In December, a wave of rallies and pickets against construction of a pulp and paper mill on the bank of the Rybinsk water rolled across the Volga region. The project is launched by Alexei Mordashov's Sveza Group. Thousands of people from Rybinsk, Yaroslavl, Cherepovets and other cities took to the streets to protest.
For a few months now, construction of the plant is making headlines of front pages. The thing is that the plant's operations will influence the Volga river which has already been polluted. Volga basin embraces 19 regions, territories and republics. Millions of people have an immediate interest to keep the river clean. For obvious reasons, the environmentalists and ordinary people are expressing their concerns, and the reasons for them are plain to see: for many years in a row the main “artery” was exploited mercilessly, and production wastes of all coastal enterprises were poured into it on an annoyingly regular basis. As a consequence, the river is in a terrible state now. According to EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) estimates, when producing 1,200,000 tons of pulp, discharges into the river will be equal to 19,200 tons of pollutants in the dry state, and taking into account the standards for maximum concentration limits, the water volume used by the pulp and paper mill will be 25 mln cubic meters per year. In addition, the Volga river has become one of the most polluted rivers in the country – it started shallowing. Once again, it is a “human” fault. For example, as a result of the investigation conducted by the Middle Volga Territorial Administration of Russian Federal Fisheries Agency, Zhiguli hydroelectric generating station (a branch of RusHydro) was accused of errors in calculating the water pass through the station and, as a consequence, of a catastrophic shortage of water in the Volga. “By 2024 all unauthorized landfills should be eliminated, and pollutant emissions into the atmosphere should be reduced by 20%,” said the text of the May 2018 presidential decrees. “The quality of drinking water should be enhanced, rivers and lakes should be revitalized, and biological diversity should be preserved by creating at least 24 new specially protected natural areas.” It is this document that stipulated care for the main “artery” of the country as a separate paragraph. However, in practice, all the "Kremlin theses" are either not understood, or are understood in the wrong way. And the endless problems with the Volga river just confirm it. Waking up to the fact that the situation will only get worse, the officials shaped a plan for how to save the river. The enhancement project presupposes large-scale federal financing of a set of measures aimed to improve the environmental state of the Volga river. However, so far the Ministry of Construction and the Ministry of Agriculture have not even started assimilating the funds, and the design estimate documentation for the water and wastewater treatment facilities has not been yet prepared. Residents of the regions understood that the project, which was announced so loudly, became indefinite and almost impossible to complete. And then Mordashov with his plant came to the scene. A wave of indignation swept the streets. Representatives of all parties, officials and ordinary people took part in the protests. The Volgograd region administration made silent nods at Moscow, saying that the project is federal and needs investments and that no decision on the construction has been made yet. Meanwhile, under the radar, the communication lines were laid along the bank of the Rybinsk reservoir: gas was laid and roads were built. People began to draw a conclusion: “It turns out that the May presidential decree is not a decree for some oligarchs.” A week ago, the Natural Resources Ministry intervened in the situation. Officials made it clear that the law prohibits the construction of a plant on the Volga, and the Federal Water Resources Agency refused to issue a permit for using the water body. "Norms of permissible impact on the input of chemical and suspended substances have been exhausted,” the document said. In addition, the Volga Recovery federal project is currently being implemented to preserve and prevent pollution of the river. One of the objectives of the project is a threefold reduction of the amount of polluted waste water discharges. Mordashov started giving assurances that environmental activists used this topic for political hype. However, it is difficult to run counter to laws and official indicators. One small fight for purification of the Volga has been won already by the social activists but the question if it helps save the largest water “artery” of the country is still open.