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Bellona’s Vilnius office examines a turbulent, but successful, year past

Опубликовано: 14/01/2024

Автор: Bellona

In the aftermath of Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the Bellona Foundation was forced to navigate a treacherous and evolving geopolitical landscape. In light of the Russian attack on its neighbor, we arrived at the difficult decision to shutter our operations in Russia, and closed our offices in St. Petersburg and Murmansk.

In the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the Bellona Foundation was forced to navigate a treacherous and evolving geopolitical landscape. In light of the Russian attack on its neighbor, we arrived at the difficult decision to shutter our operations in Russia, and closed our offices in St. Petersburg and Murmansk.

This seismic shift, however, has not deterred the organization from its core mission. Even as our Russian-speaking team has been transplanted to Vilnius, Bellona has persisted in meticulously monitoring and analyzing environmental risks originating from Russia.

The repercussions of Russia’s war were far-reaching, as the once-freer flow of information about polluting enterprises, environmental incidents, and associated risks began to dry up.  This forced Bellona – with its 30-year history working in Russia — to get back to brass tacks: gathering reliable information about the environment, analyzing risks, and providing forecasts.

Yet, operating in the shadows of repression and isolationist policies, Bellona — along with other international environmental organizations — found itself cast as an enemy of the Russian government. In April, the General Prosecutor’s Office in Moscow officially declared Bellona an ”undesirable ”organization, essentially outlawing our activities in the country.  The move, however, was not a surprise in the current climate of escalating repressions, and puts us among some good company.

“It is evident to us that the Russian authorities want to prevent the leakage of information about how poorly they are addressing environmental issues in their country,” said Frederick Hauge, Bellona’s, who pledged that, despite the altered conditions within Russia, our organization’s commitment to documenting its environmental issues would remain unwavering.

For those following our work from within Russia, we have collaborated with legal experts to craft a comprehensive guide on safely accessing and distributing what we offer on our websites — which have been blacklisted by Russian authorities. Our materials can now be found from within Russia with the help of VPN — a common challenge faced by the broader rights and journalistic diaspora that has had to relocate beyond Russia’s borders.

A pivotal facet of Bellona’s work during this turbulent period centered on scrutinizing Russia’s nuclear industry amid the war and looming threats to nuclear safety its activities present. We have particularly focused on the role of Rosatom, Russia’s state nuclear corporation, which has taken on a newly militarized role.

The resulting reports painted a vivid picture of Rosatom’s deep involvement in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Financial support for military objectives, direct participation in the occupation of Ukrainian territory, and the expansion of its significance within Russia by acquiring non-nuclear enterprises have all been examined in detail in our reports.

Parallel to this work, Bellona has delved into broader environmental and climate risks in the Russian Arctic, highlighting a shift in Russian priorities towards economic development over environmental conservation.  Though western sanction have supposedly hobbled the activities of Russia’s oil and gas industries, we have nonetheless reported that much of this climate damaging sector has continued full steam ahead. We have also released articles exposing continued Arctic pollution by major corporations like Norilsk Nickel and Gazprom.

As detailed by our reporting, if sanctions have impacted Russian industry, it has been chiefly in the form of curtailing whatever environmental programs Russia’s polluting Arctic behemoths may have been observing — another environmental consequence of Russia’s invasion.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine also left a lasting mark on nuclear facilities, with the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant and the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant falling into Russian hands. The subsequent damages, estimated at €100 million, include the seizure of valuable equipment and computers, painting a grim picture of environmental consequences in the wake of geopolitical conflicts. Our report on the Zaporizhzhia plant  details the outlines of what many would call nuclear terrorism perpetrated by the Russian state.

As Bellona looked forward to 2024, we plan to continue reporting on environmental issues in the Russian Arctic, nuclear and radiation safety, climate change, and the environmental fallout of the war in Ukraine. Our intentions are clear. We will present materials globally and work with media organizations to emphasize the critical need for accessible information on environmental risks originating from Russia, in both Russian and English-speaking spaces.

We are grateful to our readers for sharing this turbulent year of transitions with us.  It will take collective efforts and will to continue navigating the dark period of this war, but it remains our sincere hope that, together, we can fight for a world built on fundamental principles – the safeguarding of human rights, the preservation of territorial integrity for independent states, and the unequivocal right to a healthy environment.