Pressure on activists and NGOs protesting against climate change and unsustainable energy in Russia

Dec 6, 2021

Since the 2000s, legislation regarding environmental protection and public participation has been weakened while legislation on NGOs and civil society has grown more restrictive: this has led to the proliferation of unresolved environmental problems throughout the country. Global environmental and climate-related crises have grown increasingly obvious, which has also led to an increase in social tension and the number of public conflicts.

Since 2012, the law on foreign agents has led to the liquidation of 22 out of 32 environmental NGOs, which were declared to be foreign agents. [17

6] Significant suppressions of public environmental organizations caused tensions from environmental problems to boil over into street protests and direct clashes between local residents, builders, and private security guards.

Instead of dialogue with the local population, environmental NGOs, and independent experts, the response to such conflicts and protests has often been an attempt to suppress the protest and subdue environmental activists. [177]

Pressure on activists who oppose climate change and dirty energy, as well as insincere solutions to the climate crisis and the preservation of forests are all vivid examples of the deadlock in relations between society and the state regarding environmental problems and the resulting conflicts.


The climate

Fridays For Future, the youth and student movement that emerged in 2019 as a reaction to insufficient government action to the climate crisis, was met with numerous bans on pickets and rallies, fines, detainments and arrests of activists, as well as pressure from FSB officers on teenagers in Murmansk and Nizhny Novgorod. [178]


Dirty energy

Dirty energy projects, especially coal, are provoking more and more protests from the local population both in mining sites (Kemerovo Oblast) and shipping locations (Primorsk, Leningrad Oblast), but these protests are followed by pressure on activists.

In the fall of 2019, in Kiselyovsk, Kemerovo Region, activists were detained before a rally. [179] In 2020, journalists were persecuted for publishing a story about underground fires ignited by spent coal slag and dust, which lasted for several months. [180], [181]The authorities later acknowledged the fire. [182]

Residents of the Novokuznetsk district of the Kemerovo region, who had been protesting against coal mines for many years, were detained and searched, and authorities attempted to fabricate a case under an extremism law against them. [183], [184]

In August 2020, also in the Kemerovo region, riot police dispersed residents of the Cheremza village who were protesting against the construction of a coal loading station near the village. [185] This resulted in 19 legal cases [212], and a journalist was accused of organizing a rally. [186], [187]

In the nearby town of Myski, that same August, five activists received fines of 25,000 rubles each for blocking the road to the Kiizasskiy open pit while attempting to draw attention to violations in the construction and operation of the utility road in the water protection zone of the water intake well. [188], [189]Earlier, the governor of the Kemerovo region, Sergei Tsivilev, instructed that the coal loading station be removed, but those instructions were not carried out. [190]

In Primorsk, Leningrad Region, local residents are protesting the construction of a coal port, where deforestation is carried out without official permission, with more than 200 hectares of vegetation having already been destroyed. [191] In March 2020, a hooliganism case was opened against activist Anatoly Yakimenko for comments he made on the Internet. [192]

Pressure on activists protesting against the coal industry looks doubly absurd at a time when ever more major countries are quitting coal, and increasing numbers of financial institutions are refusing to invest in it. [193], [194]


Forests and fires

Deforestation and forest fires also trigger reactions from activists, such as in the Central Ecological Zone of the Baikal Natural Territory. In Ulan-Ude, Nikolai Tikhonov, a deputy of the Pribaikalsk municipal formation, was fined 20 thousand rubles for organizing an uncoordinated public event by inviting participants to protest against deforestation. [195] In Irkutsk, the environmental activist Egor Lesnoy was assigned 80 hours of compulsory work for repeatedly violating the rules for participation in a public event. [196]

Defenders of forests also faced pressure in Vladivostok, Barvikha, and Korolev of the Moscow Region. [197], [198], [199]

