Russia: “World Heritage Site In Danger?”
The primary threat to the Western Caucasus is the adjacent mountain ski resorts, Gazprom and Roza Hutor, planning their extension at the expense of the protected area.
The Committee’s decision reveals concern over the recent amendments, made to the legislation of the Russian Federation, as weakening the protected areas strict status. Another concern is emphasized regarding the Outstanding Universal Value of the Western Caucasus World Heritage property to be put at risk by the ski resort development plans. Additionally, the Committee requests the Russian Federation to submit by February 2018 the updated report on this World Heritage property status, subject to review at the next UNESCO WHC session.
On completion of the last autumn’s advisory mission of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), Russia has never submitted a report on the status of and plans for respective property recreational development. Moreover, Russia’s commitments regarding the environmental compensatory measures, made in anticipation of the Sochi Olympic Games, are still pending completion, to include primarily the Sochi State Wildlife Sanctuary (SSWS), to be merged with the Caucasus State Natural Biosphere Reserve (CSNBR), and, therefore, Western Caucasus WH property extension. At that, proactive preparations are underway to implement the ski resort development plans at the WH property.
For instance, changes were made in October 2015 to the regulations on SSWS and the Sochi National Park (SNP) to allow recreational facility development on the respective protected nature areas. In December 2015, Mr. Dmitriy Kozak, Vice-Chairman Government RF, issued a direction, suggesting to CSNBR to waive its perpetual land tenure in SSWS.
In June 2016, the State Duma RF passed amendments to the law on protected nature areas, allowing construction and infrastructure development polygons for tourism and sport. Notably, as per the relevant international practice, such polygons are allocated outside the biosphere reserves, leaving intact the protected core.
In December 2016, the ski resort development plans were discussed at the Analytical Centre of the Government RF. The attending experts, including the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment RF, agreed that such plans bear high threat to the Western Caucasus nature.
However, as soon as in March 2017, Mr. Dmitriy Medvedev, Chairman of the Government RF, ordered to lease out some areas near the “Western Caucasus” UNESCO WH property to the Roza Hutor ski resort-related development firms, owned by Interros, the holding company of Vladimir Potanin. 13 of the land plots allocated, totaling over 392 ha, lie within the SSWS boundary (Mzymta area) and are immediately contiguous to the “Western Caucasus” WH property.
“The 41st UNESCO WHC session has demonstrated in clear that mountain ski resort expansion near Krasnaya Polyana area will transfer the “Western Caucasus” World Natural Heritage property on the List of World Heritage in Danger. We believe that such developments will affect our country’s reputation and question the international sports event perspective in Russia. We risk to forfeit the largest intact mountainous forestland in Europe,” said Igor Chestin, Director of WWF-Russia.
Of the other decisions, made at the past WHC session, Belovezhskaya Pushcha should be brought up as a success story of the scientific and environmental community cooperation. Poland was called for stopping immediately its logging operations in the unique old-age forests. The government of Spain recognized the need for terminating the Donana national park river development, while Mexico is to submit within six months a report on saving the Pacific harbor porpoise (vaquita). Special note should be taken of “Landscapes of Dauria”, the Russia Mongolia natural reserve, awarded the UNESCO WH property status. As for Russia, it has not fulfilled, in effect, a single decision on “Western Caucasus” since 2008.