Publication: Monitor Volume: 1 Issue: 105

Officials of Russia’s Water Resources State Committee (Roskomvod) deny that they intend to reactivate plans to divert Siberian rivers in order to feed the Aral Sea. Roskomvod chairman Nikolai Mikheev was believed to have raised that that prospect in his speech to the recent international conference in Nukus (Uzbekistan) dealing with the Aral region’s ecological disaster. But his Moscow subordinates now say that Mikheev was misunderstood, and had merely proposed selling construction equipment at the site of the suspended project to local interested parties. Mikheev himself said, however, that he had meant supplying Central Asia with drinking water from Siberian rivers in the future, and that the Russian government was giving thought to the project. Mikheev’s reported speech had raised eyebrows in Moscow and hopes in Central Asia. At an international symposium on water management in arid regions, held immediately afterward in Tashkent, Uzbek officials proposed to resuscitate with international financing a scaled-down version of the river-diversion project, involving according to them only 6 percent of Ob river’s annual debit. (16)

The Brezhnev-era "project of the century," launched in the early 1980s, was suspended in 1986 amid strong ecological, economic, and political objections. It envisaged diverting southward, toward the Aral Sea, up to 40 cubic kilometers of water annually from the northward flowing Ob and other Siberian rivers. At least some officials in Central Asian governments continue to hope for reactivation of the project, which they see as fair reparation for the ecological disaster bequeathed to the Aral region by predatory Soviet policies. Mikheev’s Nukus speech was said to have been warmly greeted by Uzbek president Islam Karimov at the conference. (17)

1. Itar-Tass, Russia’s Radio, Russian TV, October 2

2. Izvestia, Segodnya, Komsomolskaya pravda, and Kommersant-daily

3. Reuter and Interfax, Oct. 2

4. Interfax, Oct. 2

5. Reuter and Interfax, Oct. 2

6. Vek, No. 37

7. Interfax, Oct. 2

8. Russia’s Radio, Russian public TV, September 29, October 1

9. Itar-Tass, Russia’s Radio, Russian TV, October 1-2.

10. Itar-Tass, October 2

11. Komsomolskaya pravda, September 28

12. Flux, September 29

13. BNS and ELTA, October 2 and 3

14. Itar-Tass, October 3; Segodnya, September 30

15. Reuters, October 1; Interfax, October 1 and 2; Itar-Tass, October 2

16. Interfax, September 26 and 29 and October 2

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