REPORT: Status of Russia’s foreign agent laws and the implications for environmental activists in 2021

Published by Naturvernforbundet (Friends of the Earth Norway)
Co-written by Naturvernforbundet (Friends of the Earth Norway) and Russian Social and Ecological Union (Friends of the Earth Russia)


This report presents the developments in 2021 for Russian environmental activists.

2021 was the worst year ever since the foreign agent law was introduced with a record breaking 120 new “foreign agents” declared by the state. Of these were one environmental journalist and one environmental activist, in line with the overarching trend that 65 out of 120 were journalists. Further, 19 new “undesirable organisations” were declared in 2021, none of which were environmental actors.

This makes 2021 the year with the most new foreign agents and undesirable organisations altogether. It is not unlikely that numbers will rise even more with the amendment of 2020, enabling individuals to be declared “foreign agents” as well. Following an overview of the general trends regarding the foreign agent law and undesirable organisations, we then move on to present the major legal developments of 2021. All amendments move in the same direction, limiting space for civil society and free speech even more.

Moreover, the report also presents government repression based on monthly reports by Russian Social-Ecological Union (RSEU) illustrating that all sorts of environmental activists were met with both violent and suppressive measures. The overall trend was thus that all types of opposition with government policy were dangerous, no matter what you fight for. Furthermore, we present the story of 11 eco-prisoners locked away in Russia. Their stories show how regular people are met when threatening the regime’s status quo.

We hope through this report to illustrate and remind readers that despite harsh and dangerous circumstances, 2021 was also a year with victories both for the environment and environmental defenders. After almost two years Chelyabinsk Regional Court has ruled in favour of 255 people and declared the seizure of 4.5 hectares of the Chelyabinsk city forest (natural monument) illegal. Several people received compensations for illegal prosecution: in Bashkortostan, Arkhangelsk and Chelyabinsk regions. In the Sakhalin region, the dismissed head of the local newspaper was reinstated after the entire staff of the newspaper resigned in protest.

We know that the spirit of Russian civil society activism will live on, but we also know that 2022 will be a watershed both in terms of the international situation making cooperation increasingly challenging from a practical point of view, but also that the domestic circumstances by all accounts will be even harsher and more repressive as Putin’s Russia becomes a thoroughly autocratic regime.


Download the report here.


For more information contact:
Vitaly Servetnik,
Russian Social-Ecological Union / Friends of the Earth Russia