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Klaus Susiluoto

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Klaus Susiluoto

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[02] Karjalan palautus


Veli-Pekka Tynkkynen:

Russia could offer vast possibilities for domestic and foreign companies in the field of environment and energy. Projects could be worth billions of euros per year, but at the moment the lack of financing and proper legislation from the Russian part hold back co-operation.

In the modern world sound economic activities cannot exist without consideration for ecological aspects. A rather run down infrastructure prevents reasonable economic development in Russia. It also hinders the establishment of such conditions in which clean air, a proper supply of clean water and the treatment of waste water can be ensured. “What is all the more worrying, is that Russia is planning and realising new mega projects without proper environmental evaluation”, Veli-Pekka Tynkkynen, researcher at the University of Helsinki, announces.

“In Russia ecological questions are not related to the ecological awareness of consumers but to the very basics: guaranteeing pure drinking water, preventing harmful chemicals and minerals from spoiling the soil and air, and avoiding a total collapse of the industrial infrastructure.”

“Environmental issues have not essentially proceeded under president Putin’s reign”, Veli-Pekka Tynkkynen declares. “On the contrary, after becoming President, Putin ordered the liquidation of the state environmental and forestry committees. The reason for this liquidation was to be able to better utilise the natural resources of Russia without the interference and hindrance of environmental aspects.

A proportion of the responsibilities of the two committees were shifted to the Ministry of Natural Resources with the effect of the ministry answering for the exploitation and protection of nature. There is no tug-of-war between different ministries as is common in the West.”

Tynkkynen believes that Putin’s strict attitude towards environmental issues stems from the fact that the environmental movement partly accelerated the collapse of the Soviet Union. The emergence of the green movement in the Baltic countries together with new nationalism and the activity of cultural circles initiated the process which led to the erosion of Soviet power.

“It is interesting to note that the new environmental organs act in connection with the new okrugs of the federation, that is, the seven regions led by general governors. These districts are actually very much the same as the military districts.”

However, organisational and political aspects are not the only features preventing sustainable development in Russia. The attitude of the Russian people towards nature is often described as a kind of frontier thinking: people rely on the vast resources of the enormous country, Tynkkynen continues. “The word for this is prostranstvo. It includes the illusion of a large open space and of resources large enough to be wasted.

Every one understands it is an illusion. No country has unlimited resources.” Nevertheless, in spite of this, a relatively strong environmental movement is emerging in Russia – particularly in St. Petersburg, but also in some of the other big cities. For example the Green World organisation has been very active in the St. Petersburg area. “There are actually dozens of citizen organizations in Northern Russia that are mainly concerned with environmental issues”, Tynkkynen says.

Energy-saving measures not common

It has been estimated that just by taking energy-saving measures in apartments and offices, as much as up to 30-50 per cent of central heating energy could be saved in Russia. Electricity is also transferred over long distances, which naturally results in losses.

“Instead of energy-saving measures, Minatom, the Ministry for Atomic Energy of the Russian Federation, is planning to build several new nuclear power plants. In Northern Russia people have been against new nuclear power. Attitudes are similar elsewhere.”

According to Veli-Pekka Tynkkynen, wind power would provide a good solution for some areas in Russia. “For example areas up in the North, especially the Kola peninsula, are among the windiest in Europe. Also in the far east of the Russian federation – on the coast of the Japanese sea – circumstances are in favour of wind power. Assembling and constructing power generating wind mills would also promote Russian knowledge of environmental and energy technology.”

Because of the vast forest resources, bio fuels could also be used in a larger scale. Combined heat and Power (CHP) is not as widely used in Russia as it is in the Nordic countries. In this area Swedish and Finnish expertise could be used, Tynkkynen believes. Finnish, Danish and German companies might find interesting niches in wind power.

At its best, however, wind power can generate only a few percent of the total electricity consumption in the near future. Gas and oil are still the cornerstones of energy production in Russia. Hydro power and coal are also important energy resources.

The Situation in Karelia and St. Petersburg

Veli-Pekka Tynkkynen has studied the ecological problems of Russian Karelia. He has discovered that the popular image of green forests and clean water is a delusion. “There certainly are some untouched areas in Russian Karelia, even more so than in the neighbouring Finland, but the population is concentrated in large villages and towns, where the problems are quite big.” Karelian surface water suffers from eutrophication and an increasing humus-content.

“Chlorination helps avoid a number of side-effects, but, in the long run, the high chlorine content of drinking water causes other problems.” According to Russian authorities the tap water in St. Petersburg is drinkable, but for example in Finland people planning to visit the city are advised not to drink it as it seen as a potential health risk.

“A serious problem is that a city of 5 million people still does not have sufficient waste water treatment facilities. About 1/3 of the waste water is released in the Gulf of Finland without being purified in any way”, Tynkkynen says. Plans to build a new waste water treatment plant exist, but the actual building has not proceeded. The main obstacle is that Russia has still not managed to finance the project. The Nordic countries have been of monetary assistance but financial effort from the part of Russia is also required.

Crude oil also a problem for Russia

At the beginning of 2003 Russia got an excellent price for its crude oil; as much as 37 USD. This partly explains the eagerness Russia has to build new oil terminals and use unsuitable tankers under heavy ice conditions in the eastern part of Baltic Sea (the winter 2002-2003 was very difficult, and Russia used tankers without clear ice-classification).

Veli-Pekka Tynkkynen also perceives Russia’s dependency on crude oil as problematic: “First of all, Russia is too dependent on crude oil, a commodity very sensitive to price changes. Secondly, the Russian oil industry infrastructure is out of date in a number of ways, although some companies have made significant investments. Serious oil damage has occurred as a result of bad infrastructure in, for example, the Komi Republic.” Russia does, however, have plans to carry out an extensive investment program for the renewal of the energy sector. So far such a strategy has only been approved of by the Russian government.

The transportation of crude oil causes many environmental threats to both the Russian people as well as people outside Russia. Russian pipeline networks have been extended from the inner parts of North Russia to the West, bypassing St. Petersburg and running all the way to the Karelian Isthmus ending in Primorsk (the formerly Finnish area of Koivisto), where an oil terminal is already functioning.

In Tynkkynen’s view, the Baltic Pipeline System is also an environmental threat to St. Petersburg and the Karelian Isthmus. The pipeline by-passes St. Petersburg and runs through resort areas and many lakes and rivers of the Isthmus. (For the environmental threat on the Gulf of Finland, see the related article).

In spite of many problems Mr. Tynkkynen believes that, in the long run, Western and Russian companies will be able to co-operate in many fields of energy and environmental technology. “This is actually happening already, but we still need more profound co-operation. Russian companies will learn that caring for environmental issues also has a positive affect on the value of the company.”


Veli-Pekka Tynkkynen is a researcher at the University of Helsinki. Together with Antti Helanterä, he has published a book on the geography of Russia. Tynkkynen is the author of the section in this book that deals with the environment and natural resources of Russia. The book Maantieteelle Venäjä ei voi mitään won the main Tieto-Finlandia prize for non-fictional books in 2002.

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