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Rumble On The Edge Of Europe

- the struggle against the KURDTT rocket engine and fuel reprocessing plant in Votkinsk, Russia.

VOTKINSK, birthplace of famous 19th century composer Pyotr Chaikovsky, is a city of 100,000 inhabitants in Udmurtia, an autonomous republic of the Russian Federation near the Ural mountains. The city, built for the purposes of the huge soviet military-industrial complex, is now the planned site of KURDTT (Complex for Destruction of Heavy Fuel Rocket Engines), a plant for reprocessing discarded fuel and engines from SS-24, SS-24M, SS-25, SS-N-20 ballistic missiles. 70% of Russian ballistic missiles are of these types.

Better if not used, but no good anyway

Each of these missiles is a small-scale environmental disaster. Even if they are not launched, the project to bring 916 of them - altogether 17,500 tons of rocket fuel - to be disembowelled only nine kilometres from the city has rightly met with fierce opposition. An active and unique protest movement has sprung up in what is generally a disillusioned post-Soviet society.

The project was initially to be sited in the Nevada desert USA, but this plan was cancelled due to fears for the safety of the area's endangered tortoises. After being moved to a second site - about 250 kilometres from the nearest settlement, (a small Indian village) in 1996, the US congress had an even better idea: move the entire project to Russia, make it ten times bigger, and pump US$52.4 million into it. Originally Lockheed Martin, one of the biggest military-industrial corporations in the world were the major player, but they withdrew altogether in May 2001, and the project passed to the lesser known American corporation Energotech. Protesters didn't find out about the change of contractors until last August, and it was discovered that the project budget had already swollen to US$150 billion.

The first attempt to build the plant in Western Siberia's Perm area was cancelled thanks to local resistance, so the focus changed to Votkinsk - a city dependent on the military-industrial complex, and under the corrupt government of the Udmurtian republic. Already most modern Russian ballistic Topol-missiles are currently built in Votkinsk. In 1999 the project was put to a referendum in Votkinsk and 99.4% of voters were against the plant's construction - but the highest court of the Udmurtian republic declared the result invalid. Another poll, organised in the neighbouring city of Chaikovsky, gave the highly popular project a paltry 0.042% support.

No Go NGO's

When the old voting route failed, the townsfolk took to the streets with ongoing petitions, mass meetings of crowds of up to 3000, court cases were brought against the Republic's administration. Local ballistic missile specialists and rocket engineers who had originally backed the project turned against it arguing that it would give little employment to locals, be governed from abroad, and be based on experimental technology. The factory is expected to produce thirteen tons of cyanic natrium NaCN - the stuff of chemical weapons - and they're talking about dumping this stuff in the area surrounding the factory, without any environmental provisions. The 'Ecological Impact Assessment' that green-lighted the project was from the Green Cross, a corrupt business NGO founded by Mikhail Gorbachev, who do a nice line selling certificates to various businesses. It should be called a 'Green Wash'. In March the city elected a new mayor with a pledge to drop the plant, who promptly turned back on that promise once elected.

Protest campaign in the summer of 2001

When the locals were getting nowhere with the fight to stop the plant, along came the direct action group the Rainbow Keepers who, along with the International Socio-Ecological Union, the Union for Chemical Safety, and local ecological activists, had a protest camp for six weeks during the summer of 2001. Daily info-stalls and actions were organised, and 20 000 copies of an anti-plant tabloid paper were distributed. A public meeting in late July drew a crowd of 3,000.

In the early hours of July 29th, the camp came under a surprise attack, when a group of five men broke in, and a tent was set alight, but fortunately no-one was injured. On the 3rd of August 300 inhabitants protested outside Lockheed Martin's city offices, but the crowd was violently dispersed by police and several people were arrested. A resulting solidarity picket for the imprisoned lasted five hours.

On August 13th protesters blockaded several roads in Votkinsk. The following day a court declared July 26th's mass meeting illegal; even though it was called by the city mayor himself! On the 21st of August another mass meeting drew a crowd of 1000. During the week of August 21st to 28th Rainbow Keepers blockaded the main entrance of the Votkinsk administration, with supportive locals protecting activists and giving them food. Federal Inspector S.V. Chikurov, who had steadfastly refused to meet protesters for two weeks, then demanded the city mayor "put an end to the organisation of mass disruptions in Votkinsk". On August 30th thirty masked attackers, supposedly from fascist groups descended on the camp, laying into campers with iron bars, knives, and baseball bats, and leaving five Rainbow Keepers with head wounds and other injuries.

During the summer one Finnish activist got a five year deportation from Russia.

The Future

The Camp ended on the 30th of August, but the campaign has stayed active over winter. In Moscow on the 3rd of November a theatre action was organised outside the Udmurtian HQ: three suited officials from America, Russia, and Udmurtia, pompously opening up the reprocessing factory, after which thick smoke billowed out onto the street and people died painful deaths. On the 12th of March a cartoon cruiser called the "Aurora" bombed the Moscow bases of Energotech, the Ministry of Atomic Energy, and Duma, with firecrackers. The running street revolution that kicked off then lasted five hours, as protesters evaded arrest by dodging from one administrative area to the next.

More protests will be organised in Votkinsk this summer (2002). Not only have officials not reversed the decision to build the plant, but building works have started at the factory's planned site.

- Thanks to Antti