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Russia

How Mega Polluters Make Moscow Stink

In Russia's capital, environmental protection is victim of manufacturers who don't want to reform and a government that won't challenge them. The result is there for all to see...and smell.

Moscow's St. Basil cathedral surrounded by incinerator smoke.
Moscow's St. Basil cathedral surrounded by incinerator smoke.
Vera Sitnina

MOSCOW — The Russian constitution actually guarantees the right to clean air. But as with other constitutional rights, exercising and protecting them isn't always simple.

According to data from the Ministry of Emergency Situations, more than two million Muscovites complained about a sulfurous smell Nov. 10. Some Russian cities have perennially unpleasant smells and no one complains, but that's not the case in Moscow. The smell of rotten eggs prompted widespread concern, but it seems that the government has yet to investigate the matter. Or if it has, it hasn't said so.

The incident highlights the significant failings of environmental protectionism in Russia, where legislation is behind the times and polluters go not only unchecked but also unmeasured.

In the case of last month's incident, it's not clear who's responsible for telling citizens what happened and why, so no one knows what, if any, measures have been taken to ensure it doesn't happen again. In Moscow, there are four different agencies responsible for environmental protection, and an additional city agency handles air quality. Each plays a different role in preventing and responding to instances of unacceptably high emissions.

Lack of coordination between the different agencies was painfully clear in November. Some said the smell was dangerous, while others said it was harmless.

"We have a lot of possible scenarios," Moscow’s Environmental Department chief said then. "Right now we're working with all the regions, trying to clear up the reasons for the malfunction. We should have answers by the end of the day."

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War In Ukraine, Day 85: Russia’s "Smaller" Operations And Shrinking Ambitions

U.S. Department of Defense officials report that instead of the typical battalion tactical groups in Ukraine, which number several hundred soldiers, the Russians have now shifted to attacks by smaller units.

Ukrainian soldiers in Donbas

Meike Eijsberg, Cameron Manley and Emma Albright

A new Pentagon report has found that Russia is continuing to reduce the scale of its military actions toward more "small" operations, which is another sign that it has lowered the ambitions of its invasion of Ukraine.

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The Washington Post, citing a U.S. Department of Defense official, reports that instead of the typical battalion tactical groups, which number several hundred soldiers, the Russians have now shifted to attacks by smaller units, each ranging from a few dozen to a hundred soldiers. These smaller units have also scaled down their objectives and are targeting towns, villages and crossroads.

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Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.

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