By Paul Goble
A report that Russian forestry experts say that overharvesting and failure to reinvest in the seemingly endless forests of Siberia mean that in as little as 15 years, Russia will no longer have this most valuable resource available involuntarily brings to mind an old Soviet-era Radio Armenia joke.
Radio Armenia is asked “What will happen if Saudi Arabia goes communist?” Radio Armenia answers: “Five years after that, the Saudis will be importing sand.” But what is happening with Russia’s forests is no joke and is the result in the first instance of the kleptocratic pursuit of profit now with little or no thought about the future.
Aleksandr Onuchkin, the director of Russia’s Forestry Institute, says that “Siberia may encounter a deficit in reserves of wood in the near future,” a development Russia isn’t doing much to head off and that will have serious economic, cultural and ecological consequences (interfax-russia.ru/Siberia/news.asp?sec=1671&id=1021986).
“One of the most important problems” the country faces, he argues, is “the emerging deficit of forest resources. Many do not understand that this is happening and that even those reserves which were here 50 to 70 years ago when the forestry industry arrived will not be available in the future.”
This looming deficit, one that will hit very hard in about 15 years, is “connected with an increase in the number of forest fires, the spread of insect populations, and the irrational harvesting of forests.” There aren’t really enough forest resources now, and soon the situation will be a crisis.
Even under ideal conditions, Onuchkin says, the forests are not going to come back on their own; and even with massive help, their recovery will not occur until after Russia goes through a period of serious wood shortages. And the absence of trees will affect the environment as well.
The forestry expert does not address what may very well be the most serious and immediate consequence of the phenomenon he points to: a serious growth in Russian opposition to the sale of wood and wood products to China, something profitable to Moscow and needed by the Chinese but opposed by many in the region.
If Siberia’s forests are disappearing, many in Siberia are certain to conclude, any selling of wood or wood products to China is little short of a betrayal of Russia’s national interests. But their opposition, already significant (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/03/russia-paying-too-high-price-for.html), will make it even harder for Russian oligarchs to maintain their wealth and the Kremlin to maintain its economic ties with China.