"Economic Development and the Environment"
on the Sakhalin Offshore Oil and Gas Fields II

Copyright (C) 1999 by Slavic Research Center, Hokkaido University.
All rights reserved

Environmental Consciousness in Sakhalin:
Background and Views on the Sakhalin Offshore
Oil-Gas Development

Tsuneo Akaha and Anna Vassilieva

Summary of Findings

Here we will summarize our findings and offer some additional observations.

First, a good majority of the respondents to our survey generally expect positive benefits for the citizenry. About one-third of them anticipate no benefits. Among the benefits expected, employment is by far the most prevalent hope among the citizens of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. Other anticipated benefits include cheaper and more abundant gas for home and industrial use, regional economic development, improved living standards, improved infrastructure, and increased tax revenues and budget for the regional government.

Second, an overwhelming majority expect some negative effects on the citizens of Sakhalin. Utmost among their concerns is the potential environmental impact of the Sakhalin projects. There appear to be two types of apprehension about environmental consequences. Lack of information and apparent ignorance are at the basis of much of the concern among students and other younger respondents. The concern expressed by members of the scientific community is based on their knowledge of environmental problems in general. They are also worried that the ongoing offshore projects are not supported by adequate and effective pollution control or environmental monitoring mechanisms. There is, simply put, a lack of trust in the commitment, expertise, and ethical standards of those directly involved in the projects. Among those who appear fairly knowledgeable about the projects there is suspicion that there may not be appropriate allocation of the funds for the energy resource development. This concern comes through even in the responses of Oblast duma members and administration personnel who are the most intimately familiar with the details of the ongoing projects.

A related issue is Sakhalin citizens' knowledge about law relating to the environment and resource development. A 1995 study in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk shows that nearly 70 percent of young people either have a very vague idea or no idea at all about law in general and that the older they are, the more willing they are to admit their ignorance of law.*19 The combination of the absence of legal knowledge in general and lack of information about the oil and gas development projects in Sakhalin explains the widespread concern about environmental and other issues related to the ongoing developments. In addition to environmental concerns, the depletion or misuse of natural resources is an important source of anxiety. A smaller but significant number of respondents in our survey are apprehensive about the problems of crime and exploitation of cheap labor that the international participation in the projects. A few citizens are also worried that their economy might become heavily dependent on foreigners.

Some of their apprehension and lack of trust stems from genuine concerns about the trustworthiness of those directly involved in the Sakhalin projects but some of it results from a lack of information about the specifics of the Sakhalin projects. In times of general uncertainty, as we note in the concluding section, a lack of information and understanding compounds the problem of trust. Many of our respondents, not just young students and secondary school teachers but also business people, university professors, and even some scientists are left in the dark about many aspects of the projects, including what operational measures and technological responses are in place to prevent or counter any accidents, including oil spills. Inadequate information poses a serious danger to the way international participants' intentions are perceived by the local citizenry. A number of the responses to our survey leads to the impression that foreign firms involved in the development of oil and gas in Sakhalin represent some outside evil force bent on reaping benefits at the expense of the morale, traditional values, and environment of the inhabitants of the island.

There is a striking contrast between those who are well informed and those who are not in terms of the attitudes they hold toward foreign involvement. The abundance of information among the regional government officials and duma deputies makes it clear that fears and apprehensions may be alleviated by an adequate amount of information. People who are assigned responsibility for some aspects of the projects are keenly interested in the positive outcome, thus they contribute more efforts to understand and realize their objectives. The educational level and general awareness seems to be considerably higher among the elected officials and administrators than other groups.

Third, there appears to be a fracture in the public opinion regarding the benefits and costs of the development projects. Oblast duma members and administrators are eagerly anticipating positive benefits for Sakhalin. City officials and elementary and secondary school teachers are also expecting benefits for the citizenry, but they are also concerned about negative effects. Younger people, including students, are the most skeptical. Women also seem more cautious than men about the expected benefits of the Sakhalin projects. Skepticism is also shared by NGO members, university professors, and scientists. As far as expectations of negative consequences for the citizens are concerned, the Oblast duma and administration personnel are the exception, with all other categories of people anticipating negative effects. Business people in our sample, to our surprise, do not seem as knowledgeable, involved, or aware as far as the Sakhalin projects are concerned.

