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Cablegate: Russia's Altai Republic Faces Economic Promise And

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RR RUEHAST RUEHDH RUEHHM RUEHLN RUEHMA RUEHPB RUEHPOD RUEHSL RUEHTM
RUEHTRO
DE RUEHMO #2211/01 2391436
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 271436Z AUG 09
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 4648
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RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 0517
RUEHZN/ENVIRONMENT SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY COLLECTIVE
RUEAEPA/HQ EPA WASHDC
RUEHC/DEPT OF INTERIOR WASHDC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 04 MOSCOW 002211

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INTERIOR PLEASE PASS TO NPS AND USFWS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: SENV ECON EAID SOCI PGOV KCRM KDEM PREL RU
SUBJECT: RUSSIA'S ALTAI REPUBLIC FACES ECONOMIC PROMISE AND
ECOLOGICAL THREAT OF TOURISM

MOSCOW 00002211 001.2 OF 004


SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED -- PLEASE PROTECT ACCORDINGLY.

1. (U) SUMMARY: Rising tourism presents an economic opportunity for
the Altai Republic's mostly rural population, but also threatens its
unspoiled wilderness. Threats include desecration of ancient
cultural sites, poaching of endangered wildlife, and, to a lesser
extent, illegal logging. Development assistance, led by the UN
Development Program (UNDP) and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), has
helped integrate local farmers into the tourism economy in
environmentally sustainable ways. It has also helped strengthen
park management and created models of productive cooperation among
businesses, government, NGOs, and local residents. Although the
regional government lacks financial resources, small-scale
partnerships with the private sector have advanced environmental
protection and green development. END SUMMARY.

TOURISM'S PROMISE...
--------------------

2. (U) Embassy representatives visited the mountainous Altai
Republic in Russian Central Asia July 11-16 to study ecological
challenges facing the region. Altai's unspoiled wooded wilderness
has drawn a rising wave of tourists in recent years. (Note: The
Altai Republic should not be confused with the neighboring Altai
Krai. End note.) Its population of approximately 205,000 is
scattered across a territory about the size of Maine, predominantly
in villages of less than 1,000 inhabitants devoted mostly to
subsistence livestock farming. There are no railroads and virtually
no heavy industry. Nearly one-quarter of the republic is designated
as protected territory of different types, from two strictly
controlled federal nature reserves ("zapovedniki"), where tourism
and all other economic activity is prohibited, to six poorly funded
nature parks under regional jurisdiction that are protected more in
theory than in practice. Ancient Scythian and Turkic civilizations
left a wealth of cultural artifacts here, including burial mounds
and petroglyphs up to 2,500 years old.

3. (U) The Altai Republic is one of Russia's poorer provinces. As a
"recipient region," it receives federal subsidies at the expense of
more prosperous territories. With no major deposits of mineral
wealth and a sparse population, tourism is among the few economic
stars to which Altai can hitch its development wagon. Up to 75
percent of tourists come from neighboring regions by car; their
vehicles, tents, and barbecue grills line the Republic's riverbanks
and lakeshores in summer. Rustic lodges and family resorts are
proliferating. In villages large and small, families provide
traditional yurt-like dwellings ("ayils") for tourists, and operate
craft studios and souvenir shops. Roads, even in remote and
mountainous areas, are generally in excellent condition. And in
marked contrast to heavily trafficked tourist destinations in other
parts of Russia, roadside litter is rare.

4. (U) Basing economic growth on tourism is a risky venture, as
discretionary tourist spending is usually among the first victims of
an economic downturn. However, according to Igor Kalmykov, Director
of the Altai Zapovednik, tourism has not suffered in the past two
years, judging by the number of visitors to the lakeside attractions
bordering on the reserve. (COMMENT: Tourist traffic might have
remained strong in the current crisis simply because most tourists
come short distances and spend little money during their visits.
But Kalmykov's measure is also a tiny sample of the total tourist
trade. END COMMENT.)

... AND THREAT
--------------

5. (SBU) The most widely publicized threat to Altai's environment is
the poaching of endangered wildlife. The problem made national
headlines this year when a helicopter crashed into a mountainside
near the Mongolian border on January 9, killing several high-ranking
federal and regional officials who had been on a hunting expedition.
The victims included Alexander Kosopkin, President Medvedev's
permanent representative in the State Duma, and Viktor Kaimin,
Chairman of the Altai Republic's Wildlife Protection Committee,

MOSCOW 00002211 002.2 OF 004


which is responsible for issuing hunting licenses. Photos in
national newspapers showed the wreckage surrounded by the carcasses
of endangered Argali sheep, highly prized among trophy hunters,
which had clearly not been killed by the falling helicopter.

