By Paul Goble
If Mongolia goes ahead with plans to build three hydro-electric dams on the Selenga river which 80 provides percent of the water flowing into Lake Baikal, that body of water is at risk of “an ecological catastrophe” that over time could lead to its disappearance just as the Aral Sea in Central Asia already has, according to Russian government experts.
Svetlana Subbotina and Angelina Galanina write in today’s “Izvestiya” that this was the conclusion at a recent closed-door session of experts at the Russian energy ministry and that there is now a consensus that Mongolia’s plans would inflict “irreparable harm” on Russia’s most famous lake (izvestia.ru/news/615071).
The language the experts used, the most dramatic so far, have particular resonance now because of the drought in Russia east of the Urals that has led to widespread and up to now uncontrolled fires and of reports that Moscow is planning to sell or even give water to China that have infuriated Russians in ways that recall Siberian river diversion ideas in the 1980s.
The closed-door meeting focused on coming up with ideas to do so, ranging from including Mongolia into the electricity network of Russia’s border regions to building heat-powered generating capacity within Mongolia itself, something that would have other environmental consequences.
Helping to solve Mongolia’s energy shortages in those ways, Oleg Lebedev, a Duma deputy and member of the government’s ecology advisory council, says, would be “a less bloody means” than allowing the dams to be constructed and Lake Baikal to die, again using language not heard hitherto.
The “Izvestiya” article says that the Russian energy ministry was unable to provide any reaction to this story because its specialists on this issue are currently in Mongolia, an indication of how serious this threat to Baikal is being taken and of how far the two sides are from reaching any agreement.