January 30, 2019


Ongoing Environmental Protests in Russia Pose Threat to Kremlin in 2019 (Richard Arnold, January 23, 2019, Eurasia Daily Monitor)

The famous anti-corruption blogger, activist, and thorn in the side of the authorities Alexei Navalny was quick to capitalize on this mass airing of grievances. His staff in Tambov region, for instance, used Twitter to retweet a post declaring that, "We are looking for the resignation of the political leadership in the region [due to the trash issue]. And that is only the start" (Twitter.com/teamnavalny_tmb, December 23, 2018).

Navalny has long been aware that one person's trash is another man's treasure; he has reported on the corrupt awarding of the lucrative contract for disposal of Moscow's trash back in 2015. At that time, he noted the strange award of a 42.9 billion ruble ($702 million) contract to a company called Charter. This firm had almost no public presence or record, but is known to be controlled by Igor Chaika, the then-26-year-old son of the general prosecutor, Yuriy Chaika (Navalny.com, August 28 2015). Small wonder, then, that Navalny featured Chaika as Exhibit A in a recent video (put out via Twitter) that explains "why trash reform is not possible" in Russia and compares the story to an episode of the popular US television show The Sopranos. As debate opened, on January 1, 2019, for solutions to Russia's trash crisis, the video asserts that the web of corruption around the awarding of contracts to deal with garbage makes the prospect of real reform difficult to contemplate (Twitter.com/navalny, January 16, 2019).

The authorities are under extreme pressure to take these ongoing environmental protests more seriously. The current demonstrations are responding to quintessentially local issues. And yet, in an authoritarian country like Russia, environmental protests can sometimes kickstart a more powerful engine of separatism as well as fuel increasingly politically tinged anger at the government. Indeed, in 1988, environmental protests against a biochemical plant in Gudermes presaged the separatist movement that arose in Chechnya. Thanks to the continued penetration of social media access in today's Russia, the rise in horizontal awareness of local issues in other regions thus represents a growing challenge to both local governments and the Kremlin.

Posted by at January 30, 2019 4:02 AM