Fourth, Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk citizens also have mixed expectations - ambivalence as we noted above - about the impact of the Sakhalin projects on their personal welfare. People who expect no benefits for themselves outnumber those who do by about 10 percent, and by a somewhat larger margin (12 percent) expectations of negative consequences prevail over expectations of no negative impact for personal welfare. Interestingly, a fairly large number of people anticipate positive benefits for other Sakhalin citizens but not for themselves. This pessimism has much in common with a characteristic often ascribed to the Russian people, that of self-doubt. "Fatalism" and "masochism" are also often associated with this characteristic.*20 "Life...has been difficult for the Russians, and there is an inclination to see the world in sweeping, fatalistic terms."*21 It is no coincidence, as we will discuss below, that women are more skeptical about the personal benefits of the Sakhalin projects than men.

Among the desirable effects of the oil and gas projects that our respondents expect for themselves are improved living standards, expanded supply of natural gas to their homes, and employment opportunities. Among the undesirable consequences cited are environmental pollution, health problems due to air and water pollution and contaminated food, and the loss of access to traditional food supplies, particularly fish. Expectations among citizens are mixed regardless of their profession. The only exception are Oblast duma members and administrators, most of whom can and do expect benefits for themselves. Again younger people are the most skeptical.

Fifth, a solid majority believe that the oil and gas development projects will bring Sakhalin closer to the rest of the world, and they welcome it. However, a good number of respondents base their expectations on wishes and hopes rather than on firm facts. They hope that closer international ties will contribute to the region's economic development by attracting investment, introducing new technologies, improving infrastructure, expanding trade opportunities, and improving scientific information available to the citizens of Sakhalin. Many of our respondents are concerned that expanded international ties will also mean that their natural resources may be depleted, their economy may be exploited by foreigners, their environment may worsen, and corruption and other political problems may result. A significant number of people are also concerned that international ties may bring moral decay to their society and increasing disparity in economic opportunities for the island's residents. Here again, students and other young people, as well as women, are the most cautious. Somewhat surprisingly, business and scientist groups are equally divided as far as expectations of adverse consequences are concerned. Again, ambivalence appears at work.

Sixth, about a quarter of our respondents participate in some organized civic activity. Not surprisingly, NGO members are the most active participants in nonoccupational groups. A fair number of media people and Oblast and city personnel also participate in nonoccupational activities. Teachers, business people, students, professors, and scientists are the least likely to participate in such groups. It is obvious that most people in these categories depend on the state budget for their income but their wage payments are often delayed for months. Therefore, they are forced to find additional sources of income for themselves and for their families. Many university students have to work to pay for their education. Needless to say, therefore, people in these categories have little or no time left for other activities, and participation in civic activities is clearly not high on their priority list. Moreover, traditionally, there is little trust among Russians toward nongovernmental groups and activities. All activities conducted during the Soviet era were organized and sponsored either by the Communist Party or government agencies. NGOs are a totally new phenomenon. Moreover, the presence of civic organizations has had little or no tangible (material) effects upon the lives of most citizens in Sakhalin. Therefore, unfortunately, there is no demonstration effect which otherwise could attract more people into organized civic activity. Another interesting finding is that women have a very low rate of participation in civic groups.

Seventh, nearly half of the groups and organizations in which some of our respondents participate have some international contacts. The impact of such contacts needs further study, however. One thing we can say at this time is that most NGOs in Russia are supported by foreign sources of funding. There is a noted mistrust among the Russians toward groups sponsored by foreign organizations in general. This makes Russian NGOs with international ties "suspect" in the eyes of most Russians. We believe a part of this suspicion stems from the fact that most Russians are unfamiliar with these groups and organizations.

Eighth, Sakhalin citizens' participation in organized civic activities appears to strengthen the people's concern about the environmental consequences of the oil and gas development projects. Perhaps this is only to be expected because most of the groups in which our respondents participate have some activities that are focused on environmental consciousness raising. It is also plausible that many of our respondents already had apprehension about offshore energy development on environmental grounds even before they joined their current groups. Moreover, there is a wide gap between, on the one hand, their expectations of benefits and, on the other, what they have actually observed so far. The narrative answers of many "civic activists" indicate that they have yet to see any direct benefits for their groups. They share the view with many others that only a small minority of people, especially those directly involved in the energy development projects and government authorities in Moscow and in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk have benefited and will continue to benefit from the oil and gas projects. Whether this view will continue after the production of oil, which began in July 1999, needs to be watched.

