irrigation schemes, aluminum smelting, overuse of fertilizers and pesticides, nuclear weapons testing, and chemical spills. An excessive emphasis on heavy industry contributed to massive emissions of carbon, as well as other dangerous industrial pollutants.
   The catalyst for the environmental movement, however, was the meltdown of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine. Intellectuals, public activists, and indigenous ethnic minorities, under the comparative protections of glasnost, mobilized in the wake of the event, helping to expose other major ecological tragedies in the Aral and Caspian seas, northeastern Kazakhstan, and Lake Baykal. In 1987, a new state agency, the USSR State Committee for Environmental Protection, was established to oversee the Soviet Union’s ecology.
   In 1992, Boris Yeltsin received a country devastated by decades of hazardous environmental exploitation, radioactivity, and rampant air and water pollution. However, the difficulties associated with the country’s transition to a market economy, combined with the relative weakness of civic organizations, precluded the development of a mass environmental movement. A number of political parties, including the Russian Ecological Party and the Agrarian Party of Russia, sought to improve ecological conditions, as did the indigenous peoples of the north and other ethnic and cultural organizations. Neighboring countries—Norway, in particular—have also sought to promote a more effective environmental protection regime in the Russian Federation.
   Unfortunately, a powerful array of interests, including oligarchs, transnational corporations, and the military and security services, stonewalled any meaningful action, despite the existence of relevant laws meant to safeguard the environment and wildlife. In recent years, Russian corporations have demonstrated more concern for their impact on the environment, and, after some prevarication, Vladimir Putin signed the country to the Kyoto Protocol. However, environmentalism in Russia remains anemic when compared to other northern European countries.

Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. . 2010.

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