By Paul Goble
Russians, especially those living east of the Urals, have long been worried about Chinese economic penetration which includes taking water from Lake Baikal, mining gold and coal, and even opening Chinese factories in places where Russian ones have ceased to operate.
But now there is a new worry: the sell-off of much of the forested land to China, Beijing’s harvesting of almost all of it, and a looming environmental disaster as a result of the destruction of animal habitats and drainage systems, something compounded by Moscow’s recent announcement that it lacks the money to fight fires in forests that are left.
The Chelyabinsk news agency reports that the Chinese role is especially troubling and is receiving more attention as a result of a film by writer Pavel Pashkov of the Russia Taiga expedition showing what is going on (lentachel.ru/news/2018/06/14/prodali-kitaytsam-ves-sibirskiy-les.html reposted at kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5B26AC0754996).
The basic conclusion Pashkov reaches is that “practically all the forest business now belongs to the Chinese Peoples Republic” rather than to anyone or any firm within the Russian Federation. “In fact, he says, “Siberia has become a raw materials supplier for China” and that means, he suggests, that “de facto Siberia already belongs to China.”
His investigation shows, the writer says, that the Chinese not only own the forests but have created a completely Chinese processing system so that few if any Russians in the region benefit. Not surprisingly, Pashkov says, “the population of Siberia is categorically against this Chinese advance and against the wholesale cutting down of the forests.”
Tragically, he continues, the Russian authorities “prefer to keep quiet about the problem and to ignore the opinion of the citizenry.” They simply pocket the money the Chinese pay and look away. They don’t even take action when Chinese firms and tourists push Russians out of the way near Lake Baikal.
According to Pashkov, this problem has assumed “threatening proportions.” Moreover, as bad as it is in the Chelyabinsk area, everything suggests that in the Far East of Russia, “the situation is still worse.” (He plans to travel there later this year and produce another film about the destruction of “the unique eco-system” of Russia east of the Urals.
He urges Russians throughout the country to demand Moscow get involved to stop this disaster before it is too late. “If we talk about the defense of Russia’s interests in the situation with regard to Crimea,” Pashkov concludes, “then we should be shouting at the top of our lungs about the Siberian problem,” the Chinese are creating.
While it is unlikely he is going to win his campaign, Pashkov has made a decision which others seeking to change Russian policy are increasingly taking: they are making films that can be shown on line and win support that way, as Aleksey Navalny and others have. At the very least, that strategy ensures that far more people know about a problem that does any other.