Ninth, as noted above, women are generally more skeptical than men about the impact of the Sakhalin projects, be it on citizens in general, on their personal welfare, or on the international status of Sakhalin. Women are among the most vulnerable groups in Russia today. This is nothing new. Historically this has always been the case. Humiliation, submission, and servility have long been the characteristics of Russian women, even during the Soviet period, when the Communist propaganda touted the supposed equality between the sexes. Many women in our sample feel vulnerable and helpless, some even desperate. They feel distant from the Sakhalin projects. They are hopeful that some benefits will visit them, but they are not sure. They fear that their environment will deteriorate, their resources will be depleted, and that only foreigners and a handful of Russians in positions of power and authority will gain most of the benefits. They are afraid that the Sakhalin projects will make their region dependent on the outside world.

Finally, the apparent indifference and skepticism among the younger respondents require some discussion. There appears to be wide-spread ignorance among the students regarding political, economic, and environmental issues in general and, specifically, about the oil and gas developments of interest to us in this study. Their responses are either extremely general or include statements that defy common sense. We also detect a feeling of alienation and lack of trust vis-á-vis the local government, the regional government, the central government, and the international community. We suspect that the indifference they convey to us reflects their feeling that they are not connected to the values and institutions that have been brought into Russian society following the collapse of the Soviet system.

Young people seem to be quite passive when it comes to organized civic activity. Passivity and helplessness are prevalent among them. They feel as though the world is moving beyond them or past them without offering them any benefits, tangible or otherwise. Even environmental problems, about which they express concern, do not seem to mobilize them into action. They do not seem to have any cause around which to rally. They are adrift. The tendency among many Russians to ascribe ill intent upon their "enemies" presents itself in this instance as a strong negative attitude toward those who they believe will benefit from the oil and gas developments at the expense of others in Sakhalin. More specifically, most students feel the international community is interested in the development of their resources only for its own benefits. They also feel that foreign businesses have no moral compunction about exploiting their resources at the expense of resource depletion and environmental degradation. Incidentally, during our visit to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, we were informed about and noticed a visible presence of political forces on the island, namely the Communist Party and the Russian National Unity. It is quite possible that the sense of alienation the youth feel is strengthened by the propaganda spread by these anti-reform, anti-Western, pro-nationalist forces and exploited by these elements in their recruitment campaign. All around the young people of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk are signs of political corruption, social decay, and economic crisis. Furthermore, the commercial advertisements extolling the virtues of "market economy" and the glimpses of glittering life in Moscow that they watch on TV seem far removed from their daily struggle.*22 This point is well illustrated by a finding in a sociological research conducted in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk in May 1995. When asked where they would find money if they were in dire need, 95.6 percent of the respondents in the age group of 18-29 said they would borrow the money from family and friends. This reflects the lack of development of market-based institutions and expectations on the part of young citizens in the city. During the period from 1993 to 1994, the number of those who were eager to earn money dropped 6.6 percent and, in contrast, the number of respondents who were willing to steal or rob others increased by 3.2 percent. An overwhelming number of young people from 16 to 29 indicated young people committed crimes because they were not engaged in any meaningful activities and that they felt no sense of responsibility to the community.*23

The younger respondents also share the sense that Russia has declined and continues to decline, politically and economically. While they do not point to any specific problems in their responses to our survey, they are highly critical and suspicious of all authorities, foreign or domestic, and are equally resentful of the presence of foreign businesses in their community. However, they do not offer any solutions of their own and they seem almost completely withdrawn from participation in any activities to remedy the situation. In the background of this sense of humiliation and helplessness are the series of world events in which they have watched Russia lose its great power status and appear weak and vulnerable against the rest of the world, particularly against the adversaries of its recent past. What also struck us about the response of university students is the generally low level of language literacy among them. Perhaps this can be attributed to the weakening of the educational system in general. Language literacy seems no longer to be the essential and highly valued aspect of education that it was in the past.


Anticipation and apprehension coexist among the Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk citizens who responded to our survey. This ambivalence is reminiscent of the oft-cited character of the Russian people, which is variously described as "dualism," "divergence," and "dichotomy." This trait of the Russian personality has been described by many literary figures, philosophers, historians, journalists, and former diplomats. It is regarded by some as the "defining characteristic" of Russian culture.*24 George Kennan, for example, wrote that Russian life "at any given moment is not the common expression of harmonious integrated elements, but a precarious and ever-shifting equilibrium between numbers of conflicting forces."*25

Anxiety and apprehension are also due to the sheer lack of information among Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk citizens about the Sakhalin energy projects. Clearly the federation government and the regional authorities must better inform their citizens, about the benefits and costs of the projects. Only a well-informed citizenry can provide the necessary support for the sustained development of Sakhalin's economy. The need is particularly great when international participation is involved in the energy projects that will have far-reaching impact on the economic future of the island, at a time when there is general anxiety about Sakhalin's environmental and resource situation. Moreover, from the point of view of civil society building, it is critically important that Sakhalin's citizens are fully informed about the opportunities and challenges presented by the ongoing projects.