6. (SBU) Alexei Vaisman of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) told the
English-language "Moscow Times" newspaper in a January 23 article,
"Over the last decade, Altai has become a place where helicopter
hunting has become rather common... It's popular among high-level
officials and so-called New Russians, who think they are above the
law." A reporter for the national newspaper Novaya Gazeta told us
that such VIP hunting trips are common knowledge in Altai. Igor
Kalmykov told us that local environmental protection officials and
the public particularly resent this phenomenon, because Moscow
officials often coerce local bureaucrats to violate environmental
laws in facilitating the expeditions. A local administration head
told us that because of public outrage over the incident, the
federally appointed governor, Alexander Berdnikov, may not be
reappointed when his current term of office expires next year.

7. (SBU) Small-scale poaching and illegal logging by local residents
also threaten wildlife and habitats. Kalmykov told us that locals
turn to poaching in depressed economic times to supplement meager
incomes. He explained that commercial logging is rare in Altai
because, although Altai borders China, mountainous terrain and the
absence of railroads make timber export difficult and unprofitable.
He added that uncontrolled timber harvesting by locals for home fuel
and building materials poses a greater threat. One livestock farmer
in central Altai corroborated Kalmykov's statement, but he
complained that so much of Altai's forest land is restricted for
ecological reasons that it is difficult to obtain wood legally.

8. (U) Like elsewhere in Russia, Altai's environmental protection
efforts are hampered by a lack of government resources and weak
regulation. While Altai's federally funded zapovedniki benefit from
a strong cadre of wardens and a complete ban on tourism, the six
nature parks under regional jurisdiction have virtually no effective
protection. The republic budget provides for only a handful of
salaried staff; the Uch-Enmek Nature-Ethnic Park in central Altai
covers 250 square miles and has only five employees, one of whom is
responsible for park security. We saw ancient petroglyphs defaced
by graffiti in this and other parks, with staff powerless to
regulate public access or prevent vandalism. Park director Daniil
Mamiyev told us that, despite laws providing for park protection,
there is no implementing legislation that authorizes park staff to
enforce the law.

PROMOTING ENVIRONMENT-FRIENDLY GROWTH
-------------------------------------

9. (U) Throughout Altai we found evidence of, and praise for, the
work of international development and environmental organizations,
most prominently the UN Development Program (UNDP) and the World
Wildlife Fund (WWF). UNDP is managing a portfolio of ecology and
development projects through its six-year, $16 million program,
"Biodiversity Conservation in the Russian Portion of the Altai-Sayan
Ecoregion," the current phase of which ends in 2010. The program
has funded new visitor centers for nature parks, training and
equipping of park rangers to deter poaching, and developing of
teaching materials for schools. One example of UNDP's support is an
innovative anti-poaching system, now being deployed in the Altai
Zapovednik, in which remote hidden sensors detect the tell-tale
vibrations of human activity and transmit alerts via satellite to a
central computer system, thus giving wardens a new rapid-response
capability. At the Kalbak-Tash petroglyph complex in the Argut
Nature Park, a UNDP grant made it possible for staff to build wooden
barriers to help protect the ancient Scythian rock carvings at the
site. In 1998, WWF initiated a similar program, which is now
prominent enough to merit a page on the Altai Republic's official
website.

10. (U) Travel programs have shown similarly encouraging results.
The Fund for Sustainable Development of Altai, a nongovernmental
partnership managed by U.S.- and Altai-based coordinators, has

MOSCOW 00002211 003.2 OF 004


facilitated exchanges with U.S. park managers, including at
Adirondack Park in upstate New York and in Massachusetts. The Open
World Leadership Center of the Library of Congress has included
several Altai environmentalists in its exchange programs. Daniil
Mamiyev of the Uch-Enmek Park, who has visited the United States
under the auspices of both organizations, has since developed a
comprehensive park management plan inspired by those of the U.S.
National Park Service. Ruslana Toptygina, director of the Chuy-Oozi
Nature Park and an Open World program alumna, told us she was
inspired by the logo souvenirs of U.S. parks to start a branding
campaign of her own. Svetlana Shchigreva, the Altai Zapovednik's
director of public outreach, who traveled to Vermont on an Open
World program in 2005, said she was particularly impressed with New
England's public hearings and town hall meetings. She brought this
example to her work with the Lake Teletskoye Community Council
(para. 12).

