British oil multinational BP has been accused by activists of supporting a company responsible for polluting areas across Russia.
Boris Kagarlitsky and Simon Zhavoronkov, activists from the Iprog organisation, recently visited Britain to highlight the damage to the environment caused by TNK-BP, which is 50 percent owned by BP. They were joined by British protesters at an action outside BP’s offices in London.
TNK-BP is Russia’s second largest oil company. It produces 1.5 million barrels of oil a day. It made $2.8 billion in 2003. It is deeply involved with the government. A Russian official recently hinted that TNK-BP’s co-owner Viktor Vekselberg could be recommended for the post of governor of Russia’s Far East region in 2007.
The story of its activities is an example of how rapacious capitalist firms are hurting people and the environment in their search for profits in the “new” Russia.
Boris Kagarlitsky told Socialist Worker, “The image in the West is that the bad guys are all Russian oligarchs and that Western multinationals have nothing to do with what happens in Russia.
“But TNK-BP shows this is not true. TNK-BP is one of the key oligarchic groups in Russia. BP and TNK operate together as one business team.”
Simon Zhavoronkov said, “We have examined half of Russia—Siberia and central Russia — in our campaign against TNK-BP.
“TNK-BP’s operations have had an adverse effect in many areas. At the beginning of June we found out about a large oil spill in the Ryazan region. We took part in an action with around 50 journalists from many places. We then sent questions to the minister of the environment and the environmental department of the region. Only the local environmental department responded.
“TNK-BP have a factory in Ryazan, the regional capital of one and a half million people. Some of the oil from this factory has fallen into the river and has gone into the subsoil. We have just submitted a suit to the regional court to stop this and are waiting for a date for the proceedings to begin.
“A pipeline burst near a village in the Orenburg region a year ago. The village of Zhivinka was only 200 metres from this. It was like an volcanic eruption from the pipeline. There was huge environmental and social damage. The company cleared up the territory and paid a fine of £40. None of the villagers have been reimbursed for the damage caused.
“The most awful spill was in Samotlor in east Siberia. We found around 4,000 hectares of oil spills during our recent tour of the oil fields. None of the Environment Act had been implemented.
“There were old pipes that had been taken out and had been lying around for two to three years.We flew over the region in a helicopter to observe the oil fields. An agent of the security services was placed with us to observe us at all times. He would not allow us to take photographs, although we secretly did.
“We returned to Moscow with our evidence and held a meeting with journalists. Valery Matung, a Russian MP, has written to the prosecutor general and there is to be a debate about the issues in the parliament.
“We have organised protests outside TNK-BP’s offices in five regions. We are asking British MPs to organise parliamentary hearings into BP’s activities and people to organise activities against them.
“Respect MP George Galloway put an early day motion in parliament about TNK-BP on 27 July. We received our first letter from the company about our concerns in August.”
Boris added, “Without international interest nothing would have happened. The Russian authorities did not react to our complaints about the oil spills. It was only when the international campaign started criticising BP that it started to worry.
“It started to spend money on PR to counter the allegations — but not to clean up the spills.
“It spent more money on hiring people to follow activists than it would cost to clean up the problems. This tells us a lot about the nature of the corporation.
“There is an understanding in the West of the damages that multinational corporations inflict on Third World countries. There is evidence that the same things are happening in eastern Europe. We want to draw attention to all these things happening in Russia. The company says it is not responsible for this mess, that it has inherited.
“BP has to pretend that it is an environmentally friendly company. But if it is so environmentally friendly, why doesn’t it clean up this mess? When you buy a company you should inherit its liabilities, including the environment.”
“We are making the first steps in the campaign to beat the company,” said Simon. “We want it to clean up the territories. We are only just starting.”
For more on the campaign go to www.aglob.ru/en