Recent developments in Sakhalin

Olga Murashko, with supplements by Elena Krikunenko

Based on materials from the press center of the Regional Council of Authorized Representatives of the Sakhalin Region’s INSPN and the press center of OO “Green Patrol”

update on this topic (December 2005)
update on this topic (July 2006)

On 29 October 2004, following the decision of the Fifth Congress of Indigenous Numerically Small Peoples of the North (INSPN) residing in the Sakhalin Region, Sakhalin’s indigenous peoples expressed their determination to defend their rights by staging protest actions with regard to the oil companies infringement of indigenous peoples’ rights in accordance with international law, Russia’s legislation and customary law.

On 15 December 2004 the Administration of the Sakhalin Region hosted negotiations between authorized representatives of Sakhalin’s INSPN and relevant oil companies, and inviting P.V. Sulyandziga to represent RAIPON . Unfortunately, the negotiations failed to produce the anticipated result due to the unwillingness of the companies to consider the indigenous peoples’ demands.

A draft memorandum was prepared with Mr. Sulyandziga’s participation, incorporating the basic demands of Sakhalin ’s INSPN. Representatives of environmental movements of Sakhalin (Sakhalinskaya vakhta – Sakhalin Watch, the Sakhalin division of the Green Party) and the Sakhalin section of the LDPR (Liberal Democratic Party of Russia) took an active part in the elaboration of the draft memorandum. The draft was sent to the Administration of the Sakhalin Region and relevant oil companies.

At the end of December 2004, Aleksey Limanzo, President of the Association of INSPN of the Sakhalin Region, informed RAIPON that the protest action’s headquarters had been formed, since there had been no reaction to the draft memorandum from the companies and the authorities, and requested RAIPON to provide advice and legal assistance.

The protest action was due to start on 20 January 2005 .

RAIPON supported the action by circulating the following appeal:

“Appeal of the Association of Indigenous Numerically Small Peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East of RF to the public and News Media.


A protest action of the Association of Indigenous Numerically Small Peoples of the Sakhalin Region is planned to take place on 20 January 2005 with the backing of Sakhalin ’s social movements and parties.

Two pipelines transferring oil and gas from the offshore areas of the Sea of Okhotsk will shortly cut the length and breadth of Sakhalin . The pipelines run across 1,103 brooks and streams, with their majority being spawning grounds, and cuts the migration routes of wild animals and domesticated reindeer. The entire trunk route of the pipelines lies in an area of high seismicity and crosses 55 times 44 tectonic faults with various types of tectonic dislocations. The potential danger for the population and the negative impact of these projects on the natural environment of Sakhalin and the adjoining water areas are indubitable.

However, these projects have already been well underway with the transnational companies of Exxon, Shell, British Petroleum, Sakhalinskaya Energiya and their subsidiaries grossly violating Russian legislation and international standards.

Experts cast well-grounded doubt on the economic expediency professed for Russia by the Agreements on product division signed in connection with these projects between the transnational companies and the Russian Federation . Eight years of oil and gas development in the Sakhalin offshore areas has not been of much benefit to the population either. Even the gasification of Sakhalin ’s centers of population promised eight years ago has failed to be put into service , while the half-a-million population of the Sakhalin Region is already quite aware of the damage caused by the realization of these projects. Fishing as the leading branch of the Region’s economy is suffering a loss and will gradually come to a halt.

Sakhalin ’s indigenous peoples the Nivkhs, Nanais, Ulta and Evenks mostly engaged in traditional natural economic activities based on fishing , hunting , reindeer breeding and gathering have felt the negative ecological consequences of these projects’ realization far deeper than others. Reindeer pastures and forests are damaged by construction machinery and equipment , the offshore prospecting has led to a sharp reduction of maximum fishing quotas (limits) and actual catch by the indigenous population , while the traditional products have remained practically the only source of subsistence for the people.

The companies’ disregard the indigenous peoples’ interests. The analysis of the published appraisals of the projects’ impact has shown that the assessment of cumulative , long-term negative impacts on the traditional lifestyle of indigenous peoples is missing there. Accordingly , long-term programs to reduce these impacts and adapt the indigenous population to the serious environmental consequences of the projects envisaged to be implemented in the decades ahead are missing too. The attempts indigenous peoples’ organizations to initiate a dialogue with the companies about the problems of conducting the appraisal of long-term economic , social and cultural consequences for the indigenous population have failed to be crowned with success.

The lack of access to full information on the projects , as well as disinformation permeating the published project documentation , and unwillingness of the companies to enter a serious dialogue with indigenous peoples’ organizations have made these organizations embark on the path of civil protest.

The Fifth Congress of the Sakhalin Region’s Indigenous Peoples of the North came to the following decision on 29 October 2004 :

‘To launch into the realization of self-defense of our constitutional rights by way of carrying out protest actions aimed at the oil companies infringing indigenous peoples’ rights in accordance with the standards and principles of international law , Russian legislation and standards of common law’. The Association of Indigenous Numerically Small Peoples of the North , Siberia and the Far East of the Russian Federation supported this decision.

We appeal to every one who is not indifferent to the fate of Sakhalin’s indigenous peoples and its entire population and to the future of the environment of the North of the Pacific basin to communicate your support of the action of Sakhalin’s indigenous peoples to the representatives of the Russian Federation’s authorities , and the companies involved in the oil and gas development projects in Sakhalin.


1.  The decision of the Fifth Congress of the Sakhalin Region’s Indigenous Peoples of the North adopted on 29 October 2004 ;

2.  The impact of the “Sakhalin-2” project on environment and indigenous peoples of the North. Prepared by ROO “Ecological Watch of Sakhalin ”, December 2004;

3.  A list of addresses of relevant Russian Federation authorities and the companies implementing the oil and gas development projects in Sakhalin ”.

