Russian green politician faces termination for criticising scam to build lush summer homes on nature preserve

Still from Russia's NTV

Publish date: February 17, 2010

ST. PETERSSBURG – Alexander Senotrusov, a member of the Russia opposition party Yabloko’s Green Russia faction is under the gun from authorities that want his job for programme criticising on a national news programme an administration plan to sell of nature preserves to build luxury homes for government officials on the Gulf of Finland near St. Petersburg.

Senorusov, in his long human rights resume, is also a commission member Leningrad Regional Government’s Institute for Civil and Human Rights and the chairman For Krasnaya Gorka of the Military History Society.

The issue is a case study in case study in the continued petty official harassment of environmental activists in Russia, even in the wake of President Dmitry Medvedev’s appearance at the UN climate talks in Copenhagen, where he assured those assembled that Russia would be taking an active role in reducing world emissions – in part by preserving the country’s vast swathes of forest and protected lands.

A release distributed by the Green Party faction said the pressure to relieve him of his post resulted from the personal position Senotrusov took on “Segodnya” (“Today”), Russian network NTV’s flagship news programme, in which he criticised local authorities for illegally selling land plots on nature preserves to build large seaside summer homes for local functionaries.

In the programme, say his colleagues, Senotrusov also explained the environmental problems of Lebyazhe, a small village on the southern coast of the Baltic Sea some 50 kilometres west of St. Petersburg.

Meanwhile, authorities have also threatened to liquidate a museum exposition, a children’s club and other of his brainchildren, including the Krasnaya Gorka museum, his colleagues said in their release.

A few days later after the scandalous broadcast, the head of the Lomonosov district of the Leningrad Oblast was charged with firing Senotrusov “by any means necessary,” said Artyom Andreyev, the editor of the regional natural history website “Krasnaya Gorka.”

Andreyev reported that it was Senotrusov’s efforts that saved the Krasnaya Gorka fortification – a century old fort dating back to World War I, which also played a key role in the Russian Revolution and World War II – from destruction and looting. Senotrusov also initiated the first municipal nature preserve of Polyana Bianka, a Russian historical site. For his efforts, Senotrusov has received many prestigious local and national awards, which, said Andreyev, are playing no role in mitigating the persecution against him.

“As became apparent, by February 10th the regional administration had threatened to cut financing for the Centre for Children’s Creativity in Lebyazhe (established by Senotrusov) by one million roubles ($33,000),” read the statement. “Aside from that, it was unequivocally announced that, ‘we don’t need such a centre,’” the Green Fraction text continued.

“All of Senotrusov and local activists’ work and achievements now hangs under the threat of liquidation because of the local administrations rash decision to get rid of an unwanted person,” Senotrusov’s contemporaries in the Fort Krasnaya Gorka society said in an appeal to the speaker of the Leningrad Regional Legislative Assembly, Ivan Khabarov. On February 13, the Lebyazhe local authorities issued an order to temporarily shut off electricity to Senotrusov’s exhibit at the fort.

“We are seeing another example of the sad practice of the fight of authorities against a true citizen activist,” said Nikolai Rybakov, executive director of the Environmental Rights Centre (ERC) Bellona, Bellona’s St. Petersburg office.

According to Rybakov, Leningrad Regional Governor Valery Serdyukov must get involved, as he promised during a recent broadcast from the St. Petersburg studios of Ekho Moskvy, Russia’s national independent radio.

“Senotrusov is engaged in charitable activities and the authorities must support him, not fight him with such reproachful methods,” said Rybakov. “We consider important the publicity brought to what happened and will do all possible for the defence of Alexander.”

Translated and edited by Charles Digges