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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Speaking Out on Health, Labor and Chechnya

In response to "Covering Up the Scars in Belarus," Dec. 16.


The tragedy of Chernobyl should not be underestimated, and many problems have to be solved in Belarus to protect the population of contaminated areas from consequences of radioactive fallout. Healthy nutrition is one of these problems.

I have been working in the field of deficiency of micronutrients (essential vitamins and minerals that the body needs in very small quantities) in Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union for the last 10 years with UNICEF, the World Health Organization and other international agencies. There is considerable experience tackling this problem, including fortifying staples such as salt and bread.

You may wonder why Dr. Kovalev, deputy chief doctor of the Khoiniki hospital, told your reporter that "spinach, squid and oysters would be welcome" to local residents. I know the answer: because these foods are rich in iodine. Iodine deficiency is widespread in this area (as well as in other regions of Eastern Europe). Iodine deficiency is one of the reasons for the terrible increase of thyroid cancer in children in Belarus. When iodine supply is low, the thyroid gland (where iodine is used to build hormones) is actively trapping this element from the blood. Huge amounts of radioactive iodine were released from the destroyed Chernobyl nuclear power plant in 1986 and consumed with food (mainly milk) and inhaled with air by residents who were not informed about this disaster.

Are there other means to protect residents in Khoiniki from environmental iodine deficiency besides extremely expensive seafood? Yes, the cheapest staple in the world salt if it is fortified with iodine. Affordable iodized salt can supply the same amounts of iodine as one of the most expensive food in the world oysters. Belarus itself produces high-quality iodized salt which, if distributed universally, could easily solve the problem of iodine deficiency. It is very sad that a doctor like Kovalev is sending the wrong message and seeking unrealistic solutions when an easy and cheap method is literally a few kilometers from Khoiniki in Mozyr where the salt plant is located.

The same applies to another of Dr. Kovalevs recommendations, his "theory that the daily diet of people in contaminated areas should include exotic fruit and vegetables, fruit juices." Why? Because they are rich with vitamins. This is true, but it is not difficult to see that apples, cabbage, carrots, beets and even potatoes also have sufficient amounts of the necessary vitamins. All these fruits and vegetables are not exotic. They are harvested by almost every household and could be kept through all winter season. The problem is that people have not cultivated the good habit of healthy nutrition.

The Chernobyl catastrophe left huge problems; some of them, however, are relatively easy to solve.

Gregory Gerasimov, M.D.

Send in the Planes

In response to "Green Putin? Why Not Start Now?" an editorial on Dec. 16.


President Vladimir Putin could very well live his environmentalist dream from where he sits rather than in your suggested little rubber boat. These days, being an environmentalist includes being a fire fighter. Biomass burning (forest fires) contributes up to 40 percent of carbon dioxide and 38 percent of tropospheric ozone to the atmosphere in a bad burning year. Humans cause up to 90 percent of such fires.

People are wrong to think that most of this destruction is natural because it isnt. Five percent of fires the very large ones consume 95 percent of the biomass. In a recent study in Austria, Switzerland and France, it was determined that along with coal and diesel burning, biomass burning contributed unacceptable volumes of black carbon aerosols (or soot) into the environment. A direct connection was drawn from this soot to 40,000 deaths and 500,000 asthma attacks costing these economies 1.7 percent of gross national product in health-care costs per annum.

In these days of global environmental consciousness, when the future of the internal combustion engine is very much in question and when the word "sinks" takes on whole new meaning (and, in due course, value), Putin, uniquely among world leaders, can bring considerable force to bear on the global fire problem if relatively crudely equipped fire-fighting jurisdictions like the United States would let him.

In the summer of 2000, the United States spent $1 billion in fire suppression costs, burnt 7.2 million acres and deployed 25,000 firefighters including New Zealanders, Australians, Mexicans, prisoners, students, forest service retirees and soldiers. Russia just happens to produce by far the largest, fastest, longest-range fire-fighting aircraft in the world. This aircraft, the Il-76TD, equipped with a special tanking system designed by the Ilyushin Design Bureau and deployed by Sergei Shoigus Emergency Situations Ministry, will in due course put Putin at the forefront of environmental leaders if global warming remains a priority and trade barriers drop to allow entry whenever and wherever environmental disaster mitigation is needed most.

Putin should sit in a cockpit, not a little rubber boat.

John Anderson
Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Its Biodegradable!


Dont expect Canadians to get too thrilled about Putins pro-environment comments this weekend. Were pretty used to politicians talking out of both sides of their mouths; we dont even trust our own leaders, so why should we trust anybody elses?

On the other hand, our politicians are pretty adept at generating crap, so maybe they are environmentally friendly after all.

Charlene Vickers
Calgary, Alberta, Canada*

Chechnyas Demands

An open letter from Chechen students studying at Grozny State University.

Vladimir Vladimirovich!

When a ship is sinking, it calls for help, sends out an SOS signal everywhere. And for us, residents of the Chechen republic, the time has come to ring all the bells with a demand that the persecution of an entire people an entire nation be stopped.

Apparently, your inner circle is not letting you know the real truth about the situation in Chechnya. And the situation here is such that people are living in inhuman conditions, in conditions of persecution and tyranny. The rules of the war with Chechnya are not clear to us. Although its clear even to a baby that this chaos is taking place with the mutual consent of representatives both of the Chechen and Russian authorities. There is no battle with the so-called bandit formations. No creation of "constitutional order" is apparent either, since absolutely innocent people are being killed and the federal forces dont spare even old people or women or children. The mass destruction of a people is taking place.

