Russia’s largest network of environmental organisations calls on Putin to stop branding them as ‘foreign agents’. Statement from the Russian Socio-Ecological Union, a network of non-governmental organisations and grassroots groups.

Dear Mr. Vladimir Putin,

The Russian public organisation “Socio-Ecological Union” is concerned by the recent increase of pressure on active environmental and health protection non-governmental organizations and their leaders by assigning them the status of foreign agents.

A wide range of methods being used to prevent organisations from working to protect the constitutional rights of Russian citizens to life and health: an uninterrupted series of prosecutorial investigations; anonymous denunciations of organizations; inclusion of organisations on the foreign agents register; and filing claims against them in court.

The following non-governmental organisations were subjected to such pressure in the past year:

“Ecodefence” (Kaliningrad) – was included in the register of the Ministry of Justice as a ‘foreign agent’ for calling for the ratification of the Aarhus Convention and for criticizing the Baltic Nuclear Power Plant project.

Baikal Environmental Wave (Irkutsk) – received notification from a prosecutor accusing them of being a ‘foreign agent’ after the organization appealed to the Chairman of the Government to defend Lake Baikal. The organization went to trial multiple times to appeal the prosecutor’s charges, but has lost the case.

Association “Partnership for Development” (Saratov) – prosecuted for activities related to the legal and environmental awareness of people living in proximity to radiation-hazardous objects. The prosecution pursued its case on the basis of an anonymous letter and on trumped-up charges. The organization since lost its case in court under Article 19.34, and was fined.

More than a dozen additional environmental organizations have received warnings from prosecutors characterizing their work as the work of ‘foreign agents’.

According to Article 42 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation: “Everyone has the right to a favourable environment, reliable information about its condition and compensation
of damages caused to his health or property by ecological violations.”

This is why the environmental movement of Russia is seriously concerned about the tendency of various structures to ignore the rule of law and apply provisions of the “foreign agents” law in order to harass and discredit non-governmental organizations for activities in the field of environmental protection and the protection of public health. Such practices limit the activities of organizations, the rights to which are determined by law.

The label “foreign agent” stigmatizes the activities of environmental organizations, unfairly framing them in opposition to state interests. In most cases, the persecution of organisations, whose activities aim to benefit Russians at local, regional and national levels, is carried out by certain structures on behalf of private and corporate interests.

We stress once again that the activities carried out by the environmental non-profit organisations mentioned above aimed at the implementation of governmental policy, moreover in priority areas for the government, is not political. Such activities are conducted purely in the interests of Russia and its sustainable future, an essential key to which is a healthy population, abundant natural resources and a clean environment.

We appeal to the President of the Russian Federation as the guarantor of the Constitution to stop the persecution of non-governmental organizations working in the field of environmental protection, and to initiate a review of the legislation related to the status of “foreign agent” as it applies to public associations and non-profit organisations, in order to prevent further usage of these law provisions to further the private interests of economic entities or individuals who seek to eliminate those public organizations and their leaders who work to prevent unsustainable and irresponsible development.

“Socio-Ecological Union” is the largest Russian network of regional and local environmental NGOs, with 23 years of uniting non-governmental organizations to defend and protect Russia’s environment.