Environmental Degradation and Conservation

The Soviet Union was commonly perceived as one of the most polluted places on earth. A list of the major environmental disasters of the 20th century includes many that happened in the U.S.S.R.: the Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine; the less publicized Kyshtym nuclear accident near Chelyabinsk in the Urals; the Aral Sea water loss; the Semipalatinsk and Novaya Zemlya nuclear bombing fallout; and the industrial pollution of rivers, air, cities, and entire regions. One book about the late Soviet period published in the West was even entitled Ecocide in the U.S.S.R. (Feshbach & Friendly, 1992). It claimed that in the U.S.S.R. the water was toxic, the land was polluted, and the air was unbreathable. A much more balanced treatment was provided by Pryde (1991).

At the same time, one cannot help wondering just how much impact all these disasters really had over such a large territory. Because the region is so large, there had to be unpolluted areas of considerable size. The perception of pollution is subjective, and much of this perception depends on the spatial scale involved. For example, Moscow does have relatively polluted air. In fact, the first thing you notice upon arrival at one of its three international airports is the pervasive smell of car exhaust and cigarette smoke outside the terminal. Nevertheless, 15 km away you can be in the summer cottage country, relaxing near one of the many lakes and inhaling impeccably clean pine forest air while fishing for carp. In addition, some of the largest and cleanest streams on the planet are in the vast Siberian taiga forests. The wilderness ranges of the Altay are famous for their pristine beauty. Most of Siberia and the Russian Far East are unspoiled by humanity. And, outside Russia proper, the Central Asian deserts, steppes, and mountains are almost beyond compare, with few tourists and even fewer roads. Remember that population density in the former Soviet Union (FSU) is less than a quarter of the U.S. level and less than one-eighth of the European.

Environmental Degradation and Conservation

As we discuss environmental issues in the countries of Northern Eurasia, let us keep in mind that while some areas were heavily affected by pollution and the like, many remain pristine. This chapter describes both environmental degradation (air and water pollution, as well as nuclear and toxic waste issues) and biodiversity conservation.

Air Pollution

Air pollution is common everywhere in the industrialized world. The U.S.S.R. was one of the largest polluters of air on the planet, and Russia still is today. The difference is primarily in the total amounts: Whereas the U.S.S.R. was a polluting monster, releasing over 60 million metric tonnes (mmt) of pollutants per year from stationary sources, Russia today releases 25 mmt or so. The United States released 145 mmt in 2005, of which slightly less than half (or about 60 mmt) was from stationary sources. Table 5.1 provides a more detailed comparison of emissions. Russia is of course a smaller country than the U.S.S.R., so logically it would produce less pollution. Also, its industrial output dropped about 50% between 1991 and 1998. Although there has been some increase in production since 2000, Russia generally pollutes less today than it did 20 years ago. However, a major new contributor to air pollution is car exhaust. Moscow, for example, had only 500,000 automobiles in the late 1980s. Today there are about 4 million cars and trucks in the city, only about half of which comply with modern emission control standards. Russia's total carbon monoxide emissions are higher than those of the entire U.S.S.R. Although the general trend of U.S. air pollution has been steadily downward, because of the improved pollution control devices required by the Clean Air Act, Russia is actually beginning to produce more pollution now that its industry is recovering.

Pollution from industry (e.g., coal-fired electricity plants, metal smelters, and chemical factories) remains a significant concern in at least four countries of the FSU: Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan. A few hundred cities in Russia alone, such as Norilsk, Cherepovets, or Magnitogorsk, were built around a single huge enterprise. In cases like these, several hundred thousand people in each city are breathing the air polluted by the industrial monster. In the biggest cities, like Moscow or Yekaterinburg, there are dozens of smaller factories. Although some of these were shut down during the 1990s, many are still operating today, and only a handful have been upgraded enough to reduce their emissions substantially. About 40 cities are on the national watch list of the most polluted (out of about 200). Some of the most notorious ones include these:

  • In European Russia, the cities of Cherepovets (a major steel factory); Ryazan, Vladimir, Saratov, and Volgograd (machine building and chemical plants); and Naberezhnye Chelny (petrochemicals and the KAMAZ truck plant).
  • In the Urals, the cities of Yekaterinburg, Chelyabinsk, Magnitogorsk, Pervouralsk, Nizhniy Tagil, and Ufa (all major centers of heavy industry, such as production of weapons and/or chemicals).
  • the cities of Norilsk (nickel and copper processing); Angarsk and Bratsk (aluminum smelters); Novokuznetsk and Kemerovo (coal processing, chemical industries); and Omsk, Chita, Blagoveshchensk, Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, and Magadan (all centers of heavy industry, including military factories).

