Russian authorities hope ‘to settle the problem of Lagonaki’ in order to construct a ski resort there, and civil society strives for inclusion UNESCO World Heritage Site ‘Western Caucasus’ in the List of World Heritage in Danger
Today, the 37th session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee opens in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Russian delegation will have to face an unpleasant discussion about Russian UNESCO World Heritage Sites. In particular, such Russian sites as Lake Baikal, Virgin Komi Forests, Golden Mountains of Altai, and Western Caucasus are under threat.
The most heated debates are expected to be around Virgin Komi Forests and Western Caucasus. These World Heritage natural sites became a symbol of destruction of unique natural complexes, gross violation of national and international environmental laws sanctioned by Russian authorities.
Western Caucasus, which consists of Caucasus (Kavkazskiy) State Biosphere Reserve, Natural Park “Bolshoy Tkhach” and three natural heritage of regional importance, has been attacked by destructive developmental activities and is threatened by large-scale projects from the very creation. In particular, two projects pose the greatest threat to the Heritage – Lunnaya Polyana (resort for Vladimir Putin) and Lagonaki ski resort.
One of these projects is the construction of the ski resort ‘Lunnaya Polyana’ for Vladimir Putin. In order to cheat Russian civil society and international community, this resort was masked as ‘Biosphere scientific center’. Construction was financed by ‘Rosneft’.
For a ‘scientific center’ construction, they disfigured several hectares of mountain landscape. Later, they tried to construct a road which led to massive deforestation of virgin forests on the territory of Western Caucasus. In 2008, the construction was stopped as a result of opposition raised by environmentalists and positive intervention by UNESCO experts. The same year, the World Heritage Committee issued recommendations to Russia, where the Committee recommended not to use Lunnaya Polyana for recreation purposes but use it for the needs of World Heritage instead. Russia fully ignored this decision. The resort was being widen and hundreds of hectares of forests were taken. In order to conceal this fact, Russia forbid flights over Lunnaya Polyana. Such legal regime ‘justified’ the refusal to allow UNESCO experts to enter the territory of Lunnaya Polyana.
The road construction was resumed in 2011. The road was masked as ‘a route to Caucasian Reserve’s weather station’. Interestingly, for non existent at that moment weather station, they needed a two-lane asphalted road. At the beginning of 2013, massive road construction road works began. Such construction is being conducted in a traditional Russian barbaric way with landscape destruction and massive destruction of Buxus colchica. These species are enlisted in the Red Book of Russian Federation which protects threatened and endangered species.
In addition to Putin’s resort ‘Lunnaya Polyana’, colossal threat to Western Caucasus is posed by a project of OJSC “Resorts of the North Caucasus” (“CSC”). They are planning to construct a ski resort on Lagonaki Plateau. ‘CSC’ is at the epicenter of scandals around embezzlement of governmental funds. Nonetheless, with the support of federal authorities and authorities of the Republic of Adygea, ‘CSC’ is planning to construct a large ski resort on Lagonaki Plateau. This will lead to destruction and degradation of unique natural complexes of Lagonaki Plateau.
The possibility to construct a ski resort on Lagonaki Plateau will be lobbied by Russian delegation, which mostly consists of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment staff. The Caucasian State Biosphere Reserve representative is a part of the Russian delegation as well. This representative, according to the Reserve, will be contributing to ‘settlement the problem of possible usage of particular parts of the Lagonaki Plateau for tourist and recreation purposes’.
‘The situation around Western Caucasus with continuing massive destruction of its environment in connection to Lunnaya Polyana resort, road construction to this resort and in connection to the road construction and massive forest destruction on the territory of the World Heritage, has been critical for a while. Irreversible consequences had already taken place because of non-exclusion the Western Caucasus Site to the List of World Heritage in Danger. I hope that this time, UNESCO staff will realize that they can’t trust declarations done by the Russian side. In practice, those declarations turn out to be a lie. Russia is simply ignoring UNESCO decisions. Only inclusion the Western Caucasus Site in the List of World Heritage in Danger will change the situation in a positive way,’ Andrey Rudomakha, a coordinator of Environmental Watch on North Caucasus, commented on the issue.
Environmental Watch on North Caucasus
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Chronicle of violation of the UNESCO World Heritage Convention by Russian authorities
On the basis of joint UNESCO and IUCN mission, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee issued a decision where it recommended Russia, inter alia, to deny the plan to develop recreational complexes on Lagonaki Plateau, on the Fisht-Oshtensky mountain ridge, and to search for alternatives to allocate Olympic village, some of the Olympic objects, as well as related to them roads and infrastructure allocated on the territory of the Sochi National Park.
This decision32 COM 7B.25 ‘helped’ Vladimir Putin to move Olympic objects from borders of Western Caucasus.
The 33rd session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee issued a decision where it warned Russia that in case of failing to comply with Committee’s recommendation, Western Caucasus will be included in the List of World Heritage in Danger.
The Committee pointed out that Russia is not capable to stop illegal forest destruction within the borders of Western Caucasus, and that there is no legal regime of protection of the Heritage; its buffer zones and their management regulations were not identified.
Committee marked that Russia did not provide the Committee with maps of Olympic and other infrastructure on the territory of the Heritage and the adjacent to it Sochi National Park.
The 34th session of the Committee alarmed with the threat to Western Caucasus as a result of planned or ongoing development — logging, tourist infrastructure development and road constructions.
Russia was recommended to stop any developmental activities which pose threat to Western Caucasus.
Committee pointed out its concern about infrastructure plans and possible ski resort construction on Lagonaki Plateau. Committee asked Russia to stop infrastructure and tourist construction within the territory of the Heritage. Committee asked to stop logging and restore all damaged forest as a result of development activities. Committee requested all documents regarding environmental impact assessment for all projects that might impact Western Caucasus.
On the 36th session, Committee decided that, in case Russia does not drop the plan to construct a ski resort on Lagonaki Plateau, Western Caucasus will be included in the List of World Heritage in Danger.
A great variety of flora and fauna (endangered, threatened, endemic and relict) is concentrated within the World Heritage Site ‘Western Caucasus’. It is one of the last places on Caucasus, where habitat of the most vulnerable big mammals (Bison, Red deer, Auchors, Chamois, Caucasian subspecies of brown bear, wolf, and others ) has little changed (in particular, it is virgin deciduous and coniferous forests).
Western Caucasian glaciers are here as well. As a result of climate change and a large reduction of glaciers and firn snow in the last 20-30 years, they require gentle attitude