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Meeting with ecologists and animal protection activists

June 5, 2020, Novo-Ogaryovo, Moscow Region

Vladimir Putin had a meeting, via videoconference, with representatives of public environmental and animal protection organisations.

Taking part in the meeting were First Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office Sergei Kiriyenko, Deputy Prime Minister Viktoria Abramchenko, Minister for Civil Defence, Emergencies and Natural Disaster Relief Yevgeny Zinichev, Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Dmitry Kobylkin, Energy Minister Alexander Novak, Head of the Federal Service for Supervision of Natural Resources Svetlana Radionova, Krasnoyarsk Territory Governor Alexander Uss, Norilsk Nickel CEO Vladimir Potanin, heads of environmental organisations and animal protection activists.

* * *

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon.

We are meeting on Ecologist’s Day. In this sense, of course, I would like to extend my greetings to you and to all of Russia’s citizens who devote their lives to protecting nature and the environment. I want to thank you for your work, primarily, of course, those of you who work in these sphere professionally but also everyone who cares: scientists, employees of national parks and reserves as well as the Rosprirodnadzor staff – in fact, all our colleagues who support the continuous and important activities of regional nature protection agencies and environmental organisations.

Of course, our best regards go to our volunteers, activists, nature activists and energetic people who care sincerely about this work. Your personal involvement in environmental events and large educational, scientific and research work is important, sometimes essential, and is a significant part of our joint efforts to conserve Russia’s unique nature and biodiversity.

It is often because of you that local government receives prompt signals about concrete problems, a boost from society, and takes the necessary measures.

We can recall the so-called ‘whale prison’ in Vladivostok or stories about cruelty to animals that, in fact, became a catalyst of the separate Federal Law On Responsible Treatment of Animals.

I would like to hear more from you and learn about your projects and plans.

I also would like to draw your attention to the fact that we today have a link-up with the Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, the Head of the Federal Service for Supervision of Natural Resources, and the Deputy Prime Minister who is in charge of this area. Therefore, all your proposals will be considered during the implementation of the Environment national project, which directly concerns all sectors of the economy and the social sphere and requires the active participation of civil society.

But we have to begin our conversation with the Norilsk accident.

On Wednesday, as you know, instructions were issued and now I ask you to report on the developments on site and, most importantly, what emergency measures are being taken and what decisions have been prepared to minimise the aftermath of the accident.

Let us begin. Emergencies Minister Yevgeny Zinichev, please take the floor.

Minister for Civil Defence, Emergencies and Disaster Relief Yevgeny Zinichev: Good afternoon, Mr President.

Yesterday, we held a command centre meeting here in Norilsk and decided on specific emergency response tactics.

The area is swampy and hard to reach, we will deliver watertight tanks to be placed along the riverbed for collecting and removing the oil and further recycling or disposal.

The Marine Rescue Service, a division of Rosmorrechflot [Federal Agency for Maritime and River Transport], and special Gazpromneft divisions that have experience and equipment for this work and the Emergencies Ministry’s Siberian Rescue Centre are at the scene.

A camp has also been set up. They will be working to contain the spill. We have set up the critical services and secured air passage. Helicopters will deliver equipment and other materials, including drinking water.

Most importantly, we contained the oil spill on June 1 and installed booms, so the situation is not getting any worse. Today, we are simply working to collect the oil and petroleum products.

We are working in compliance with all ecological standards. Rosprirodnadzor is overseeing the effort. Ms Radionova, who is here, can confirm this or add to it.

That concludes my report, Mr President.

Vladimir Putin: You said this terrain is remote, that there is no transport here, and that you intend to remove and recycle the waste, and dispose of it. First, I would like to ask how and when you will remove this waste. This is the first thing.

And secondly, I have a question on waste disposal. There were plans to burn the waste onsite. To the best of my knowledge, some serious, not minor, problems arose with this.

Yevgeny Zinichev: Mr President, it goes without saying that we cannot burn off the waste for ecological considerations.

Regarding removal, we want to collect the waste and store it here until winter roads can be established. After that, vehicles will be able to remove it to waste disposal sites.

Vladimir Putin: Are these temporary tanks reliable enough, and how will they be delivered?

Yevgeny Zinichev: They are reliable, and are used to store fuel and lubricants. I know that the Defence Ministry also has its own field fuel and lubricant storage facilities.

Vladimir Putin: Very well. Fine.

I can see the head of the region near you.

Mr Uss, take the floor please.