European Russia suffers from transboundary air pollution as well, from factories in Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, Romania, Sweden, and even Germany. All of these countries have a lot of heavy industry and many coal-fired plants, and all are located west (downwind) of Russia. Similarly, industry in Moscow pollutes the Volga region, which in turn pollutes the Urals, and finally the Urals pollute western Siberia. Some of the air pollution from eastern Kazakhstan reaches the Russian Altay. It should also be stressed that these regions are not merely experiencing heavy levels of conventional pollution; they are dealing with increasing levels of toxic pollutants, such as benzene, aniline, formaldehyde, hydrochloric acid, hydrogen sulfide, lead, methanethiol, and the like. Just a small amount of these in the air will make people seriously sick. Chronic lung diseases are very widespread in Russia, although these are also often due to a high rate of smoking (over 60% among adults vs. 18% in the United States), not to industrial pollution. At the same time, some cities where factories either closed or were reprofiled in recent years now have much cleaner air.

As stated above, car exhaust is a major problem in all large cities. Moscow's traffic jams are now worse than those in most U.S. cities, including Seattle, Minneapolis, San Francisco, and even New York City, if measured by the amount of time spent sitting in traffic. Commutes of 2–3 hours across Moscow are no longer unusual, with the average one-way commute being about 1 hour. This is a dramatic increase from the Soviet period, when it would have taken merely 40 minutes. To make matters worse, only about half of the car fleet is equipped with catalytic converters. No Soviet/Russian car models had pollution control devices until just a few years ago, and many of the older, polluting Ladas and Volgas are still running. Although there has been an upsurge in imported models and in the assembly of Western-quality vehicles inside Russia in recent years (see Chapter 18), the overall increase in car ownership has more than offset any reduction in pollution caused by better controls on cars or by cleaner central power production. Between 2000 and 2005, an average big city in Russia saw a 30% increase in air pollutants. In 2007, Russia as a whole had 195 passenger cars per 1,000 people, and Moscow had 261. The corresponding number in the United States was 453, or 783 if light trucks and SUVs were included. In the late Soviet period, Russia had only 50 cars per 1,000 people.

Russia reluctantly ratified the Kyoto Protocol for greenhouse gas reduction in 2004, after deliberating for 6 years. Russia emitted about 1 billion tons less of greenhouse gases in 1990 than in 2004, and thus it was in a position to benefit from the lucrative trade in emissions permits. However, as Russia continues to expand its economy, it is likely that by 2012 it will cease to be a net seller of credits and will have to start buying them instead.

Because Russia's economy is less energy-intensive than the U.S. economy, its per capita carbon dioxide production is only moderately high. It was in the 16th place worldwide in 2005, with the United States being in the 5th spot. Qatar was at the top of the list, while China was only the 80th. However, in total carbon dioxide emissions, Russia trails only the United States and China and is ahead of India and Japan. If Russia develops more postindustrial, high-tech industries, its emissions are likely to fall in the future. However, the presence of large gas, coal, and oil reserves precludes serious changes in the interim period.

Water Pollution

Clean, fresh water is in limited supply on our planet and is likely to become the top environmental concern of this century (Gleick, 2009). Five of Russia's rivers are in the top 25 worldwide by water volume (the Yenisei, Lena, Ob, Amur, and Volga, in descending order). Of these five, the Yenisei carries about as much water as the Mississippi (without the Missouri); the Volga carries more water than the Yukon or the Indus, and about twice as much as the Nile. Although the Volga is heavily polluted, the Siberian rivers are relatively pollution-free, and the Lena and the Amur remain dam-free. In addition, Lake Baikal contains approximately 20% of the liquid freshwater on our planet, as much as all five North American Great Lakes, and is relatively unpolluted. At the same time, some smaller lakes and rivers in the European part of the FSU and the Urals are notoriously polluted. Some of the greatest environmental catastrophes involving water happened in the FSU (the Techa River nuclear waste dumping in the Urals in the 1960s, and the Aral Sea destruction in the 1970s).