11. (U) UNDP's program includes training, micro-grants, and
micro-loans to encourage environmentally sustainable alternative
livelihoods. Natalya Olofinskaya, head of UNDP's environmental
protection program in Russia, told us that UNDP has not encountered
any more fertile ground for this type of community development than
in Altai. Livestock farmer Tonskoy Todukov proudly showed us his
new guest cabins and visitor center on the banks of the Katun River
near the village of Inegen, whose construction was financed by a WWF
grant. On the property, Todukov is also cultivating medicinal herbs
for sale, with seedlings provided by the Central Siberian Botanic
Garden in Novosibirsk. UNDP and WWF have also nurtured a folk art
industry that has sprung up to serve the tourist market. Examples
include three craft studios we visited, which are housed in wooden
cabins in villages in northwest Altai's Chemal District. Rimma
Anchibayeva, head of the Inya Village Administration in central
Altai, told us that schools have begun teaching folk crafts to give
students marketable skills and an appreciation of their culture.
WWF grants in Anchibayeva's district have also enabled farmers to
establish workshops to manufacture marketable products from
goatskins.

COMMUNITY COUNCILS: AN EXPERIMENT IN LOCAL DEMOCRACY
--------------------------------------------- -------

12. (U) Development organizations have also spawned an innovative
experiment in local democracy at Teletskoye Lake in northeast Altai
that has already brought practical benefits to the community and the
environment. Teletskoye is a slender mountain rift lake, one of
Russia's deepest, bounded on its eastern shore by the Altai
Zapovednik. The area is popular among Russian tourists, many of
whom cruise the lake in expensive powerboats. In the lakeshore
communities we spoke with several members of the Teletskoe Lake
Community Council, a non-governmental association registered in
April of this year. The council is not intended to supplant
official elected bodies; in fact, the village council itself is a
member of the Community Council, along with local businesses, the
managers of the Altai Zapovednik, and other stakeholders. The
group's task is to promote ecological and socio-economic development
through public-private cooperation.

13. (U) Igor Kalmykov, director of the Altai Zapovednik, is a member
of the Community Council. In his brief tenure he has distinguished
himself from his predecessor in taking a more liberal approach to
visitor access and community involvement. Soon after taking office,
he negotiated an agreement with local tour boat operators,
facilitated by the Community Council, to allow controlled public
access to the popular Korbu Waterfall on the edge of the lake. The
agreement ended a violent impasse that had begun when the previous
park director raised access fees to prohibitive levels, choking off
the tour operators' business and livelihood. The Community Council
also claims credit for the remarkably clean and litter-free state of
the roads and lakeshores. The head of the council, a young
entrepreneur named Ivan Yuzhakov, recounted how the Council
organized a cleaning spree lasting several months, in which
schoolchildren gathered and bagged garbage from public lands around
the lake, and tour boat operators hauled the bags to a central
location for transport to a landfill.

MOSCOW 00002211 004.2 OF 004

CULTIVATING GOVERNMENT INVOLVEMENT
----------------------------------

14. (SBU) Our interlocutors in Altai agreed that, while park
managers have traveled often to the United States on technical
exchanges, more government officials should participate in these
trips. At present, some highly placed officials are largely unaware
of such programs. A case in point was Governor Berdnikov's
assistant Dmitriy Shepel, a career civil servant who accompanied us
for two days of our visit and admitted that our meetings with park
managers gave him a new understanding of environmental issues. On
the other hand, officials who are aware of development programs and
community initiatives tend to support them. Rimma Anchibayeva, the
popularly elected head of the Inya Village Administration, actively
recruits participants for conferences and seminars organized by WWF
and UNDP. Local contacts told us that she won re-election last year
based in part upon her record of enthusiastic involvement in
sustainable development initiatives.

COMMENT: ALTAI REPUBLIC - AN EXCEPTION WORTH STUDYING
--------------------------------------------- --------

15. (U) The Altai Republic is known throughout Russia for being
among the most pristine, thanks to its remoteness and its lack of
industry. We saw no evidence of federal or regional environment
monitoring, but residents clearly treasure their environment and are
active in preserving it. Although federal nature reserves had
adequate staff to protect them from encroachment, regional protected
lands were essentially unprotected - both by people and by the law.
WWF and UNDP's small-scale micro-lending programs have given a vital
impetus to local entrepreneurship and guided local businesses to be
sensitive to environmental needs. As these grants diversify rural
economies away from an exclusive focus on farming, they also
ameliorate the problems of poaching and illegal logging. Exchange
programs, particularly those with Native American tribes, have been
especially useful for Altai's indigenous communities to preserve
their cultures while safeguarding their environment. Most important
to successful conservation, however, was the engagement of local and
regional officials with the private sector.

BEYRLE

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