At the checkpoints, personal dignity is violated, the rights of each Chechen, and they are violated only because their nationality is Chechen.

Almost every day inspections (zachistki) take place. The Russian OMON are engaged in robbery. Men are taken from their own homes and kept in intolerable conditions. As a result, the detained are found in camps, maimed, beaten half to death (and sometimes even to death) and they are ransomed either for large amounts of money or for weapons, which are bought from the federal forces. So the Russian army has found a means to amass a fortune.

There is no peace, neither in the daytime nor at night, due to the explosions of shells and frequent exchanges of fire (which take place between the Russian OMON and soldiers). This chaos cant be called war because there is no resistance from the Chechen side, because when the forces were brought into Chechnya in September 1999 war was not declared.

The requirements of the Constitution of the Russian Federation are not being fulfilled in relation to the Chechen people. If the Russian Federation is a lawful state, then why does it not fulfill its obligations, as set forth in Article 2 of the Constitution: the acknowledgement, observance and defense of the rights and freedoms of people and citizens? If one believes Article 69 of the Constitution, then why is the Russian state waging war against its own subject? The impossibility of realizing ones natural rights (to life, freedom, honor and dignity, to personal inviolability, the right to social welfare equally accessible to all) is undermining the strength and patience of the Chechen people.

How long will this chaos continue? To whose advantage is this? How long is it possible to amass fortunes at the expense of the rights and sacrifices of an entire people? Finding no answers to all of these questions, we are setting forth our demands:

1. To halt the violence against the Chechen people!
2. To sit down to the negotiation table and solve many questions related to the fate of the Chechen people, by peaceful means!
3. To pay reparations as compensation for the damage inflicted on the Chechen republic by military action!
4. To restore the Chechen Republic, to restore what has been destroyed!
5. To restore the right to be regarded as a nation that is not "branded!"
6. To stop the genocide and ecocide!
7. To restore peace and order on the territory of the Chechen republic!

Luisa Timagova
and 29 others

Whose Minister?

An open letter to Labor Minister Alexander Pochinok in response to "Unions and Cabinet Spar on Labor Code," Dec. 15.

Mr. Minister,

The Moscow Times on Dec. 15 quoted statements by you about trade-union organizing in the McDonalds factory in Moscow that are biased, unfair and inappropriate for a representative of the Labor Ministry.

It is clear that you have not been properly briefed about the conflict and its background. First of all, workers in the McDonalds factory formed their union for the same reason workers all over the world form unions: to improve their working conditions. Secondly, working conditions at McDonalds are far from ideal. The McDonalds corporation is known all over the world for its disregard for workers rights in its pursuit of profit. This is evidenced by the companys minimum pay approach, extreme workload demands, repressive disciplinary policy, limitations on freedom of expression and violations of the right to join a union.

I would like to draw your attention to the fact that in many countries McDonalds has been found by the courts and state agencies to be in violation of national labor legislation. In France, restaurant managers have even been arrested for labor code violations. The conditions described above are faced by McDonalds workers in Russia as well, where union activists and their families have even been threatened with violence. The union has been forced to exercise its lawful right to protect union members singled out for intimidation on account of union activity. This is the real picture familiar to the dozens of journalists who have written about the conflict, to experts of the State Duma, the Academy of Labor, the International Labor Organization and the international trade-union movement.

In this situation, workers at McDonalds have a right to expect support from your ministry in resolving the conflict and protecting their rights. It is regrettable that you have shown a blatant lack of understanding of the issues and a lack of competence in dealing with them.

We would like to express our hope that you will devote more consideration to examining the conflict, which has become a focus of worldwide public attention, that you will use your good offices to bring the conflict to resolution through the negotiation of a collective bargaining agreement.

The IUF and its 337 affiliates in 118 countries are closely observing the developments at Moscow-McDonalds and are ready to support the union members with the full range of measures at our disposal.

Ron Oswald
General Secretary
International Union of Food Workers

Free Pasko

In response to "High Court Sends Pasko Back to Trial," Nov.22.


We are writing to express grave concern regarding the treatment of Grigory Pasko since his reporting of illegal dumping of nuclear material by the Russian Pacific Fleet. There appears to be an arbitrary application of the law in the current legal proceedings against him, motivated by the need for the Russian navy to obtain a prosecution at all cost, rather than upholding Russian law.

The Russian Constitution states:

"Everyone shall be obliged to preserve nature and the environment, and care for natural wealth." (Article 58)
"Everyone shall have the right to a favorable environment, reliable information about its condition and to compensation for the damage caused to his or her health or property by ecological violations." (Article 42)

This is exactly what Grigory Pasko did when he published the information for which he is being prosecuted.

Grigory Pasko has won the admiration of many for fearlessly exercising his right to free speech and for his selfless reporting of this case for the benefit of most Russians. We call on the Russian authorities to cease the current trial, drop all charges and, in so doing, uphold the Russian Constitution.

Elise Holmes
Convenor, Russia Co-group, Amnesty International
Canberra, Australia

No BAB Here


A story about privatization that appeared Tuesday under the headline "The Kremlins Big Sell-Off" incorrectly identified Sibneft as a company belonging to Boris Berezovsky.

Sibneft would like to reiterate that Boris Berezovsky does not own or control, or have any other interest in, any shares in Sibneft, directly or indirectly. The company is controlled by a group of current and former management, including a significant shareholding controlled by Roman Abramovich.

Nick Halliwell
Head of International Media Relations