Under Russian law, you can’t chop down a forest just because a bureaucrat lets you.58 A careful assessment of how much logging is sustainable is first carried out. Public auctions then determine who receives the rights to harvest the chosen trees, and you can’t change how you bid – or, in normal circumstances, what you are bidding on – even if the other side agrees to it.59
These rules form part of the country’s Forest Code. Until October 2015 this stated that forest lease agreements could only be altered to prevent a wildfire emergency arising, or if fires suddenly wreaked havoc on forests under the hammer before a deal was struck. Neither circumstance applied in these cases.
By hiking up the volume of timber allowed to be cut and changing the rent charged on the leases, the leaseholder (Bakurov’s companies) and the regional forest management body had in effect signed an entirely new contract without conducting an auction, thereby breaking wider laws requiring open competition.60 This was the case with the first three of the 11 now-rescinded additional forest lease agreements that Bakurov’s companies signed with Irkutsk province’s forest management agency.
Revisions to the Forest Code introduced in October 2015 allowed some haggling over forests already auctioned, including in the event of fires, floods and other natural disasters, but this could only be brought about by a court ruling.61 The eight additional amendments signed after the new Forest Code took effect bypassed this process.
In six of the 11 lease amendment cases, the court records also document other wrongdoing, including absent, inaccurate or falsified forest pathology reports used to try to justify the sanitary logging.62