Bashkir Shikhans: Toratau, Yuraktau and Kushtau
Bashkir Shikhans: Toratau, Yuraktau and Kushtau 01/12/2022
- This T list addition has an interesting "back story" behind its "exotic" title and its location in a part of Russia about which, I suspect, few of us (and certainly not myself!) know much at all - Bashkortostan.
The 3 named "Shikhans" are isolated mountains consisting of exposed Permian reefs. The intention would be to nominate them on geological criterion xiii for their palaeontological remains and evidence of tectonic movements which resulted in the formation of the Urals etc. They are also a "sacred landscape" for the Bashkir people (though there doesn't seem to be any intention to claim OUV for that).
However, their limestone has also made them the target of quarrying activity - to the extent that a 4th "Shikhan" named "Shakhtau" has already largely disappeared - "Shakhtau is now a limestone quarry, officially a "limestone deposit", for the Sterlitamak soda-cement plant (OJSC Soda). The development of limestone began in 1950. By 1975, the top part of Tsar-Gory was reduced by more than 35 meters (115 ft). By now, there is almost nothing left of the mountain
It appears that the "Bashkir Soda Company" ("founded in May 2013 as a result of merging Soda JSC and Kaustik OJSC to become one of the largest chemical companies in Russia.
" (Wiki) has set its eyes on, at least a part of, the remaining Shikhans! As a result they have become the focus of protest and activism to protect them - operating at State, Federal and International levels. Their appearance on Russia's T List at just this time (It might, of course. have been sent to UNESCO before the Ukrainian invasion in Feb 22) seems slightly surprising - at least to this "outsider" regarding knowledge of Russian politics and society. Is there anyone out there who can shine some light on the power balances between all the players involved? For whom does this T List appearance represent a "victory" and for whom a "defeat"? Or is it all just "top show" which is really just a temporary cover for other actions?
Of the 3 remaining Shikhans mentioned in the T List title, Toratau (1965) and Yuraktau (1985), had been given some protection. Nevertheless, this report from 2015
gives a history of the movement trying to prevent the hand over of Toratau to the Soda company. Then Russia nominated Toratau and Yuraktau as a UNESCO Geo-park – but, leaving out Kushtau. This was thought to have been deliberate with the intention of mining it - "this geopark is a cover for the destruction of a unique geo heritage
" (See Here
). The demand was that UNESCO shouldn't consider it because of the fragmentation - but it did accept the Nomination (here
). It was originally scheduled for inclusion in 2021
but wasn't among the successful 2021 candidates and doesn't appear to have been evaluated yet.
But the concern about why Kushtau had been excluded seems to have been justified. This report from Greenpeace Russia
describes events of August 2020 when attempts were made to start development there - and here "The Battle for Kushtau Hill
". This "battle" appears to have been regarded as "success" for the protestors, and the Head of Bashkortostan. Radiy Khabirov
, seems to have at least made a tactical retreat, promising "dialogue" and "compromise"! Although he is a sanctioned individual
who "was involved in and financially benefited from corruption schemes designed to provide corrupt sources of income to politicians and government officials and their families. Khabirov's daughter Svetlana lives and owns real estate in Austria, his other daughter Rita lives in the UK
"– so much for the "strength" of UK/European sanctions against Russia and its ruling families!
And now, in late 2022, even though the UNESCO Geopark nomination of 2 of them remains open, all 3 Shikhans have suddenly appeared on Russia's T List!? This report of March 2021
shows the complex relationship between The Russian State, the Bashkortostan Republic and the Bashkir Soda Company - "Russia's internal republic of Bashkortostan will control the Bashkir Soda Company (BSC), whose shares recently came under the ownership of the Russian Federation, President Vladimir Putin said during a meeting with government members. Putin said Bashkortostan would receive ownership of 38.3% of shares from the state stake, which amounts to 95.7%, and control of another 11.7% + 1 share. The republic will thus manage the controlling stake in BSC, while Russia will remain the owner of control in the company
What is going on? Was the T List entry to be "offered" as a "green olive branch" to coincide with the Kazan WHC (Bashkortostan abuts Tatarstan)? Has the Russian UNESCO delegation "gone rogue" or has that nice Mr Khabirov decided to agree with the protestors and deprive the Bashkir Soda Company of any future access to the resources of the Shikhans? And is that nice Mr Putin happy to let this Republic do that to a Russian owned company? This report
suggests that the protests regarding Kushtau were a manifestation of a deeper "Nationalist" agenda which is currently particularly active because of the "Ukraine adventure" – or is this all "Western/Ukrainian propaganda" (or at least "wishful thinking") without foundation?