What is happening with water in Russia today? As in the rest of the developed world, much of it is diverted for the cooling of coal-fired power plants, as well as for other industrial purposes (59% vs. 53% in the United States), irrigation (13% vs. 34%), and household consumption (21% vs. 12%). The Soviet factories were notoriously inefficient water users. Note, however, that less water is used for irrigation (in both relative and absolute numbers) or for household consumption in Russia than in the United States. Why? First, many of Russia's cultivated crops have traditionally been grown without much irrigation, except for those in southern Ukraine and Central Asia. The Soviet Union developed relatively few grand irrigation schemes (the Kara Kum canal in Turkmenistan was an exception). In contrast, the farmers of central California and much of the American West could not possibly grow crops without irrigation. Second, until very recently few Russians owned homes that had lawns (or cars that required washing). Lawn sprinklers are the leading consumers of water in U.S. households, but not yet in Russia.

The most polluted rivers and streams include those of the Kola Peninsula (with copper, nickel, and phosphate mining nearby); the Northern Dvina River (with paper and pulp industry in its basin); the Volga (with many industries nearby, especially machinery building, chemicals, and petrochemicals); the Don in the south (with much agricultural runoff); and the Ob–Irtysh system (with pollution from the Urals, Krasnoyarsk, and Novosibirsk, as well as from the petroleum and gas industries in the midbasin). The Angara River receives major pollution from Bratsk. The Lena is relatively clean, but the Amur has been seriously polluted in recent years by both China and Russia. Typical types of water pollutants include (but are not limited to) petrochemicals, lead and other heavy metals, complex organics, phosphates, and nitrates. Fecal matter in river water is common, as well as many parasitic diseases.

Lake Baikal remains mildly polluted, despite all the media hype, but this is because it has rather limited development in its basin (primarily the paper and pulp mill in Baikalsk in the extreme south); the polluted area of the lake is about 20 km2. The lake itself is so huge that this pollution fortunately has little overall impact, which is not to say that it is in any way desirable. A plan to locate a new oil pipeline to China north of the lake was met with tremendous public opposition nationwide, and was modified by then-President Putin to be routed outside the lake basin and over 100 km to the north.

The water pollution in European Russia is spotty. It is possible, for example, to swim safely in most small rivers and lakes even close to Moscow, as long as there is no major chemical plant upstream. Compared to North America, few feedlots exist in Russia, and pesticide/herbicide applications to the fields have been drastically reduced in recent years through economic restructuring of the agricultural sector. At the same time, one cannot guarantee that someone is not washing an SUV upstream from where you are swimming, because local enforcement of water pollution laws is lax and the culture is permissive. In addition, someone may dump broken glass, rubber, plastics, or household chemicals into the river at any time. In any event, it is not advisable to drink from any open water source without filtering the water first, even in a wilderness. Bottled water is widely available throughout Russia today. In most municipalities, tap water is purified, although not necessarily to the average U.S. standards. Every spring, Moscow faucets run with brownish-tinged water smelling faintly of manure; it enters the Moscow water supply system from agricultural fields upstream. Since most Russians routinely drink only boiled tea, bottled water, juices, or alcoholic beverages, it does not hurt them much. (Visitors should not consume tap water, if possible.)

Much has been written about the destruction of the Aral Sea (see, e.g., Micklin, 2006), so it is only discussed briefly here. The famous desert lake of Central Asia lost much of its water because the two main rivers feeding it, the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya, were diverted for cotton irrigation in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan in the late 1960s. The lake straddles two countries, Uzbekistan in the south and Kazakhstan in the north; it is actually no longer a lake at all, but a combination of two unconnected evaporation ponds. The situation remains pretty grim. The steadily receding lake, formerly with a surface area of 67,500 km2 (1960), had split into two parts and shrunk to 17,380 km2 by 2006. Only about 26% of the surface area and 10% of its former volume remain. Some water is allowed to reach the smaller northern fragment in Kazakhstan from the Syr Darya. However, the larger southern fragment does not receive any water and is likely to disappear completely by 2015. The lake's salinity levels have risen from 1% to over 8% (for reference, the salinity of normal ocean water is 3.5%, that of the Great Salt Lake in Utah is between 15% and 28%, and that of the Dead Sea in Israel is about 30%).