In terms of Sakhalin's place in Russia, we note that virtually no-one in our sample suggests that the island become an independent entity, economically, much less politically. In fact, most respondents very strongly identify themselves as Russian. In no way do their critical comments about the present economic and political situation in Sakhalin imply that they wish to seek a separate and independent existence from the rest of the nation. What is also interesting is that only two individuals mentioned that the Sakhalin projects will bring the island's economy closer to Asia-Pacific. Many economists in the Russian Far East speculate that the region's future economic prosperity depends increasingly on its ability to integrate itself with the dynamic economies of Asia-Pacific.*26 However, most of our respondents apparently do not consider Asia-Pacific to be an economic cradle of future Sakhalin.

It is equally clear that the international community must pay particular attention to the sensitivity with which many Sakhalin citizens view internationally associated development projects. This need is not unique to Sakhalin. In fact, studies of local views in other parts of the Russian Far East also reveal the sensitive nature of international projects, particularly when they relate to resource development with potential environmental consequences.*27 There is a reservoir of goodwill on the part of many Sakhalin citizens, as indicated by our respondents' generally favorable attitude toward international cooperation. However, further cultivation of the positive attitude would require greater effort on the part of the international community to address the immediate concerns of the island citizens. For example, while Exxon's donation of $100,000 to the Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk State University for the installation of internet is a welcome development, there are areas where foreign assistance would make a very important difference in meeting the vital needs of the people, e.g., orphanages, kindergartens, schools, and other institutions that are in dire need of basic supplies and equipment. International aid in this sphere of life in Sakhalin would generate immediate, positive response from Sakhalin citizens of all political persuasions.

It should also be noted that the sensitivity that our respondents exhibit toward international interaction represents, in our view, the continuing saga of the search for national identity among Russian intellectuals. Throughout their history, Russians have struggled with the question of national identity relative to Europe and the Western civilization and East and the Asian civilization. The question was generally couched in terms of Russia's relationship with the Western civilization and the Asian civilization. The Europeanists among them held up the Western civilization as superior to their own and the nationalists and Eurasianists viewed it as inferior to or at least as different from their own. Most Russian intellectuals held the Asian civilization to be inferior to their civilization.*28

During the current period, there is much pain and anxiety in Russia, and Russian intellectuals are again searching for their national identity. Against the backdrop of political instability, economic crisis, and social turmoil, nationalism is clearly on the rise. This is evident in many instances in 1998-99, including the highly charged reaction by President Yeltsin and other Russian leaders to the US-led NATO bombing of Belgrade in May-June 1999.

In the search for national identity, intellectuals in the Russian Far East are divided between those who look for their future in closer ties with the West (Europe and the United States), those who seek closer association with Asia, and those who seek answers to their problems in their own national space. "Mixed," "ambivalent," and "cautious" are the adjectives that best describe their attitude toward the international community. Some politicians, the most notable example being Primorskii Krai Governor Nazdratenko, are exploiting the growing nationalist sentiment to their political benefit. In the process, foreign investors and governments are often made targets of castigating and often groundless charges.

The Sakhalin energy projects are the biggest development projects that this island has undertaken in recent decades. In the postwar history of the island, no development efforts have exposed as many of its population to the lures of the international community as these projects. With the influx of international visitors, foreign technology, foreign capital, and elements of foreign culture, the lives of countless citizens of this remote island may be transformed drastically, perhaps irreversibly. The mixture of anticipation and apprehension among the Sakhalin citizens is only natural. How they respond to the presence of foreign participants in these projects will have a far-reaching impact on the Sakhalin citizens' views of their future relations with the international community.

Oil production in Sakhalin-2 began in July and there is anticipation of visible impact on the citizens of Sakhalin. It would be very important that we study whether or not their favorable anticipation has been justified and their concern over adverse consequences misplaced. The ambivalence, the helplessness, and the almost fatalistic attitude we observe among many citizens of Sakhalin remind us of Karen Horney's study of the neurotic personality. She observes that the masochist may be overwhelmed by a "feeling that good and evil come from outside, that one is entirely helpless toward fate, appearing negatively in a sense of impending doom, positively in an expectation of some miracle happening without one's moving a finger."*29 Are the Sakhalin projects a disaster waiting to happen or a miraculous beginning of prosperous life in the twenty-first century?