Angry but disunited

Environmental protests have been going strong in different parts of Russia in the past year or two but have yet to coalesce into a national movement.

It’s local or regional concerns, typically, that drive people outdoors to protest. When an urban park gets built over, it harms residents in the neighborhoods around it and the city as a whole. When predatory logging causes uncontrollable wildfires in the East, Siberian cities are choking on smoke. When a landfill for Moscow’s garbage is planned a thousand miles to the north, some Russians take offense at Moscow’s treating the North as its dumpster.

In Western Europe and to some degree the US, environmentalists of earlier waves and generations had focused on similar problems decades before the latest Russian protests began. To a large degree, these issues have been resolved or alleviated in Western Europe. Industrial pollution has probably receded in Russia as well in the past 30 years, thanks to cleaner production technologies and a partial deindustrialization. However, urban overbuilding has spawned new city pollution, and Chinese demand for timber has taken a toll on the trans-Baikal taiga.

The government’s designs – such the its waste treatment plans – are not necessarily wrong or disastrous by themselves. However, real-life solutions to environmental conundrums are always imperfect and leave some people worse off. The Kremlin’s and the Moscow city hall’s approach to selecting winners and losers is dictatorial and corrupt, leaving the losers without adequate compensation and a sense of betrayal and powerlessness.

Perhaps it’s the uniformity of this steamroller approach, as practiced by the Kremlin and its regional subsidiaries, that will eventually unify Russia’s diverse environmental groups.

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