More than 30 fish and 200 invertebrate species have completely disappeared from the Aral Sea, including three endemic sturgeon species and one salmon, even though some of these may still remain in the river deltas and in the small northern fragment. Of particular concern are the health effects of salt on the human population in the basin. The desert winds whip up salt storms and blow them into towns. Since the mid-1970s, satellite images have revealed major salt–dust plumes extending from 200 to more than 500 km downwind; these drop dust and salt over a considerable area adjacent to the sea in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and (to a lesser degree) Turkmenistan. The incidence of lung disease in Karakalpakistan is three times the normal rate. Tens of thousands of fishing jobs were lost because fish could no longer be caught. For a few years now, the cannery at Aralsk has been surviving on fish brought in by train from the Far East.

A proposal currently exists to replenish the Aral, as a revival of a water transfer scheme invented in the late 1960s. The plan calls for diverting about 10% of the Irtysh River south, in an aqueduct. Although this may seem far-fetched, it certainly is not without precedents. The Central Arizona Project of the 1970s in the United States, and the current south–north (Chang Jiang to Huang He) water transfer project in China, have had technological challenges and financial costs similar to those proposed for the Aral project. The price tag is expected to exceed $10 billion, but in Putin and Medvedev's Russia it may still happen, despite the vocal protests that the environmental community is bound to make.

Nuclear and Toxic Waste

If there is one environmental topic that concerns all those visiting or living in Russia, it is certainly the topic of nuclear and toxic waste. The U.S.S.R. was the second country in the world after the United States to develop an atomic bomb, in 1949. It was also the second to develop the considerably more powerful thermonuclear (hydrogen) bomb, in 1955. Eventually the U.S.S.R. developed and tested the largest thermonuclear bomb in the world, a “tsar” bomb code-named “Ivan” (about 50 megatons, although a 100-megaton bomb was initially proposed). “Ivan” was blown up over Novaya Zemlya on October 30, 1961. The bomb exploded at about 4 km above the surface, forming a fireball about 8 km in diameter. It could be seen and heard from a distance of 1,000 km. The mushroom cloud reached 64 km into the atmosphere. An eyewitness told my father, a physicist, that the ocean would open up to the bottom as a result of such a blast. Many smaller bombs were tested in Semey, Kazakhstan. Until the late 1960s, the Soviet Union and the United States continued testing these powerful weapons in the earth's atmosphere. Fortunately, both nations signed the partial testing ban treaty in 1963, which stopped any future atmospheric tests (although France stubbornly carried on nuclear explosions over its Pacific atolls for over two decades afterward).

Besides building nuclear weapons, the U.S.S.R. was also at the forefront of peaceful nuclear research. The nuclear power station in Obninsk, Kaluga Oblast, started operating in 1954. It was the first plant in the world to generate electricity by using nuclear power. Soviet engineers also equipped military submarines and civilian icebreakers with nuclear reactors, giving them the power necessary to reach the North Pole. Initially, nuclear bombs were thought to be good for major earth-moving projects like diverting rivers. Luckily, this civilian use of nuclear weapons was never fully realized, although a number of tests were in fact conducted. At the end of the Soviet period, the U.S.S.R. boasted over 40 reactors at 15 sites (today Russia has 31 reactors at 10 operating plants), not counting a few dozen small research reactors at scientific institutes. By comparison, the United States has slightly over 100 commercial reactors, Japan has 63, and France has 59. The total energy production from nuclear power in the United States is 97,000 megawatts (MW), as compared to only 23,000 MW in Russia. This number does not include the Sovietbuilt reactors in Ukraine, Armenia, or Lithuania that continue to produce electricity.

Nuclear pollution may result from the following:

  • Uranium enrichment, and production of plutonium and other fissile materials.
  • Atmospheric and underground nuclear testing.
  • Nuclear accidents at power plants (such as Chernobyl).
  • Nuclear fuel transportation and storage.
  • Nuclear waste storage, either at power plants, underground, or at sea.

