"If you're normal," Mr. Sadkov says, "you should be scared of this. But then you have to break the psychological barriers that have been imposed all these years and do something about it."
Facts must be gathered, Mr. Kozlov says, and the cash-strapped government must come to terms with a hugely expensive, overwhelming problem. "We're optimistic. That's all that remains us," Mr. Kozlov says with resolute cheerfulness. "Maybe we'll have to import revolution from Latin America instead of exporting it as we formerly did."
The annual hunt for the harp seal is under way now in the White Sea. The survivors are floating on ice floes toward the Barents Sea off Novaya Zemlya, along their long-traveled route.
In the fall, they will return to the White Sea, having crossed once more through poisonous waters.
"We are scared," says Mr. Sadkov. "If the seals are sick then the fish probably are diseased. We can only guess what will happen to us."
Outside the regional government building stands a Thirties-era monument of a rough-hewn northerner, his arm draped over a reindeer.
A quote from Lenin is written in golden letters, the volume and page cited just as a Biblical phrase might be in the West: "The Northern Forests have to give 'up to half a billion rubles a year in the shortest period of time from now.' "
The forests have given up that, and much, much more. And no one knows if it can be put back again, or at what price.