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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin Calls for Overhaul of Environmental Policy

Russia must rethink its environmental policy if it is to overcome the Soviet-era legacy of heavy industrial pollution, acid rain and tons of nuclear waste, President Vladimir Putin told high-ranking officials Wednesday.

Putin called for a single body to manage Russia's environmental policy -- currently spread across at least five ministries and a myriad of intermediate government bodies.

"We need a single government policy on the environment," Putin told his advisory State Council in the Kremlin on the eve of World Environment Day.

"This is one of the conditions for dynamic economic development," he said. "It is only the illusions of some managers that by exploiting nature they can boost profits and beat competitors."

During the last years of communist rule, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev pledged to clean up the Soviet Union's worst environmental mistakes -- ranging from a decision to drain the Central Asian Aral Sea to dumping toxic waste into Lake Baikal.

But with the changes brought by the collapse of the Soviet Union, few of the initiatives came to fruition.

"Up to 15 percent of Russia's regions are in critical or near-critical condition," Putin said.

Millions of Russians still live in areas where levels of air pollution exceed international health norms. Millions more live in ecological disaster zones, including the industrial wastelands of the Urals and Siberia.

An official report published last year found that some 300,000 Russians die annually from pollution-related diseases.

Putin said that companies themselves should be held responsible for the environmental cost of their production.

"In Russia there is effectively no legal mechanism that allows us to extract compensation from companies for ecological damage," he said. "Because of this, we run into chronic lack of funds for ecological programs."

In its report to Putin, the State Council -- on which sit the governors of the country's 89 regions -- called for Russia to ratify the UN Kyoto Protocol on carbon dioxide emissions before a Moscow climate conference in September.

Under a complex weighting system, the agreement cannot come into force until Russia, responsible for 17 percent of the world's carbon dioxide emissions, ratifies the deal.

Moscow has repeatedly vowed to ratify the deal, while offering no concrete date.