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Working meeting with Head of Rosprirodnadzor Svetlana Radionova

January 9, 2024, The Kremlin, Moscow

Vladimir Putin had a meeting with Head of the Federal Service for Supervision of Natural Resources Svetlana Radionova.

Head of Rosprirodnadzor Svetlana Radionova: Mr President, let me report on our activities. This is a great honour for us.

Only recently, those who have never come in contact with us believed that Rosprirodnadzor was only an agency that fined poachers, hunters, and fishermen. This is far from being the case, of course. We make sure that there is a balance between the need to preserve this country’s natural resources and ensure the country’s industrial development, allowing everyone in Russia to enjoy decent living standards and a healthy natural environment.

The watchdog’s job is not easy, there are many negative moments, but there are positive ones as well. Allow me to report on three of them, the ones I want to cover today.

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Please.

Svetlana Radionova: In the first place, I appreciate the situation where ecology, environmentalism is no longer just a “day-off festival,” reduced solely to voluntary Saturday work or tree planting in your courtyard.

Today’s environmentalism in Russia is not a just a trendy word like the ESG agenda, nor is it about making presentations. It is about actions and results.

As per your instructions, the Government is implementing the Ecology national project, the largest one in this area in history. It includes a number of important sub-projects, such as Clean Country, Clean Air, and Waterbody Improvement. We actively support them.

The Clean Country project is about 288 landfills and accumulated environmental damage sites. We monitor the work on each site from project design documentation to the last bulldozer when they start grassing over. What we get as a result is clean, improved land instead of a landfill – actually green grass. The same is being done with the other projects.

There is also the Major Clean-Up project based on the popular initiative. This includes 3,000 sites, for which there are “popular maps.” We have inspected almost a third of these sites and know which of them must be reclaimed right now and which can wait.

I would like to say a few words about part of our national wealth, namely, water resources. Our country is the largest global source of fresh water, which we are preserving not only for ourselves but also for global civilisation as a whole. We are working to improve our rivers and other waterways. And looking at the progress of the Recovery of the Volga federal project, we understand that the Government is not stop there.

Rosprirodnadzor has studied eight major waterways over two years: the Don, the Ob, the Irtysh, the Angara, and the Selenga rivers, as well as the Black Sea and Caspian coasts. And now we know everything about these rivers and coasts. We have taken 28,000 samples, including bottom sediment, from their sources to their estuaries. We have inspected every spillway and enterprise on their banks. We have conducted 250,000 inspections, and we know everything about these waterways now. We are ready to implement these projects.

Vladimir Putin: What is the situation on the Caspian Sea? Our oil and gas companies are working there.

Svetlana Radionova: Our oil and gas companies have high standards. We have no problems with them; not a single instance of unwarranted discharge has been reported. We are monitoring the situation closely. They ensure access to that part of their business. We make routine visits to all their facilities at their invitation even during the current moratorium [on businesses’ inspections]. There are no restrictions and, essentially, there have not been any conflict in this area. All our platforms on the Caspian Sea have zero dumping. The situation is similar on the Baltic Sea.

Vladimir Putin: Are you recording this?

Svetlana Radionova: Yes, we can record this reliably, and we regularly do so.

Vladimir Putin: What about the Baltic Sea?

Svetlana Radionova: The situation is the same there: zero dumping at all the facilities we are monitoring. I can also tell you that the situation is the same at Prirazlomnaya, a Gazprom Neft platform [on the Arctic Sea shelf] in the north. All the facilities built on the shelf meet the highest world standards and comply with the latest technologies. We keep them under close scrutiny.

Vladimir Putin: The Black Sea coast is our main draw when it comes to choosing a destination for vacation time.

Svetlana Radionova: We are currently supporting a major Government project to build water treatment facilities. I have personally walked all the spillways in Sochi and along the entire coast over many kilometres. We are preparing for a major renovation.

The same goes for the coastline in Gelendzhik, where we are supporting a project to build water treatment facilities. This is another major undertaking, and it is designed to clean up the entire bay. We believe that the situation will be totally different four years from now compared to what we have today.

Vladimir Putin: Have those involved in these projects been able to raise the funding they need? Do you know anything about this?

Svetlana Radionova: I would say that funding is something that lies beyond our sphere of engagement, even though we can see how the Gelendzhik project is being carried out, giving us insight into the workings of the project to improve the Black Sea coast in Sochi.

