On February 17, the Public Chamber of the Russian Federation hosted a round table “Observance of the rights of activists and NGOs that oppose environmental offenses”. The event was organized by the Coordinating Council for Ecological Welfare under the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation together with the Russian Social and Ecological Union (RSEU). Opening the round table, its moderator Elena Sharoikina, Chairman of the Coordinating Council, recalled Mikhail Prishvin’s quote, “To protect nature means to protect the Motherland.” RSEU Co-Chairman Vitaly Servetnik presented the results of monitoring cases of violations of rights and pressure on environmentalists for 2021 at the round table.
The organization recorded 135 episodes of pressure against 181 environmental activists in 44 regions of Russia. Twenty-eight activists were attacked and/or their property was damaged. Twelve new criminal cases have been opened and more than 70 administrative protocols have been drawn up. The total amount of individual fines reached 866,000 rubles. One person died. As the speaker noted, none of the deaths of environmental activists over the past three years has yet been properly investigated.
Moscow, the Republic of Bashkortostan, the Arkhangelsk, Moscow and Volgograd regions are recognized as the leaders among the regions in terms of episodes of pressure on environmental activists. The most resonant situations of the past year were: the construction of a road across the Volga-Akhtuba floodplain, a waste landfill at the Shies station in the Arkhangelsk region, an attempt to develop the Kushtau shikhan in Bashkortostan, local conflicts in Moscow against the backdrop of buildings and clearings of natural areas, the launch of the Tominsky GOK.
Pressure on environmental NGOs continued. Because of the law on foreign agents, the director of Ecodefense! Alexandra Koroleva continues to be under criminal prosecution, and ANO “Civil Initiative Against Environmental Crime” was fined 300,000 rubles. The Krasnoyarsk organization, “Nature of Siberia,” is on the verge of closing due to a sharp increase in the rent of the municipal premises.
The speaker noted the increasing cases of pressure on the media that cover environmental issues and the inclusion of many independent journalists in the lists of foreign agents. Full monitoring data is available on the Eco-Crisis Group website: help-eco.info/monitoring .
Dmitry Sekushin, a member of the Coordinating Council for Environmental Welfare at the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation and a member of the environmental movement We Live Here!, spoke about violations of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and other instruments of pressure on environmental activists, especially highlighting the case of Vyacheslav Yegorov.
Elena Gray, specialist of the Environmental Crisis Group, added that cases of forced psychiatric examination and treatment of environmental activists have recently become more frequent, which can threaten the health and life of environmental defenders, as in the case of Olga Kuzmina.
Sergei Strogonov, a defender of the Lago-Naki plateau in the Caucasus Reserve, spoke about his administrative arrest for 5 days, for posting in 2010 on the VKontakte page a song recognised as extremist only in 2015. Activists believe that the real reason for the arrest is his activity against plans to build a ski resort and related infrastructure on the Lago-Naki plateau. This site is part of the UNESCO World Natural Heritage site “Western Caucasus,” which is contrary to Russian law and the decisions of the World Heritage Committee.
Human rights activist Ivan Ivanov spoke about the pressure on the defenders of the Volga-Akhtuba floodplain natural park in Volgograd from logging for the construction of a high-speed highway. Currently, Mikhail Solomonov, a well-known bicycle activist, defender of the floodplain, has been detained for 15 days for a bike ride in December 2021. The arrest of the activist came a week after the publication of a video about the violation of environmental legislation during the construction of the highway. The construction continues despite the presentation of the local prosecutor’s office. Rosprirodnadzor supported the alternative version of the road, which allows preserving the natural park. The chairman of the Investigative Committee instructed him to submit a report on the construction of the route through the Volga-Akhtuba floodplain in connection with complaints from local residents.
Vladimir Kazantsev, a human rights activist, defender of the Chelyabinsk City Forest, who has been under legal pressure for several years, suspected in connection with the fight against environmental violations, noted that the lack of dialogue between active citizens and the authorities leads to an increase in direct conflicts and clashes. Kazantsev and his associates are filing lawsuits to protect the environmental interests of citizens. However, according to his personal experience, participants in legal proceedings can become victims of physical and administrative pressure.
Activists from Troitsk told how they have been trying to prevent logging of the Trinity Forest in New Moscow for several weeks. Numerous cases of violence and mutilation of residents by workers and unidentified persons have been recorded concerning this case. Detentions by the police of participants of people’s gatherings in defense of the forest continue. Residents have been fighting in the legal field for many years and offer alternative options for the project, fearing that logging is a “legal” battering ram for further commercial development of a valuable forest area. However, residents’ calls for dialogue with the mayor of Troitsk remain unanswered.
Tatyana Chestina, Chairman of the Board of the ECA movement, Executive Secretary of the Coordinating Council for Ecological Welfare under the RF Civic Chamber, named among the sources of environmental conflicts and subsequent pressure on environmental activists the secrecy of environmentally significant information and information about planned projects, the formal implementation of procedures for taking into account public opinion, refusals to provide project documentation for public environmental reviews, formal “replies” of control and supervisory authorities. Chestina made proposals to the Prosecutor General’s Office, the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation, the Ministry of Internal Affairs on real cooperation with eco-activists and NGOs in the investigation of environmental violations and crimes, and several proposals to a number of structures of the Ministry of Natural Resources on improving the mechanisms for citizens’ participation in decision-making that relate to their constitutional right to a favorable environment.