Concerns exist about all of these. The most infamous nuclear accident in history was, of course, the explosion of Chernobyl reactor #4 in the town of Pripyat, Ukraine, in 1986. We still do not know what exactly happened there. Although the official version is that some hydrogen gas was released from water steam and exploded during the emergency shutdown procedure in an experiment that went wrong, another explanation suggests that a low-power nuclear explosion actually took place instead; other theories exist as well. It is pretty clear, however, that both the reactor's construction flaws and the faulty experimental design were to blame for the blast. (See Chapter 8 for a more detailed discussion.) What is also undeniable is that the total amount of radioactive fallout was immense—as much as 14 ? 1018 Bq, comparable to the fallout expected from a 1-megaton thermonuclear bomb. (The becquerel, or Bq, is a very small radioactivity unit equaling 1 fission per second.) About 200,000 km2 of land, including dozens of villages and prime farmland, were seriously contaminated with long-lasting nuclides (especially 137Cs and 90Sr, both with half-lives of about 30 years). Sixty percent of the radiation fell on Belarus, and about20% each on Ukraine and on Bryansk Oblast in Russia. Today, people still should not spend any significant amount of time in the 30-km security zone around the reactor. Many areas to the north near Grodno, Belarus, and Bryansk, Russia, 100–300 km away, have been seriously affected. About 600,000 “liquidators” (persons responsible for dealing with the various consequences of the explosion) received high doses of radiation, with an additional 300,000 residents affected in the vicinity of the station.

However, many less-publicized nuclear accidents happened earlier. For instance, a number of accidents occurred at the Mayak facility in Kyshtym, Chelyabinsk Oblast (a plutonium production, storage, and reprocessing facility in the Urals), as well as several others throughout the FSU (Medvedev, 1979). Nuclear pollution is unevenly concentrated in the FSU, and much of the information about former accidents is still classified. However, it is certain that the highest levels of such pollution are found in and around Chernobyl (northern Ukraine, southeastern Belarus, and southwestern Russia); in the Novaya Zemlya islands and Semey, Kazakhstan; and at the production facilities in Sarov, Kyshtym, and a few cities near Krasnoyarsk. Furthermore, there are several submarine staging areas where offshore dumping of nuclear waste took place in the Far East and off the Kola Peninsula. Beyond these areas, there are a smattering of sites polluted by radiation—for example, in European Russia in Ivanovo and Perm Oblasts close to Moscow, as well as in the Komi Republic, where small underground tests were conducted in the 1960s and 1970s. Generally, however, the level of background radiation in the vast majority of places in Russia is no different than in the United States and presents no danger to a visitor.

A major international concern of the 21st century is the possibility that organized terrorist groups may smuggle nuclear materials across national borders. Although no major incidents have been reported at the time of this writing, several potential target sites exist in Russia and Ukraine today—sites where a person with proper connections could conceivably obtain at least some radioactive material for a “dirty bomb,” if not for a real nuclear weapon.

Another concern is toxic waste, particularly industrial and chemical waste similar to that found at the U.S. Superfund sites. As in the United States, much of this waste is a by-product of the Cold War. Unlike in the United States, information on the actual location of such sites in Russia or other post-Soviet states is not readily available. There is no online EnviroMapper for the FSU, at least not yet. These sites number in the hundreds, if not in the thousands—and they are difficult to find. Only a few cities can be identified that were known to produce highly toxic materials for the Soviet weapons program (see Chapter 18). The ironically named Vozrozhdeniya (Restoration) Island in the middle of the Aral Sea is now a peninsula connected to the mainland. It is known to contain caches of biological, and possibly chemical, weapons. Another notoriously polluted chemical dump is located near Dzerzhinsk in Nizhny Novgorod Oblast. This area has a much higher rate of birth defects than Russia's average.

Biodiversity Conservation

Despite its large size, Russia's biological diversity as measured by the number of species is relatively limited. This has to do primarily with climate. Like Canada, the majority of Russia is suitable only for tundra or taiga species, although there are also some deciduous forest, steppe, and desert species. It does not have any rainforests. Its zone of subtropical vegetation along the Black Sea coast is diverse, but tiny. The highest diversity of plants, birds, and mammals is found in the south, especially in the Caucasus Mountains, the Altay in Siberia, and the Far East along the Pacific Coast. The Central Asian republics have a high diversity of desert and mountain species. Russian conservation efforts have a long history, dating back to the late 19th century, when a number of game preserves and zoological gardens were created (Weiner, 1988). Some of the finest Russian zoologists, botanists, geographers, and ecologists were at the forefront of conservation efforts in the early 20th century (Boreiko, 2001). Boreiko lists over 150 names, including biogeographers Vasily Alekhin, Vladimir Sukachev, Andrei Veniamin and Semenov-Tian-Shansky; zoologists Georgy Kozhevnikov, Sergei Buturlin, and Vladimir Stanchinsky; forester Georgy Morozov; and many others. The main difference between the conservation approaches of these people and of famous American conservationists of the same time period—people like John Muir, Robert Marshall, Sigurd Olson, and Gifford Pinchot—was the Russians' emphasis on the ecological integrity of landscapes, rather than on aesthetic preservation or utilitarian conservation. The closest American in spirit to the Russians was Aldo Leopold, who understood the need for protecting representative large and wild ecosystems as early as 1924.