Vladimir Putin: Who are the main participants?

Svetlana Radionova: It is my understanding that Rostec is in charge in Gelendzhik. This is one major corporation, and we are there to make sure that all the project specifications are designed to ensure that environmental standards are respected. You know the way it goes sometimes: you can have a water treatment facility that does not do its job sometimes.

But this will not be the case with us. We are there to make sure these facilities fulfil their functions and that the water they release strictly complies with all the requirements and that the water we get from them meets all the applicable standards.

Vladimir Putin: What about the Clean Air project in the 12 cities it targets?

Svetlana Radionova: The Clean Air project is in fact one of the most daunting programmes we have. Preparations took quite a while since we lacked the rules and regulations it required. In fact, we have never undertaken anything like this before.

You know, the most disappointing part of the story here is that whenever I visit any of these 12 cities, everyone starts saying: “Finally, we will be able to breathe fresh air, Radionova is here.” In fact, sometimes this is just the way things are. However, today, all enterprises have adopted dedicated programmes and many of them have been converting to new technology. Moreover, very few of them had to suspend operations. Converting from one technology to another is not affecting their final result, as we saw at two facilities.

We are expecting the project to yield tangible results by 2025. All the companies involved have made pledges to this effect, and not a single one of them has backed out. This is our goal.

Let me talk separately about motor transport. We are making a lot of progress here. This segment is becoming increasingly eco-friendly not only in the 12 cities covered by the project, but everywhere.

Vladimir Putin: How many people do you have on staff in the regions?

Svetlana Radionova: We have 3,500 employees in all, which is not that many. When you think of the vastness of Yamal or Yakutia, it becomes clear that our inspectors are unable to cover it all.

On your instructions, we are implementing a large-scale experiment with consulting. Remember, Alexei Repik from Delovaya Rossiya asked you to allow inspectors to advise businesses at early stages, and you gave it a green light. They turned to us as, perhaps, the most unpleasant inspectors for them at that time, and we concluded 30 agreements with companies. These are not just papers, since we provide support to projects and help shorten the investment cycle, as well as find the best economically viable solutions when a company wants to save some money, while still getting the result.

NOVATEK's projects that are currently being implemented on Gyda Peninsula – I was there and saw them – meet all the requirements. We are supporting the Nakhodka fertiliser plant, the Russian Railways projects, the Northern Sea Route (infrastructure), and the Northern Latitudinal Railway at their early stages and actually preventing potential consequences and conflicts with us as an inspector, conflicts with the state. We save a lot of time and a lot of money.

Of course, the environmental due diligence, which we have done together with the Ministry of Construction as part of the one-stop shop system, saves much time, and time is all about money and the progress of infrastructure projects.

Vladimir Putin: The fines exceed 17.5 billion, correct?

Svetlana Radionova: We collect fines. While providing support to businesses, we take harsh measures against those who do not pay. You said in your Address, “The violator pays.” Everyone has committed this principle to memory, and we are following it to a tee in practice.

You have flipped the slide and it says: “All payments are coloured.” Every ruble collected for environment violations is being spent for environmental purposes and it returns to the region, to the place where the damage was caused. This is crucially important, and it is a new milestone in promoting environmental protection.

We do collect fines. We are not very proud of it and we believe that prevention works better than fines.

Technology is something that I would like to discuss separately. Environmental protection is often about technological slavery or technological blackmail. We see this very clearly.

We were told we had no waste removal technology. In our language, it is called removal, but for ordinary people it is simply waste destruction. You issued an instruction, and RUSNANO presented to you its idea of plasma-chemical destruction. It is a plant that destroys chemical, medical, biological, and other types of hazardous waste.

We conducted extensive research monitoring its operation even during night hours. We installed cameras to rule out cheating and monitored it day and night. Our best laboratories, two of our laboratories, have been watching this plant. And we can safely say now that it meets all standards. It ensures complete molecular disintegration, and it can handle medical and veterinary waste alike, as well as other types of hazardous waste.

I see you have opened the slide on bears. This is probably our most rewarding mission. We monitor the protection of Red Book animals. We save wounded animals and look for new habitats for confiscated ones. We often work with law enforcement agencies, including customs. Once we saved a thousand turtles that were seized from a smuggler. Many game birds are hunted. We also place them in rehabilitation facilities if necessary.

