10/07/2021, 09.20
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Putin and Kazakhs agree on ecology, but quarrel over tigers

by Vladimir Rozanskij

Moscow and Nur-Sultan launch cooperation to save endangered steppe animals. Common front against forest fires. Kremlin: protected areas needed along shared border. Russian president questions existence of "steppe tigers," which Kazakhs say they want to reintroduce into the wild.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - "Among the most urgent issues that we must face together is the survival of endangered animals, and also the fight against fires in the steppes," stated  Russian President Vladimir Putin speaking in at the recent International Forum for Cooperation between Russia and Kazakhstan.

The symbol animals of this enterprise for the survival of the Asian habitat are the tiger, the saiga (Siberian antelope) and the Caspian Sea seal.

Putin maintains that in the fight against forest fires "it is essential to install artificial protective strips of forest, and regenerative maintenance of the entire forest floor, things possible only under conditions of cooperation and partnership."

Russia is willing to share its experience in these areas with its neighbours, such as in the selection of gases associated with oil.

The Kremlin says there is a need for "a transnational project that would unite the ecosystems of protected areas at the junction of the western part of Kazakhstan and the Volgograd region of Russia," a territory of the magnitude exceeding many nations.

The Russian president recalled that 10 years ago Russia and Kazakhstan had successfully formed a similar, smaller natural complex called the "Altaj", into which the Katon-Karagajsky National Park of eastern Kazakhstan, and the Katun Nature Reserve in Russia, near the central Altaj Mountains, had been included.

In the course of the forum, Putin intervened strongly following the speech of the Kazakh Minister of Ecology, Serikalli Brekešev, who spoke passionately about the creation of an animal species that does not exist in nature: the steppe tiger.

The President of Kazakhstan, Kasym-Žomart Tokaev, also joined the discussion. After more than an hour and a half of video-conferencing, Brekešev noted that the plan to repopulate the saiga "would result in a significant migration of antelopes to Russian territory."

Kazakhstan is thinking, in coordination with the Wildlife Fund of Russia, of reintroducing tigers to Kazakhstan, and an area of 415 thousand hectares in the Almaty region has already been reserved for this project.

The minister enthusiastically addressed President Putin, exclaiming that "relatives come from ancestors, neighbours come from God!" Putin thanked him, then revived the idea that this new common fauna will be able to settle and quench their thirst along the Irtiš River, which divides the two countries.

The Kazakhs reacted with some perplexity, not being very willing to share the waters of the Irtiš with the Russians, and here Putin asked if steppe tigers had ever existed. Tokaev assured that "Turkic tigers" existed in the past, until the beginning of the last century, then disappeared after the world wars, as if they had remained victims of conflict or some form of extermination.

The Russian president took exception to this (the great patriotic war is a sacred period for Russians), and Tokaev then had to diplomatically deflect the speech, stating that "we will take as a model the tigers of the Russian territory, after all a tiger is always a tiger".

Putin opposed this proposal too, saying that "tigers are not all the same, in Russia there is the biggest one in the world, in the Siberian Far East, the Amur tiger!". The two presidents continued to spar, almost as if they were two tigers themselves, according to participants' accounts. In the end, Putin proposed that the issue be sent back "to the government level, after the work of experts." Eurasian integration, and cooperation in ecological transition, could end up in the clutches of Siberian animals.

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