Another important component of biodiversity conservation has been education. Many schoolchildren in the Soviet period were members of clubs for young naturalists, learning the basics of nature conservation in after-school programs throughout the country. Such clubs and other efforts to educate youth about environmental issues remain popular today (Vignette 5.1). In addition, Russia now has many local, regional, and national environmental groups, such as the Socio-Ecological Union, the Biodiversity Conservation Center, Greenpeace Russia, and World Wildlife Fund Russia. Some are domestic groups stemming from the student movement of nature conservation started in the 1960s; others have recently arrived from the West; but all use local staff and resources. However, the overall level of environmental awareness in Russia continues to be lower than in Western countries, especially among older people and state bureaucrats.

Protection of Species

Russia does not have an Endangered Species Act like the United States. Instead, it relies on the Red Data Book, which lists threatened and endangered species in a colorful volume with detailed descriptions, range maps, and pictures. In theory, the book should assist land managers in making the appropriate decisions about conserving these species. However, as respectable as the book is, it is not legally enforced as the Endangered Species Act is in the United States. Few people, if any, are ever fined or imprisoned by the authorities for taking one of the listed species from the wild. The book does convey important information to decision makers and the public, and it helps them assess overall strategies for species' recovery. Since the mid-1990s, some laws have been passed in Russia that attempt to manage rare species and protected areas in more explicit manner. Among the most protected and rare species (see Table 5.2) are several that exist only in Russia. Such endemics include the Russian desman (which resembles an oversized water shrew), the red-breasted goose, the Siberian crane, and the Blackiston's fish owl. Some endangered species also live in other FSU republics, such as the snow leopard in Kyrgyzstan and the wild donkey in Turkmenistan.

Protection of Natural Areas

Russia was one of the first countries in the world to start establishing scientific nature preserves, called zapovedniks, as early as 1916. Compared to the U.S. National Parks, they are primarily wilderness areas without roads, allowing very limited human recreation. Numbering about 100, they contain representative samples of naturally functioning ecosystems. Some are very large (such as the Great Arctic Preserve in Taymyr, with over 4 million ha), while others are small (such as Prioksko-Terrasny in Moscow Oblast, with fewer than 5,000 ha). Most now have limited ecotourism programs and have established scientific monitoring stations. Some are also listed as internationally recognized Biosphere Preserves and/or World Heritage Sites (see www.wild-russia.org for a complete list). The closest zapovednik to Moscow is Prioksko-Terrasny, about a 2-hour drive south of the city. As described in Chapter 4, it houses a thriving population of European wood bison and many other typical deciduous forest species.

Since the late 1980s, Russia has also created about 30 national parks; these are usually less scenic than their U.S. counterparts, but are nevertheless popular. Unlike the zapovedniks, they primarily emphasize nature tourism, and resemble U.S. state parks more than they do the national parks like Yellowstone or Yosemite—primarily because they are smaller and less well known than the zapovedniks. One of these parks, Losiny Ostrov, is partially inside the city of Moscow. Another fine example is Ugra National Park in Kaluga Oblast, about 4 hours' drive southwest of Moscow. Since the 1990s, the annual March for Parks program has attracted thousands of local residents, especially schoolchildren, in spring rallies around individual parks in every region of the country and in some other FSU republics. In addition to its zapovedniks and national parks, Russia has zakazniks (wildlife refuges), small natural monuments, and a variety of both regional nature parks and historical–natural parks (Colwell et al., 1997). All of these protect unique natural and/or cultural landscapes, but they are typically poorly staffed. However, they do provide another important form of protection, because development in and around such areas is quite limited by law.

Other FSU countries have similar systems of zapovedniks and/or national parks. Some of these countries tragically lost many of their former protected natural areas because of political chaos and financial collapse during their early years of independence in the 1990s. Of particular concern is the situation in Georgia, where the government has lost control over parts of its own territory, and in Turkmenistan, where a closedoff autocratic regime makes independent environmental monitoring impossible.