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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Environmentalist Takes on Factory Directors

In his 18 months as director of the Astrakhan environmental committee, Yury Chuikov has yet to meet a company too big or too important to fine.

Chuikov, the first non-party functionary to occupy his post of chairman of the Astrakhan Regional Committee for Nature Preservation, has been zealously enforcing Russia's new environmental laws in his region, penalizing the largest and most prestigious enterprises.

"The longer I work here, the more enemies I make", said Chuikov, 43.

In 1992, his office fined 535 companies and individuals - including factory directors - a total of 1. 5 million rubles for breaking environmental laws, and filed lawsuits worth an additional 29. 6 million rubles.

Chuikov is soon to test just how far he can go: At the top of his list of environmental polluters is a large Gazprom factory built in 1978, which has already been fined several times.

Chuikov is a trained scientist with a commitment to enforcing Russia's environmental laws.

Since he took office in January 1992, be has levied fines on factory directors, who previously felt they were beyond the law.

Alexander Knorre, director of Greeenpeace International in Moscow said that except for a few isolated cases, this is still rare throughout most of Russia. "Some key positions are now held by professionals. But there are still a lot of former functionaries", he added.

Chuikov's appointment may come just in time for the Astrakhan region, a sensitive and vital ecological area, which includes a long stretch of the Volga and all of its delta.

Chuikov describes the region and the river as "the lavatory of Russia" into which thousands of enterprises and farms upstream dump their waste. There are about 900 industries in the Astrakhan oblast, each with environmental problems. Fertilizers and animal waste from vegetable and cattle farming, a major industry in Astrakhan, run freely into the river.

Saving the region, which has been declared an ecological disaster zone, is of concern for more than just ecological reasons. Sturgeon fishing and the processing of caviar, an important hard-currency earner for Russia, is another important industry in the oblast and the catch has declined dramatically in recent years because of natural and man-made causes.

Chuikov believes that companies that do not pay their environmental fines should be declared bankrupt and closed down. His favorite example is a local celluloid paper factory, which has been fined dozens of times and has failed to install water-purifying equipment. The general director has been fined the equivalent of 20 minimum wages.

"Our view is the factory should be closed down and another one built", Chuikov said. Other directors have been fined the maximum of 85 times the minimum wage, or 385, 000 rubles ($360).