I would like to tell you about one case. You may remember the “whale prison.” The whole country followed these developments. You issued instructions and the Government acted. Not a single permit for trapping or for the commercial sale of sea mammals has been issued in the past four years. Now it’s only possible under decision of the government commission. Only the indigenous peoples of the North are allowed to catch whales now. We have managed to achieve this, and I think it represents major progress.

I would also like to mention our biggest animal, probably our most protected predator, Russia’s smartest animal – the polar bear. Our pride, the Arctic predator. We have been able to save 17 polar bears in the past four years. We placed four of them in zoos because they could not be returned to the wild. As for the remaining ones, we try to return as many as we can to their natural habitats.

We are carrying out a unique operation with Gazprom. They found two bear cubs at a deposit. Their mother was gone and the shift workers were feeding them buns from their cafeteria out of kindness. It was a lot of fun when they were little, but with time, they grew into very serious wild animals, and it became dangerous to be near them. With the help from Gazprom, our specialists and the Moscow Zoo, we immobilised them and moved them away from the people.

But they found their way back because they were used to getting food. Polar bears are very clever animals, and they will eat where they feel comfortable. We immobilised them again, took them further away, left them some fish and attached sensor chips on them. We now know that they returned to their natural habitat. This was a big success because they lived with people for so long.

The whole country watched how we rescued a female bear when a condensed milk container got wedged to her tongue. She licked the container, put her tongue inside, but unfortunately, she cut it and her tongue got swollen. She couldn’t get rid of the can and everyone watched her struggle with it. We even received letters from children.

The Moscow Zoo, our specialists and experts from Norilsk Nickel – this happened in the village of Dikson – flew to the site and saved the bear. We had to immobilise her as well. She fell asleep and we removed the can.

Everyone watched the rehabilitation of a bear with immobilised limbs. We put him in the Moscow Zoo, and he lived a long life for an animal with such a serious trauma.

Of course, we realise that while developing the Arctic, we must take good care of the polar bear. Our companies are responsible operators complying with our every requirement. We always turn to those who are present in a particular territory, and they help us. Our ultimate goal is to make life comfortable for everyone: the animals we are working to preserve, the water and natural resources, and our people who we want to be able to open a window without thinking about the consequences.

Vladimir Putin: You have a proposal, a project, correct? What is the Bear Patrol about?

Svetlana Radionova: Indeed, we would like to set up a Bear Patrol, because it matters a lot to us: we teach people what to do in a conflict situation. The residents of Dikson settlement fear for their own and their children’s safety. And so we think the training that we offer at the regional level is critically important. Please support us.

Vladimir Putin: What needs to be done in this regard?

Svetlana Radionova: A constituent entity should form a permanent team, and we will train it.

The settlement of Dikson is experiencing lots of conflict situations. It is hard to access, flying there by helicopter takes a long time, and there are not so many specialists in Dikson. They do not have a veterinarian, no bear specialist, and each time we go there we bring along a veterinarian from the Moscow Zoo. Svetlana Akulova helps us a lot; she is an excellent polar bear specialist.

We thought about making the polar bear a symbol. Everyone is aware of China’s panda diplomacy, an animal on the endangered species list. We feel like we are entitled to do the same, since 30 percent of the polar bear population lives in Russia, and we do not hunt it. Unlike our neighbours, we do not issue hunting licences.

Vladimir Putin: Regarding our neighbours and our international contacts and commitments.

Svetlana Radionova: We have a fairly extensive international programme, and we comply with our every international obligation. There is the Stockholm Convention which regulates the country's obligation to remove waste in the form of hazardous persistent organic pollutants. This year, for the first time, Russian Railways, in conjunction with Rosatom, disposed of 134 tonnes of such hazardous substance under our supervision. We are the only country in the post-Soviet space to possess our own technology in this sphere; we are the only ones who made it happen. And in fact, we are only the fourth country in the world to actually fulfil these obligations.

The Basel Convention, the Stockholm Convention, the Rotterdam Convention, we fulfil all their requirements and are ready to report to the international community.

This year, CITES, a multilateral treaty to protect endangered animals from the threats of international trade, marks its 50th anniversary. We are among the leaders. We protect our animals and take part in all international programmes.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you.


January 9, 2024, The Kremlin, Moscow