With the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, Moscow and the Russian Federation escaped direct responsibility for some of the world's worst environmental devastation because many of the Soviet disaster sites were now in other countries. Since then, how
ever, the gravity and complexity of threats to Russia's own environment have become clear. During the first years of transition and reform, Russia's response to those conditions was sporadic and often ineffectual.
Only in the late 1980s and early 1990s was a linkage identified between the increasingly poor state of human health and the destruction of ecosystems in Russia. When that linkage was established, a new word was coined to sum up the environmental record
of the Soviet era--"ecocide."
In the Soviet system, environmentally threatening incidents such as the bursting of an oil pipeline received little or no public notice, and remedial actions were slow or nonexistent. Government officials felt that natural resources were abundant enoug
h to afford waste, that the land could easily absorb any level of pollution, and that stringent control measures were an unjustifiable hindrance to economic advancement. In the 1990s, after decades of such practices, the government categorized about 40 pe
rcent of Russia's territory (an area about three-quarters as large as the United States) as under high or moderately high ecological stress. Excluding areas of radiation contamination, fifty-six areas have been identified as environmentally degraded regio
ns, ranging from full-fledged ecological disaster areas to moderately polluted areas.
Data as of July 1996