The recent events in Ukraine have sparked a prolonged debate about Russian involvement in the matter, and provoked a series of sanctions against Russia from Europe and the US. We have witnessed an intense information war between Russia, Ukraine and the West, beginnings of a new phenomenon – a hybrid war, and a mud-pie match between Russia and pretty much everyone else. Analysts announced doom for the Russian economy as a result of enacted sanctions and observers have been commenting non-stop about Russia’s geopolitical relations and its place in international affairs. In all this turmoil the impact of sanctions on Russia’s environmental developments somehow got overlooked in the mainstream discussion.
Effects on the private sector
With the said sanctions hitting hard on trading agreements between Russian and foreign firms, Russian companies’ profits are already feeling the consequences. International non-governmental organisations working in the Russian context are voicing concerns that this may affect the development of a culture of social responsibility and environmentally-friendly attitudes within Russia companies.
Despite the heavy criticism featuring across public and private media channels, a general consensus is emerging among observers that Russian companies are slowly becoming more law-abiding, or at least that it is becoming more profitable for firms to be law-abiding in Russia. Russian companies have also started caring about their public image within the country and internationally, and environment is becoming a factor in the makeup of such image in the former Soviet Union. Furthermore, the pressure on transparency in Russia has also been increasing and many firms have started voluntarily financing social and environmental projects. However, in times of hardship costs must be cut. Environmental projects are not necessary for the functioning of a firm, and may be the first to go as firms attempt to offset some of the profit loses brought on by the sanctions.
Effects on not-for-profit cooperation
Interestingly, some funding for international environmental programmes has also been cut, as part or as a result of sanctions. Some of these projects are aimed at areas of global significance. Even then, many argue that environmental wellbeing should not be confined to country borders – many environmental issues are transboundary and each issue should be viewed as of global significance. Political games between the few should not impact upon everyone else’s environmental rights to a healthy planet. Yet, it seems that once again, foreign policy sometimes gets prioritised over the environment by donor countries. On the other hand, such withdrawal of funds has also made the receiving side wonder whether the aid for international environmental programmes was indeed divorced from political ambitions in the first place.
Effects on scientific research
And then there has been retaliation to sanctions by the Russian state. All public and publicly-funded bodies have become even more wary of dealing with foreign organisations of whatever ilk or for whatever purpose. No one wants to be seen as helping “the enemy”. Some cooperation has simply been cancelled from above, such as collaboration between Russian and foreign research institutions. International projects, such as monitoring migratory birds have been very useful for Russian experts in the past. Not only did such collaboration facilitate knowledge exchange and improvements in training and expertise, but such international projects can also help the world keep track of movements of pandemics and other dire problems that are increasingly becoming transborder. Some of these projects, however, have recently been discontinued indefinitely. Some projects are also not being renewed for the next year, whether by the Russian side, or because no funding can suddenly be found from the foreign side.
This contractual and financial hit for blow seems to be a game that all sides can play, but environment suffers on in the shadows. It is the global short-sightedness that is of concern, for we seem to persist in a world where foreign policy is more important than global environmental challenges. Perhaps good reasons do exist for sanction currently imposed on Russia, but few seem to have thought about their potential impact upon our environment, and too many seem to continue to prioritise local political patronage above global issues.
Elena Gorianova, @elenagorianova, University of Sussex
Elena Gorianova is a PhD student researching non-implementation issues in transitional countries, with a focus on environmental regulation of the oil industry in the post-Soviet space.
*The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and are not designed to reflect the position of the PSA Specialist Group on Environmental Politics. The Group encourages thoughtful and respectful reflection on the content in the comments section of the post.*