<alter-ee> Votkinsk, Russia.... A VICTORY!

Antti alter-ee@lists.most.org.pl
Thu, 4 Jul 2002 20:43:36 +0400


Campaign against rocket engine- and fuel reprocessing plant in
Votkinsk is finished. A group of campaigners visited the construction
site 5th of June, and found it completely abandonded - no guards,
nor workers.

Of course, as with any ecological struggle, the victory might be
only temporary - any negative decision in this field might be reversed,
but results of positive decisions last forever. However, this is
as much a victory as one may expect to have.

The victory caught Rainbow Keepers, one of the organisers of the
campaign by surprise, and there will be no time to organise
another summer protest campaign this year. Only two weeks before the
visit there was lots of evidence that construction is secretly
continued altough administration of Udmurtian republic made negative
decision in March already.  This decision of March was generally
considered by activists to be a dirty pre-election trick, to help republic
to replace city mayor with their candidate (in which they succeeded)
Votkinsk-campaign in was the biggest Rainbow Keepers has organised since
campaign against Rostov Nuclear Power Plant 1996-1997.

A version of the article below will be published in Schnews yearbook
of this year. It was written in April, when it was supposed that
works are still continued. Needless to say, the promise to organise
another summer campaign this year is not in force anymore...


Rumble in the edge of the Europe - the struggle against the KURDTT rocket
engine- and fuel reprocessing plant in Votkinsk

Votkinsk, birthplace of famous 19th century composer Pyotr Chaikovsky, is a
city of 100,000 inhabitants in Udmurtia, an autonomous republic of the
Russian Federation near the Ural mountains. The city was once built for the
purposes of the huge soviet military-industrial complex, and now it is a
planned site of KURDTT (Complex for Destruction of Heavy Fuel Rocket
Engines), a plant for reprocessing fuel and engines of SS-24, SS-24M, SS-25,
SS-N-20 ballistic missiles, which are to be discarded. 70% of Russian
ballistic missiles are of these types.

Better if not used, but no good anyway

Each of these missiles is a small-scale environmental disaster. Even if they
are not launched, the project to bring 916 of them - altogether 17,500 tons
of rocket fuel - to be disembowelled only nine kilometres from the city has
met with fierce resistance from local inhabitants. An active and unique
social protest movement has sprung up in what is generally a disillusioned
post-Soviet society.
 Originally a similar project was planned to be sited in the Nevada desert,
but this plan
was cancelled because of fears it would hurt the area's endangered
tortoises. After being moved to a site about 250 kilometres from the nearest
settlement, (which was a small Indian village,) in 1996 the US congress had
an even better idea: have a similar project in Russia, make it ten times
bigger, and pump US$52.4 million into it.
 Lockheed Martin, one of the biggest military-industrial corporations in the
world, was the project's original American partner. When they withdrew from
the project in May 2001, the contract was given to the lesser known American
corporation Energotech, who will continue using the special technology
Lockheed Martin have been developing at California's China Lake complex
since 1988. Protesters didn't find out about the change of contractors until
last August. Local (Russian) journalists, who travelled to America while
Lockheed Martin were still involved, discovered the project budget had
already swollen to US$150 billion - but it wasn't clear who exactly was
going to foot the bill for the extra costs.

Consensus decision making as the ruling class understands it

The first attempt to build the plant in Russia's Perm area of Western
Siberia was cancelled due to local resistance. Votkinsk was the next
contender - carefully chosen because the city is completely dependent on the
military-industrial complex, because the Government of the Udmurtian
republic is authoritarian and corrupt, and because Votkinsk is located in
the border with Perm area - which planners thought could take a big part of
the pollution without risking influencing the project decision. Currently
most modern Russian ballistic Topol-missiles are built in Votkinsk.
 In 1999 the project was put to a referendum in Votkinsk and 99.4% of the
vote rejected the idea. Even then the result was skewed because little more
than half the community actually voted, since the VMZ-factory threated to
sack anyone
who voted. This was what's called a 'binding' local referendum -a speciality
of the Russian constitution - binding in theory, but in practice something
local governments always find loopholes to nullify. In this case the highest
court of the Udmurtian republic decided the plant referendum wasn't valid,
because it should have been held in the surrounding municipality where the
plant was to be located rather than in the city of Votkinsk itself. In the
neighbouring city of Chaikovsky which is located in Perm area, local
ecological organisation questioned 12 000 inhabitants in a Gallup which
required giving ones full name, address and passport details - only 5
persons, that means 0.042% supported the project.

