In October 2020, Sergei Krasikov, a forest ranger at the Altacheisky State Nature Reserve in the Siberian region of Buryatia, detained five poachers who had been illegally hunting inside the protected area. For Krasikov, who had been tasked to protect the wildlife in the nature reserve, it seemed like an open-and-shut case. But the confrontation turned violent, and, eventually, Krasikov himself faced criminal charges for abusing his authority and was threatened with up to ten years in prison.
According to the case report, Krasikov had struck one of the poachers with his rifle butt and fired a round at another. As the case developed, however, public investigations revealed that Krasikov wasn’t the aggressor. In fact, the poachers had attempted to run Krasikov over with their vehicle, giving him a concussion and two broken ribs. The poachers, as it turned out, had friends in high places, which gave them leverage to sue Krasikov.
This article is part of a collaborative, journalism initiative between Earth Island Journal and Ecology and Business, an environmental journal based in Vladivostok, Russia that covers environmental issues in Eurasia. Translations from Russian are being provided courtesy of Earth Island’s The Altai Project.
In April 2021, the charges against Krasikov were dismissed after the case’s investigation received public attention. But, Shpilenok points out, Krasikov’s case isn’t unique. Many rangers and conservationists in Russia face similar intimidation and harassment.
Shpilenok started his career at the Bryansk Forest Reserve, near the border with Ukraine and Belarus, where he ventured into wildlife photography. He has traveled extensively around Russia, including a 2013 trip from Bryansk in the far west to Kamchatka all the way to the east along the Pacific coast, to document the country’s zapovedniks or “nature reserves” — federal reserves with strict protections against human intrusion (other than for scientific research) and resource extraction.
Earlier this year Shpilenok spoke about the Krasikov case and how it illustrates the difficulties of giving true protection to Russia’s wildlands.
What is your takeaway from Krasikov’s case?
Unfortunately, this is not a unique case of poachers protected by powerful interests attempting to turn the accusation back on Krasikov himself. Let’s take another case: Say we are trying to detain a poacher in possession of a dead wild boar. We call the police dispatcher, and the excuses begin: We don’t have any fuel; we only have one team; no one is available. We reply, We will fill your tank, just come. They drive to the end of the paved road armed with automatic weapons, but in street shoes. The location is remote and requires sturdy footwear — we had warned them in advance. In my experience, only one or two cases out of every ten are actually prosecuted. These cases are pursued unwillingly, and often the powers that be end up supporting the poacher instead of the rule of law.