In 1999 the Organisation for Economic Cooperation & Development (OECD) concluded that despite many new laws being passed since the collapse of the USSR, environmental trends in Russia are still negative. The fact is that care for the environment has long had a low priority among Russia’s rulers.
The Soviet Union’s penchant for massive economy-boosting projects was matched only by its wilful ignorance ofthese projects’ often devastating environmental side effects – think of the draining of the Aral Sea. Mistakes were seldom admitted and, as the 1986
Chernobyl disaster in the Ukraine most famously showed, people were not told when their lives were in danger.
The post-Soviet market economy has scarcely been better for the environment. Many of the most polluting factories have gone bankrupt, yet still the air quality in over 200 cities often exceeds Russian pollution limits, a figure that is likely to worsen. Higher standards of living have put more cars on the roads and substantially increased solid waste generation – there is no management expertise or landfill capacity to deal with this. Less than half of Russia’s population has access to safe drinking water. Russia’s nuclear power stations are widely regarded as accidents waiting to happen, especially as money to run and maintain them becomes scarce.
Among many other problems are: