The Soviet Union has left a legacy of severe environmental problems for the successor states (Figure 5.1) as a result of decades of economic development driven by the pressures of the arms race (Bridges and Bridges 1996; Singleton 1987; Welsh 1996). Of course there has for long been a view that resources are inexhaustible (Bassin 1993; Diment and Slezkine 1993) and that nature's challenges should not 'condemn the country to permanent backwardness' (Shaw 1999, p.128). Yet there is a traditional 'ecological' conscience among the Russian people, since a nature protection organisation emerged back in 1853 and many of the leading ecologists in the Russian Empire were trained at Tartu University. The Soviet Union initially contributed to global conservation theory and practice through an All-Russian Conservation Society in 1924. However, while the first socialist government was environmentally friendly, nothing was allowed to constrain Stalin's vision of a new economic geography with a more continental emphasis, complete with major canals and river diversions (Rostankowski 1982). Stalin used science for a war on nature to rectify its defects (Burke 1956), as the early strategy in Siberia was followed up by a nuclear programme which was central to the postwar drive for growth. But 'the extreme application of this anthropocentrism became a key characteristic of the whole Soviet nation and is one of the major factors that brought the FSU to the brink of environmental crisis' (Mirovitskaya 1998, p.36). The existing system of nature conservation was practically abandoned and the environmental organisations ceased to exist (Komarov 1980).
In the 1960s the Academy of Sciences campaigned successfully against the closure of the nature reserves (zapovedniks), though the network remained restricted (Fischer 1981; Weiner 1988a, 1988b), and lobbies were able to achieve cuts in pollution, notably through the 1987 decree over pollution abatement on Lake Baikal following pressure from academics and intellectuals (Gustafson 1981). A commission of enquiry in 1986 recommended a Lake Baikal National Park covering both eastern and western shores, as well as three nature reserves (Vorobyev and Martynov 1989). Organisations grew from the late 1950s (Kelly 1976b) - examples being the Tartu Young People's Nature Protection Corps