Garbage Protests in Russia, An Expected Oil Crisis and A Playful Spy Whale

Power fears those who have no fears, says this poster from last weekend’s garbage demonstration in Syktyvkar. Photo: Ivan Fedosejev
Garbage protests continue in Russia, the "spy whale" is still fond of people and a predicted oil crisis in the north: This is week in the Arcitc summarized by our editorial staff.

This country is a long one. And most of it is North, says the poem of well-known Norwegian journalist and poet Rolf Jacobsen.

Not only is Norway a country where “most of it is North” – Norway is also a country where much of what goes on relates to Russia.

This autumn, we have paid close attention to what goes on around a disused railway station 1,240 kilometers north of Moscow. Near Shies in Arkhangelsk county, deep into the beautiful birch forest that stretches out across vast parts of Northwestern Russia, the biggest social battle the country has seen since the end of the Soviet Union is currently playing out.

What was originally a protest against the construction of a massive waste landfill for unsorted waste from the Moscow region has now grown into a full-blown grassroot movement against a series of social challenges and problems in Russia.

High North news visited Shies last March. Activists and environmentalists had then built up various camps and checkpoints in the forest around the construction area in order to prevent construction workers from bringing fuel to their machines. The original plan was to transport some 500,000 tons of waste here ever year for the next 20 years. The local population fears that the ground water will be polluted and that irreplaceable natural resources will be destroyed forever. Since then, the conflict has escalated, and it is currently more entrenched than ever.

We have earlier told you about how lawyers and journalists in Arkhangelsk have been arrested by the police. The Russian Supreme Court this week processed an appeal from activists who argue that there should be a referendum in Arkhangelsk about the construction of the landfill. Local authorities say no, however, a regional court has granted the activists a temporary victory: The people should be asked in such an interfering and important question.

That tells us a series of facts: That nothing is black or white in Russia. And that the authorities, both on local, regional and national level, are trying to maneuver through this growing movement of discontent people in Russia at present.

We interviewed Antonia Obednina (37), who has engaged in the fight against the landfill.
- The court system has deteriorated. For every injustice, the number of dissidents grows rather fast. Civilian society is growing, Obednina says.

Russian authorities have in recent years tightened legislation and made it more difficult to be an activist. People who participate in protests risk long prison sentences and heavy fines. Nevertheless, rage in the population around Shies grows. Protests are organized in several Russian cities.

The demands from the protesters who took to the streets in Syktyvkar, the regional capital of Komi county, last weekend were nothing short of this; that president Vladimir Putin and prime minister Dmitry Medvedev have to resign, as well as amnesty for all arrested activists and a halt to all construction work in Shies.

More than 5,000 people attended.

- The engagement is impressive and the level we are seeing today would be unthinkable just a few years ago. This is not specifically about Shies, there have been several issues mobilizing society; elections, pensions reform, environment, police brutality and academic freedom, says Kirill Koroteyev, lawyer at the Agora human rights organization.

A playful spy whale
This week, we also brought you the news about the Russian Beluga whale Hvaldimir, who recently has revamped his celebrity status through social media. A Twitter video shows a man wearing winter clothes who throws an American football from a boat, and a Beluga that swims to get it back to him. This happens repeatedly.

It is not clear who uploaded the video, however, the original claim was that South African rugby fans had done the filming and that it all took place in Antarctica. However, scientists were quick to point out that there are no Belugas in Antarctica, only in the Arctic. Many also reacted negatively given the fact that wild animals do not play ball with humans – in other words, a normal Beluga would not behave that way.

Royal pains for Norway
The bothersome, yet lucrative red king crab keeps crawling westwards from the Barents Sea. It currently has a presence as far west as in Tromsø, and within a decade it may have reached Svalbard.

That may cause quite a headache for Norwegian authorities. The UN Convention on Law of the Seas establishes that both the red king crab as well as the snow crab are shelf species and to be regulated as such. It means that they, unlike fish that swim in the ocean, belong on the continental shelf. Whatever state owns the shelf, owns the resources on it – and through that also the crabs.

Norway argues that Svalbard does not have its own continental shelf, but that the archipelago rather lies on the Norwegian shelf. That is why the Svalbard Treaty’s section about equal rights to exploitation of the shelf around Svalbard does not apply, according to Norwegian authorities.

Stark French NATO criticism
Norway’s Defense Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen also responds to French President Macron’s claim that NATO is ‘braindead’. However, Bakke-Jensen admits that NATO is going through a challenging time.

It is also worth noting that Russia will be hit hard by decreasing demand for oil, and that a faked letter alleging to be from Greenland’s foreign minister to a US Senator adds fuel to the fire when it comes to rumors about Russian hybrid attack. And going to the North Pole is nowhere near what it used to be, according to explorers Børge Ousland and Mike Horn, who are currently doing just that.

We wish you all the best for the weekend!
Amund Trellevik
Reporter, High North News


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