Thu 29 October 2020

Sarah Hurst reports on how Russian authorities routinely censor information on the country’s environmental record.

Russian state television has been accused of censoring a report about a deadly dam collapse at a gold mine in the country’s Krasnoyarsk region.

Presenter Andrei Malakhov said on his programme that high levels of mercury had been registered in the local river, suggesting the use of illegal mining methods. A volunteer rescuer told a reporter: “We have information that when medics arrived at the scene there were at least 20 dead bodies.” The official death toll was 17. 

A Krasnoyarsk website, NGS24, published a clip from the programme and said that it was pulled from the air after being shown in eastern regions of Russia, before people in Moscow could see it.

“Residents of the Urals and Moscow watched a report about a woman who fell out of a window in Tobolsk instead of the live broadcast,” the website said.

The Rossiya-1 channel responded that it had never intended to show the programme in those regions.

Five unauthorised dams reportedly collapsed in the incident, and miners drowned as they slept. Three managers have been arrested.

Just a few days later, three miners died in an incident at Nornickel’s Taymyr copper mine, also in the Krasnoyarsk region. No explanation was given.

On opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s YouTube channel his aide, Kira Yarmysh, spoke about the censorship and added that the daughter of the head of the mining company, Sibzoloto – Alexei Guryanov – lives in luxury in London, “while her father’s miners earn a living in inhumane conditions”. A Russian website said that Natalia Guryanova had posted pictures of herself in Singapore, Cyprus and Thailand, and studied at Imperial College London.

Guryanova’s profile has since been deleted from the VK social network. Sibzoloto has also removed most company information from its website. 

These disasters not only draw attention to Russia’s atrocious environmental and safety record, but also to the cover-ups by authorities that have become routine.

A few scapegoats will usually get prison sentences after a fatal incident, but there is never a public inquiry. “Unauthorised” activities are only exposed when something goes wrong.

In February, towns in the Kuzbass coal mining region in Siberia were blanketed in black snow, caused by open pit mines that have severely damaged the health of residents. Half of the coal used in the UK comes from Russia.

A gold mine is flooded after a dam collapsed in the Kuraginsky district of Russia’s Krasnoyarsk region, Oct. 19, 2019. The death toll rose to 13 after a dam collapsed

In late August, residents made a complaint of genocide to the International Criminal Court, saying that the mines are causing cancer. A few days ago, they received an acknowledgement letter from the ICC promising to read the complaint and consider it. 

Krasnoyarsk region and many other parts of Russia were devastated by forest fires last summer and local authorities did little to put them out. One local website blames the region’s governor, Alexander Uss, for turning a blind eye to all the environmental destruction, including the gold mining.

The reason for the problems is the “unprecedented level of corruption and low qualifications of regional officials,” 19rus said. “And, we can’t rule out, Alexander Uss himself: managing subordinates and faithfully serving the people is the direct duty of the governor. Not just awarding medals and expressing condolences when disasters happen.”

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