Never trust a NGO

Nullifying the referendum did not turn off the local movement. Ongoing
petitions, mass meetings of up to 3000 participators, and taking up
unsuccessful court cases against the Republic's administration kept
protesters busy. Even a group of VMZ company engineers mobilised to protest
against the rocket engine reprocessing plant, openly defying company
threats. Some local specialists on ballistic missiles who had originally
backed the project turned against it after learning more about it. They
argued the project wasn't worth it as it would give little employment to
locals, be governed from abroad, and be based on experimental technology.
During 3 years of planned functioning of the factory, it is expected to
produce 13 tons of cyanic natrium NaCN, not less poisonous than cyanic
hydrogen which when mixed with water produces cyano-hydrogen acid, used as a
chemical weapon. And they're talking about dumping this stuff in the area
surrounding the factory, without providing any special facilities to protect
the environment. The 'Ecological Impact Assessment' that gave the project
the green light was from the Green Cross, a corrupt business NGO founded by
Mikhail Gorbachev which mostly runs by selling certificates to various
business for money. It should be called a 'Green Wash'.
 The local city administration has been against the project since the
beginning, defying the authoritarian regime of Volkov (president of
Udmurtian republic) who has by now managed to replace the leadership of all
Udmurtian cities with his men. The last city to fall was Votkinsk, where A.
V. Kuznetsov - not even a city inhabitant himself - managed to replace
defiant mayor V.L. Friedrich in elections on the 14th of March 2002. Former
mayor Friedrich suffered a mainstream media-blackout during a very dirty
election campaign, which included an obviously false statement from
Udmurtian government that the plant would be cancelled. The incoming mayor
Kuznetsov's true position with regards to the project was not revealed to
inhabitants of Votkinsk.

Protest campaign in the summer of 2001

The local movement asked the social ecologist Rainbow Keepers movement to
organise a protest camp against the plant over last summer. Rainbow Keepers
have organised similar summer campaigns since 1990 all over the European
side of Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine. The Votkinsk camp, co-organised with
the International Socio-Ecological Union, the Union for Chemical Safety, and
local ecological activists, ran almost six weeks from 18th of July until
30th of August. More than a hundred people from the Russian cities of
Volzhk, Kasimov, Moscow, Nizhny Novgorod, Kazan, Yekaterinburg,
Kamensk-Uralsk, Volgograd, Saint-Petersburg, Samara, Ryazan and Tampere and
Helsinki in Finland, came to take part. One of the camp's Finnish activists
got a five year deportation from Russia for his troubles.
 Protesters organised daily info-stalls and civil-disobedience actions, and
a public meeting on the 26th of July drew a crowd of 3,000 people. The camp
was first attacked on the 29th of July when a group of five men threatened
campers after midnight. At six o'clock that morning one of the tents was set
on fire, but fortunately no-one was injured. On the 3rd of August 300
inhabitants took part in a peaceful protest outside the offices of Lockheed
Martin in the city in a legal meeting, but police violently dispersed the
crowd and arrested several participants. A solidarity picket for the
imprisoned lasted five hours.
 A closed court session against the meeting's participants was organised for
the 7th of August, with locals and a bus-load of people from Chaikovsky
turning up to show their solidarity outside. 25 Rainbow Keepers masked
themselves up for the day, since the police had used video evidence to
single people out after previous protests. Police decided to keep two of the
arrested in jail until the next court session, although the court itself did
not take any decision about the continuation of the arrests. This angered
picketers, who then blocked the police van transferring the arrested pair
back to prison, chanting "Free the prisoners!" It took police a few hours to
break up the blockade after extra numbers had been called. Protesters went
on chasing the van, and 40-50 were involved in more skirmishes with the
police. Several were arrested and got fines of up to ?20 and jail sentences
of up to 15 days.
 The13th of August saw several roads in Votkinsk blockaded as a protest
action. The day after a court declared July 26th's mass meeting illegal,
even though it had been called by the city major himself! On August 16th
thirty people, supposedly from fascist groups, organised a violent attack on
the protest camp. Masked attackers surrounded the camp from three
directions, and started fights with iron bars, knives and baseball bats.
After half an hour of fighting five Rainbow Keepers were left with head
wounds and other injuries, but no-one was hospitalised. On the 21st of
August another mass meeting was organised, this time drawing a crowd of 1000
people. During the week of the 21st to 28th of August Rainbow Keepers
blockaded the main entrance of the Votkinsk administration, with supportive
locals protecting the activists and giving them food. Federal Inspector S.V.
Chikurov, who had steadfastly refused to meet protesters for two weeks, then
demanded that the city mayor "put an end to the organisation of mass
disruptions in Votkinsk". 20 000 copies of an anti-plant tabloid paper were
distributed over the course of the summer campaign.

The Future

The Camp ended on the 30th of August, but the all-Russian campaign has
stayed active over winter. In Moscow on the 3rd of November a theatre action
was organised outside the Udmurtian HQ in Moscow. Three bourgeois officials
from America, Russia, and Udmurtia, were acted out as pompously opening up
the new factory, when thick smoke billowed from the factory, filling the
street and leading to the painful deaths of several local inhabitants. On
the 12th of March a cartoon cruiser called the "Aurora" bombed the Moscow
bases of Energotech, the Ministry of Atomic Energy, and Duma, with
firecrackers. The running street revolution that kicked off then lasted 5
hours, as protesters evaded arrest by dodging from one administrative area
to the next.
 More protests will be organised in Votkinsk this summer. Officials haven't
reversed the decision to build the plant yet, as the scheme was necessary to
get their man elected city mayor. So far, building works on the factory's
planned site are continuing.

Read more (in Russian): www.goriachiy.narod.ru
Rainbow Keepers online: www.chat.ru/~rk2000
If you are interested to participate to 2002 (2003, 2004?) protests, write
to tw@ecoline.ru, rkrzl@ecoline.ru and dikobrazi@lists.tao.ca