Governor of Krasnoyarsk Territory Alexander Uss: Mr President, work is underway in two municipalities – Norilsk and Taimyr. They provide general organisational support, specifically, the first field camp, the first tents appeared thanks to them. In addition, the Spasatel regional team operates here, and our environmentalists, together with Rosprirodnadzor, also continue working, and I think they will provide serious help in understanding how to eliminate the environmental consequences of what happened.

In fact, the work is already well organised. I would like to say that many large companies, including Rosneft, who operate in Krasnoyarsk Territory, have expressed their intention to add forces and means here, if necessary.

Vladimir Putin: Fine, thank you.

Ms Radionova, please, Natural Resources Supervision Service.

Head of the Federal Service for Supervision of Natural Resources Svetlana Radionova: Mr President,

Given the fact that the accident and the subsequent spill of 15,000 tonnes into this water body are unprecedented in scale, we have localised additional forces here and relocated the laboratory. Every day we are trying to contain the consequences of the accident. We are taking samples every day; more than 50 samples have been taken in total. What we are now registering exceeds the norm tens of thousands of times over.

Petroleum products are being collected. So far, 150 cubic metres of petroleum products have been collected, but tomorrow we will install tanks and expect to collect 1,500 cubic metres daily. Further, all petroleum products must be removed. They need to be disposed of using the best available technology and the most environmentally friendly method.

We are not going to burn the petroleum products. We are in the Arctic zone and we believe that the use of other methods, including reagents, biological reclamation, using a lower hazard class of both petroleum products collected from the water area and contaminated soil that we also control (for reclamation), will probably be the best solution in the Arctic zone.

At present, we are also carrying out unscheduled inspections of companies. We will complete these by June 26. Based on the results, we will make a decision and an assessment of the company’s actions, and estimate the damages caused to the environment. This estimate may amount to billions of rubles. We intend to tightly control work to bring the ecosystem to the state in which it should be, that is, to its original state.

Vladimir Putin: All right, thank you.

I see President of Norilsk Nickel Vladimir Potanin next to you. Mr Potanin, you have the floor.

President of Norilsk Nickel Vladimir Potanin: Thank you, Mr President.

The company has mobilised its resources and capabilities under the plan Minister Zinichev has outlined. We have storage tanks for 16,000 tonnes of collected fuel. Out of this, tanks for 4,500 tonnes have already been delivered and are mounted at the site.

In addition, we have prepared storage for over 100,000 tonnes of collected soil. So far, we have collected about 7,000 tonnes. Reclamation of the affected land sections is proceeding on an area of about 6,500 square metres.

As it has been noted correctly, Mr President, our request for aid has received response from companies all over the country: Murmansk rescue workers made it possible to reverse the situation and get it under control; our colleagues from Gazpromneft are here, as are crews from the Emergency Ministry’s Siberian Centre.

As Ms Radionova mentioned, we intend to use the best available technology and choose environmentally safe rather than cheap solutions. Our company will pay for everything; not a single ruble from the budget will be spent. We will restore everything as Mr Radionova described. We will return the environment to its natural condition.

Apart from working on this, we are cooperating with environmental organisations and the local indigenous peoples. We are involved in several programmes and projects, for instance, on increasing the deer population and releasing young fry to maintain the rare fish stock. As soon as the situation is brought back to normal, we will resume these programmes.

Mr President, I must add that the power supply system, the city’s heat supply and companies are all on schedule. We are doing all we can to prepare for the next winter heating season, as planned.

Vladimir Putin: Mr Potanin, the willingness of your company to pay for all this is certainly the right step. What is the estimated cost of all this, in your opinion? Tentatively.

Vladimir Potanin: I think it is in the billions of rubles. This is big money. You know, I am expressing my opinion not as a businessman but as a man who takes this close to heart; we will pay as much as is necessary. This will be billions upon billions.

Vladimir Putin: I see, but how much do you think it will be as a rough estimate?

Vladimir Potanin: I cannot tell about the fines. It is up to them to calculate. As for expenses, I think it will be as much as 10 billion or more. This is a tentative estimate, Mr President.

Vladimir Putin: My question is not random, Mr Potanin. We have been well acquainted for a long time. I know that you personally, and I would like to note this, work at the company and not just own a large share. But look, you have still said that we are talking billions. How much does one tank you want to replace cost? Approximately.

Vladimir Potanin: I cannot say how much one tank costs. Right now, we are looking at hundreds of millions of rubles.

Vladimir Putin: I believe one tank will cost less.

Vladimir Potanin: Of course, one tank will cost less.

