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Ceremonies marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown across the former Soviet Union today.  But the disaster was not an event confined to April 26, 1986.  It merely began then.  People continue to become sick and die because of Chernobyl.  This piece in the Guardian explains some of the ongoing effects on agriculture and the environment.

Estimates of the Chernobyl death toll range from a few thousand to several hundred thousand.  In light of those deaths, perhaps it is insensitive to discuss the financial cost of the meltdown, but as Chernobyl’s death toll grows so does the bill.  The Chernobyl plant stood in what is now Ukraine, and the most severe environmental effects were suffered in what is now Belarus.  The expense hampers the economies of both countries.  According to the Guardian article linked above, each country has spent $12 billion to deal with the effects of Chernobyl.

Ukraine and Belarus did not create the problem, though.  Chernobyl was a Soviet facility, and the Russian Federation is the successor state to the Soviet Union.  Upon the collapse of the USSR, all Soviet embassies became Russian embassies.  Russia inherited the USSR’s permanent seat on the UN Security Council.  While Russia enjoys the spoils of being the USSR’s successor state, it suffers none of the consequences, including the cost of dealing with Chernobyl.

$1.1 billion is needed for a new cover, or sarcophagus, for the reactor.  What is Russia doing?  At a recent conference to address this cost, various nations pledged a total of $785 million.  According to the Associated Press, the United States pledged $123 million, Germany pledged $60.5 million, and Ukraine pledged $41 million.  Russia–the successor to the Soviet state that operated the plant–pledged $64 million.  What’s even more outrageous, the AP explains, “Russia’s pledge doubled the amount it has donated since it began contributing in 2005.”  In other words, assuming Russia makes good on this pledge, it will have contributed only slightly more than the U.S. is pledging now.

Russia’s refusal to pay for its Soviet sins are not limited to Chernobyl.  I’ve interviewed former GULAG prisoners in Kazakhstan who were rehabilitated during the Thaw.  They receive a meager supplement to their pension, a few dollars extra per month, as a sort of reparation for their political imprisonment.  These payments are covered by the Kazakh government, which had nothing to do with the GULAG system other than having had its land used as a prison camp and place of exile by Soviet Russia.  The Kazakhs were among the most mistreated of Communism’s victims, and now they pay to assist their fellow victims.  Why doesn’t Russia bear the cost of these payments?  When convenient, the Russia of Putin and Medvedev distances itself from the unpleasant Soviet past.

The German government of the Twenty-first Century had nothing to do with the Third Reich, but it justifiably pays reparations to Holocaust survivors and to former forced laborers from Ukraine and other nations.  The Federal Republic of Germany is fulfilling its ethical obligations as the successor state of Nazi Germany.  The Russian Federation is just two decades removed from the end of the Soviet Union.  Some Russian leaders served prominent positions in Soviet government.  But the Russian Federation is no more inclined to pay for Soviet sins than for those of the Tsars.

The continuation of Chernobyl’s effects is a scientific certainty.  Russia’s refusal to do the right thing seems as likely.

I listened to a lot of Howard Stern when I was in college.   I always felt that neither his harshest critics nor his biggest fans appreciated how insightful he could be.  When his first book, Private Parts, became a huge seller, Stern started calling himself “The King of all Media,” a reference to his successes in the radio, television, and book media.  Stern coined the name as a self-conscious joke, but before long mainstream media reports took to calling Stern “The King of all Media.”

I remember a guest on his radio show or an interviewer asking him about the moniker, and Stern said that he got the idea from The Rolling Stones and Michael Jackson.  At some point late in the band’s long career, Stern explained, The Stones began to promote their tours by referring to themselves as “The Greatest Rock and Roll Band in the World.”  Sure enough, journalists then used the term when writing about them.  Michael Jackson duplicated the self-promotional feat by calling himself “The King of Pop.”  Again, the promotional tool became a press-sanctioned tag.  I admire Stern for shattering the third wall and owning up to what he was doing.  It’s hard to imagine The Stones or Michael Jackson being so unself-conscious as to own up to their self-consciousness as Stern did.

So what does any of this have to with Russia, Ukraine, or anything outside of the world of entertainment?  Essentially, Stern demonstrated the cliche that perception becomes reality.  A commenter in my previous post wondered why Russia is allowed to control stories, like the one about President Viktor Yuschenko granting Hero of Ukraine status to nationalist leader Stepan Bandera.  I think one way Soviet Russia and post-Soviet Russia have done so is, like The Rolling Stones, Michael Jackson, and Howard Stern, to simply insist that they hold a certain title.  They are “The Arbiters Of All That Happens From Central Europe to Eurasia.”  Not as catchy a name as the others, but Soviet propaganda, though effective, was never Hollywood.  When a state that was once part of the Soviet Union does something the Kremlin finds objectionable, the Kremlin acts, as always, as though it has a say in the matter.  The Ukrainian president wants to honor a Ukrainian nationalist who opposed the Soviet Union (a country that no longer exists)?  Russia objects.  Russia has acted this way for so long, the media don’t hesitate to report their reactions.

The Russian presumption of authority has another advantage.  Even the most offensive assertions, like Putin’s remark that “Ukraine is not even a state,” are made in such a matter of fact way that they elicit barely any outrage from the West.