By the moment the action started some of the metropolitan mass media and a number of foreign public organizations and Russia ’s social organizations of INSPN had responded to this appeal.

RAIPON decided to send a delegation comprising P.V. Sulyandziga, RAIPON First Vice-President, Olga Murashko, RAIPON expert on legal issues and Ekaterina Khmeleva, member of the International Work Group on Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA) and attorney of the Rodnik Legal Center to take part in the beginning of the action. The delegation arrived in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk on 17 January and immediately found itself in the thick of things.

Vice-Governor G.A. Karlov invited P.V. Sulyandziga to preliminary talks in his office, which were scheduled an hour later to turn into negotiations with the oil companies’ representatives. The administration of the Sakhalin Region had prepared its own draft of a tripartite agreement envisaged for signing on 18 January by representatives of the administration, oil companies and Sakhalin ’s indigenous peoples.

The agreement proposed by the Sakhalin Region’s administration had nothing in common with the draft memorandum which the action organizers believed to have been discussed in Sakhalin . According to the RAIPON expert conclusion, the document was rather a declaration of intent to continue interaction. One of the paragraphs of this agreement’s preamble expressed the approval of Sakhalin ’s INSPN with regard to the oil companies’ efforts, which was far from reality.

Of all the INSPN representatives authorized by the Fifth Congress only one, E.A. Koroleva, who was also the representative of numerically small peoples of the North in the Sakhalin Regional Duma, attended the negotiations held on 17 January.

The signing of such an agreement after the draft memorandum had been proposed one month prior to that would be, in the opinion of RAIPON, a setback. E.A. Koroleva at the time was of a different opinion. Aleksey Limanzo, as a representative of Sakhalin ’s INSPN authorized by the Fifth Congress, was not invited to the January 17 talks. On 18 January, the agreement was signed by two representatives of INSPN, one of them having been authorized by the Fifth Congress, the other one not authorized. Such a strange INSPN representation was pointed out with dissatisfaction by some representatives of the oil companies attending the signing procedure.

The protest action became unavoidable. The matter was not only the subject of discussion at the headquarters of the action but also received wide coverage on all the Sakhalin television channels keeping an eye on the development of the events.

The action’s headquarters planned to organize a public gathering at a sacred burial place of the Nivkhs’ ancestors, a storage facility had been constructed, with a special rite cleansing the site of evil spirits, statements made by the action’s participants, and making public the action’s resolution and draft memorandum. The arrival of the oil companies’ representatives for the talks was expected by 3 pm . In case they ignored the invitation it was planned to go ahead with the action by staging picket lines on the roads approaching the construction sites of the Sakhalin-1 and Sakhalin-2 projects.

On 20 January, more than 200 representatives of indigenous peoples from five districts of the Sakhalin Region gathered on the open space of the sacred glade. Many of them came on burans (snow vehicles); others were riding on minivans. There were fifteen representatives of the Sakhalin and metropolitan mass media present to cover the occasion.

The clearing was decorated with slogans. The largest banner stretching across the glade read: “We demand an ethnological impact assessment!”

The deputy head of the Sakhalin Region’s administration spoke at the opening of the action reading out the agreement signed on 18 January. This agreement was not supported by the attendees.

The indigenous peoples’ representatives from five districts of the Sakhalin Region spoke about the reindeer pastures damaged by the construction teams. They spoke about the loss of fish, the reduction of catches, and demanded the evaluation of the damage caused to traditional natural resource use. They spoke of curbing the further degradation of the primordial habitat of Sakhalin ’s indigenous peoples, calculating fair compensation for the damage already done, which would help the indigenous inhabitants adapt to the inevitable changes of their habitat, and the need to develop alternative subsistence activities.

Aleksey Limanzo read out the draft resolution, which was met with the audience’s approval. Despite the frost of 30 °C, the participants of the action formed a long line to sign the resolution and memorandum. Altogether, 195 people signed these documents.

Representatives of oil companies did not turn up after all. At 5 pm, when it was already dark, it was decided to finalize the action’s first day. Volunteers among the men were going to continue the action on the next day by picketing the roads leading to the projects’ construction sites.

Picketing was organized for three days running in three different locations. Picket campaigners blocked the way to trucks carrying construction materials and pipes. Their placards cried out: “Oilmen! You should remember whose land you work on. V.V. Putin”. Those were the words pronounced by President Putin in April 2004 in Salekhard during the session of the State Council on the problems of the North held outside its head office in Moscow .

During the three-day protest action, the traffic of more than 100 trucks carrying construction materials was brought to a standstill. On the third day of picketing, two vehicles transporting men who were on their way home after their tour of duty was over. There was a skirmish between the workers and picketers. The picket line finally decided to let the trucks go: “We are fighting the management of the companies unwilling to listen to our demands, not the workers”, the campaigners declared.

After the incident, the picket activists took a decision to temporarily suspend the action to avoid additional social tension. They decided to give time to the oil companies’ management to think the situation over, to convoke an extraordinary congress of Sakhalin ’s INSPN, approve documents signed by the January 20 action participants during its sessions, and organize a new round of talks.

Below is the resolution signed at the action:

Resolution of the protest action participants against the direct negative impact made by the oil companies Exxon Neftegaz Limited and Sakhalin Energy Investment Company Ltd. – operators of Sakhalin-1 and Sakhalin-2 projects and their contractors on the environment and lifestyle of indigenous numerically small peoples residing in the North of Sakhalin.

We, the participants of the protest action in the Noglikskiy district organized on 20 January 2005,