Vladimir Putin: One reservoir where fuel used to be stored costs much less. This is incomparable.

Vladimir Potanin: I agree, Mr President.

Vladimir Putin: What is my point, Mr Potanin? If you had changed them on time, there would have been no environmental damage and no need to foot such costs. Just look at this carefully in the company. I will elaborate on this further.

I hope that all the work we have just discussed will be carried out effectively through joint efforts. I have already said, and would like to stress this again, what happened in Norilsk is a federal emergency, as was said yesterday. It is true that people’s health is under threat and the fragile Arctic nature has suffered significant damage.

It is no coincidence that the General Prosecutor’s Office as well as the Investigative Committee and investigating bodies have got involved. I would like to ask all the agencies that should be directly engaged in this work (in addition to the Emergencies Ministry) to closely monitor the situation. Of course, we need to find out why this happened, carefully and without compromise, and evaluate the damage.

I have just heard Mr Potanin say the shareholders have to quickly and fully clean up the soil and water pollution, but I hope that financial issues will be resolved in the way the company head has suggested today. It is necessary to implement all the compensation measures to restore biodiversity and the environment under the supervision of Rosprirodnadzor specialists.

I am also asking Rosprirodnadzor to carefully analyse the state of similar facilities all across Russia and carry out inspections if necessary, with the involvement of experts of the Emergencies Ministry and law enforcement bodies.

Finally, I would like to ask the Government and parliament members to complete their work on principal amendments to environmental legislation that would help prevent such situations in the future. This must be done as soon as possible, by the end of the current parliamentary session.

Let us finish discussing this topic on that note.

Now I suggest giving the floor to our volunteers and representatives of environmental and animal protection organisations.


Vladimir Putin: To sum up today’s meeting, I would like to say the following. We touched upon many various issues today. You did, my friends. But every one of you spoke about your projects with energy and sincere enthusiasm – this was evident. This again proves that most people who have devoted their lives to protecting the environment act from the heart. And this is the best example to follow in the future, for other people, for children and young people; it is good motivation to join the numerous environmental initiatives of volunteers and non-profit organisations.

The projects that you spoke about and that are being implemented by your like-minded colleagues all over Russia, is what we call a responsible environmental culture.

We began with a very complex issue, both an economical and ecological one: waste collection. We also discussed the preservation of forests, caring for stray and wild animals, and environmental awareness. In fact, this is the base, the cornerstone of success of all strategically important, national and regional environmental protection programmes.

Of course, your activity should and will receive constant interested support from the authorities and businesses.

I want to draw the attention of the heads of regions and relevant agencies, heads of enterprises and all organisations regardless of the form of incorporation to this issue.

I would like to emphasise that there was a period when it was necessary to develop territories and create new industrial centres. But these goals were achieved at any cost. As a result, the mistakes that were made then, some of them even last century, are literally poisoning people’s lives and the environment. Unfortunately, even today we are witnessing displays of such a blatantly consumptive approach. It still happens, and fairly often. Many live by the motto “after us, the deluge.”

This is regrettable. This logic is counterproductive and very dangerous. Nature itself is sending us a signal: sustainable development is possible only if there is a harmonious, rational balance of interests between economic growth, social welfare and, on the other hand, environmental security.

As we have said many times in the past, we need strict and sensible environmental requirements for any economic activity and consistent reduction of harmful emissions in the country’s major industrial centres. What does this mean? It means clean air, water and soil. Everything, which has lasting importance for each human being and, along with social security, prosperity and opportunities for self-fulfilment, determines the quality of life. Both in the present and in the future.

The problems of the environment and ecology have always been and remain among the most sensitive and important issues for society. It is not by chance that people’s initiatives on amendments to the Constitution – my colleagues already spoke about it earlier and returned to the issue several times – included so many proposals to tighten regulations on the conservation nature and the environment, responsibility for the humane treatment of animals, and to develop a system of environmental awareness.

I fully support such a position of principle. We are talking about our national heritage in every sense of the word, our pride, and our duty to the present and future generations. We must and we will preserve all this for them, for the future generations on our entire large planet.

However, it is very important for us to conserve the unique wealth of our natural resources, the flora and fauna of our country, of Russia. And people’s opinions and society’s interests in the field of the environment as well as the preservation of biological diversity must remain an unquestionable priority.

Friends, please accept my greetings on Ecologist’s Day. I wish you great success in all your endeavours.

Also thank you for today’s meeting and the fruitful and interesting conversation.

All the best. Good-bye.

June 5, 2020, Novo-Ogaryovo, Moscow Region