Forest fires are a systemic problem. In the Kuban, fires are caused deliberately, including agricultural burns. In recent years, the development of volunteer firefighter activity is growing. But, instead of supporting voluntary firefighters and improving fire-extinguishing systems, the Russian Ministry of Justice added the non-profit “Civil Initiative against Environmental Crime” into the register of foreign NGOs, and the organization was fined 300 thousand rubles at the end of 2019. [200] In addition, the brutal 2016 attack on the Ecological Watch camp of fire-fighting activists from the North Caucasus and Greenpeace Russia in 2016 has not yet been investigated, and criminal proceedings have been terminated. [201], [202]


False solutions

Projects related to false solutions to the climate crisis also provoke protests from local residents. This applies to projects in the field of nuclear energy and projects aimed at obtaining energy from waste incineration.


Nuclear power

Rosatom’s persecution of opponents has a rich history. [203] Activists who oppose uranium mining in the Kurgan region face threats, legal claims, and criminal lawsuits from the “Dalur” company. [204], [205], [206] In Krasnoyarsk, the activist Fyodor Maryasov, who opposes the radioactive waste burial site near the Yenisei, was accused of inciting hatred towards the social group of “nuclear scientists”, a criminal case for extremism was initiated, and he was let go with a warning after being tried for high treason. [207], [208]

Individuals opposed to the import of German uranium waste (DUHF) into Russia were detained in Novouralsk and in St. Petersburg. [209], [210] Environmental organizations that opposed the import of “uranium tailings” were declared to be “foreign agents” by the Ministry of Justice. Ecodefense! (Экозащита!), an environmental NGO, was included in the list of “foreign agents” for campaigning against the construction of a nuclear power plant in the Kaliningrad region. In 2019, five criminal cases were opened against Alexandra Koroleva, the director of Ecodefense, after which she was forced to leave the country. [211], [212]


Energy from waste

Conflicts around projects for the construction of waste incineration plants have arisen in several regions of Russia. In December 2019, there was a mass detention of participants in a peaceful tent camp protesting the illegal construction of a road to an incineration plant in the village of Osinovo in the Republic of Tatarstan. [213] Environmental activists were fined a total of 167.5 thousand rubles. [214] Irina Nikiforova was assigned 30 hours of compulsory work for organizing a series of one-person pickets against the incineration plant in Kazan. [215]

Protests and pressure on activists who opposed an incineration plant also occurred in the Noginsk District, Voskresensk, and Solnechnogorsk of the Moscow Region. [216], [217], [218]



Unresolved environmental problems have led to the emergence of social and environmental conflicts across Russia. Unresolved tensions with local populations and environmental organizations has led to an escalation of conflicts, pressure on environmental activists, and to the further politicization of protests. [219]

The most striking example of the politicization of a local environmental conflict can be observed around the landfill near the Shiyes railway station in the Arkhangelsk region, which led to a change of governors in the Arkhangelsk region and the neighboring Komi Republic. [220]

In March 2019, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution recognizing the contributions of environmental rights defenders to human rights, environmental protection, and sustainable development. [221]

The Russian Federation has an obligation to respect, observe, protect and fulfill human rights, including environmental rights. The Russian Social and Environmental Union (RSEU) has been monitoring pressure on environmental activists since 2012 and has formulated a set of measures necessary for addressing the current situation. As a priority measure, it is necessary to end pressure on environmental defenders, to investigate all cases of attacks and persecutions of activists. Indispensable for the protection of environmental activists is the proper investigation of environmental violations, which are associated with harassment against activists. To prevent environmental conflicts in the first place, the following measures are necessary: free access to environmental information, broad public participation in solving issues of environmental significance, and the real consideration of the views of ecologists and other citizens. [222]

Link to reference list. 

Written by Vitaly Servetnik, Co-chair of the Russian Social-Ecological Union / “Friends of the Earth — Russia”

**This article was written and originally published as a part of the Report of the Standing Committee on Environmental Rights to the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights of the Russian Federation. Translated and published in English (2021).