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Russian government approves legislation to forgo probing accidents and terrorist acts at hazardous facilities before Kakhovka dam explosion

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This news item was originally published by The Insider on June 6, 2023.

A week before the explosion at the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant (HPP), the Russian government passed legislation allowing to forgo the investigation of accidents at hazardous facilities that occurred due to “military actions” and terrorist acts. The ruling applies throughout the country, including the occupied territories of Ukraine. The document, Russian Government Decree No. 873 dated May 30, is available on Russia’s official online portal of legal information.

The document, signed by Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, came into force on the date of publication – May 31.

“Until January 1, 2028, the technical investigation of accidents at hazardous production facilities and accidents at hydraulic structures, which occurred as a result of military actions, sabotage and terrorist acts, shall not be carried out,” read the last paragraph of the decree.

The document also states that up to September 1, 2023 and up to March 1, 2024 multiple clauses of Russia’s Federal Law “On the industrial safety of hazardous production facilities” and “On the safety of hydraulic structures” will not apply at facilities in the “DPR,” “LPR,” Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson regions.

Ilya Shumanov, director of Transparency International-Russia, said in a conversation with The Insider that each facility is assigned its own hazard class, and is supervised based on the category it is issued – either at the level of the territorial department of Rostekhnadzor [Russia’s Federal Service for Environmental, Technological and Nuclear Supervision – The Insider], or directly by Russia's federal authorities in case of a higher hazard class.

“Every facility that falls under this criterion and is assigned a hazard class must develop a declaration suggesting that you meet the requirements – that you have an evacuation plan, procedures, contact information, inspections, trained specialists, a license to work, and so on.
In case of armed hostilities, no one in the occupied territories will make these declarations, because the facilities change hands. There is no design documentation for the facilities. You have to make them again, look, study, conduct an expertise. And if it's also hit by a couple of shells... This applies even to, say, a flour factory, not to mention oil production sites and similar structures. This applies to all critical infrastructure facilities.”

The expert added that the clauses could have been lifted not in order to hide the destruction of the dam, but because there was no possibility to evaluate the facility due to the lack of technical documents. Shumanov noted that Ukrainian specialists took the documents with them when they were evacuated from the facility. The people that Russia has put in charge of maintaining the plant do not know its production capacity, what it’s connected to, and they have no trained specialists to assist them in finding out.

When asked whether the lifting of the investigation clause can be interpreted as evidence after the explosion at the HPP, Shumanov replied, “both yes and no.” He explained that there are now no formed executive authorities and a conditional territorial department of Rostekhnadzor in the Kherson region and Zaporizhzhia.

“I don't know if they have the personnel to conduct these inspections. I think they don't. And in general, is it realistic to send people to the war zone to investigate accidents? If a commission comes to the frontline and starts investigating the object – it's just life-threatening and doesn’t make sense, because the object is in the combat zone and tomorrow it could suffer additional damage. In addition, it may be that the cadres themselves simply don’t want to come under fire.”

The law was passed “just in time” to remove responsibility from the people who now make management decisions at the plant, Shumanov said. Any man-made accident and failure to take measures to eliminate it or the failure of officials to investigate it could lead to them being criminally liable, Shumanov stressed.

«They’re trying to make sure they’re safe, so that no one will come along and say: 'You have a lot of dangerous objects destroyed here, accidents happened, and you didn’t take any action.’”

He also added that Russia’s Investigative Committee could come to these territories and they would have grounds to launch criminal cases those in charge of the facilities, as well as the authorities of the so-called “LPR,” “DPR,” Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions and Rostekhnadzor representatives.

“There’s never been such a large-scale [hazardous object destroyed] such as the Kakhovska HPP. There’s been a lot of talk about it, but there has been no destruction of this scale. Apparently, people had access to information that such an explosion would take place, so legislation was brought in line in advance, so they wouldn’t be asked any questions.”

Shumanov also stressed that a government decree in Russia can occasionally override a federal law. He explained that executive authorities in Russia have more resources than the legislative branch. A similar process occurred during the coronavirus epidemic – the regional authorities were allowed not to submit income declarations, which was “a direct intrusion into the competence of the federal legislative authorities.”

The Kakhovka HPP dam broke following several blasts on June 6, unleashing the waters of the Dnipro River downstream across the Kherson region. The floodwaters threaten 80 settlements on both the Ukrainian-held and Russian-occupied sides of the river, according to Kyiv.

Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to the Head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, also claimed that the dam was blown up by Russia during a stream on journalist Alexander Plyushchev’s YouTube channel. Podolyak claimed that the explosion was carried out by the Russian army’s 205th Motorized Rifle Brigade in order to affect the AFU’s counteroffensive. Russian authorities claimed that the dam sustained strikes on June 6, but did not specify who launched the ordnance.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed the participants of the Bucharest Nine Summit with a statement that Ukraine could not have blown up the dam of the Kakhovka HPP. According to Zelensky, Russia had been in control of both the dam and the entire plant for a year. The dam had been mined by the Russian side in advance, the Ukrainian President said, pointing out that it was impossible to destroy it from the outside – including by shelling.

“Russia detonated a bomb of massive environmental damage. This is the largest man-made environmental disaster in Europe in decades. [...] And that is why Russia's defeat – a defeat that we will ensure in any case – will be the most significant contribution to the security of our region, our Europe, and the world,” Zelensky said.

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