On July 21, leading Russian anti-nuclear group Ecodefense was included in the Russian Ministry of Justice's "foreign agent" roster. Ecodefense, one of the oldest environmental groups in Russia, became the first environmental organisation in Russia to be targeted by the "foreign agent" law for successfully resisting the construction of the Baltic Nuclear Power Plant in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.
The Russian government also filed a lawsuit against activists which may result in the fine of up to US$22,000 (€16,500). The first court hearing is to be held on August 25 in Kaliningrad. Further governmental action may lead to Ecodefense being closed down and even a jail term for its director.
Ecodefense's campaign against the Baltic Nuclear Power Plant started in 2007, when information surfaced that Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom was looking to build a nuclear power plant in the enclave of Kaliningrad Region to export energy to Russia's European neighbours. Ecodefense succeeded in convincing a number of European banks to deny financing for the construction. Several major energy companies in Europe also declined to invest in Rosatom's project, and no contracts for future electricity have been signed with potential customers. Europe's financial participation could have given Rosatom the needed market entry to sell nuclear power to European grids – but the plan failed, and construction of the plant ceased in June last year. Kaliningrad Region has plenty of energy of its own, and there is no exporting electricity to customers who do not want to buy it from a plant no-one wants to invest money in. Stopping the Baltic nuclear project was a major success for the environmental movement and Ecodefense owes a great debt of gratitude to its partners in Europe, who helped make it happen.
Russia's 'Foreign Agent' law
In 2012, Russia adopted the notorious law that forces to register as "foreign agents" non-governmental organisations that engage in "political activities" and also receive funding from abroad. Since then, no organisation actually engaged in political activity has come to harm from the new law. Rather, trouble started for those who have always distanced themselves from the political process and focused on protecting the rights of Russian citizens.
Having completed its inspection of Ecodefense in early June, the Ministry of Justice asserted in its summary of inspection that Ecodefense is a "foreign agent" by saying that "the organisation has been conducting political activity, including in the interests of foreign [funding] sources." Now, the justice ministry sees Ecodefense's campaign against the Baltic nuclear plant as political, not environmental activity. This, after Fukushima and Chernobyl – two catastrophes that showed to the world what irreparable environmental harm nuclear power can wreak. The accusation appears all the more absurd if one takes into account that opposition to the Baltic nuclear plant is a sentiment shared by a large majority of Kaliningrad residents.
Given the scarce resources, the day-to-day work that the organisation has been created to do is thus effectively finished; what follows is inspections, more inspections, court hearings, and fines. This naturally forces the organisation to stop its activities and close because a non-profit group like Ecodefense does not earn any money. The Ministry of Justice was well aware of this situation.
And yet, this is not the main problem, and not the main reason why the status of a "foreign agent" is unacceptable to the group. Agreeing to be labeled as a "foreign agent" would mean compromising one's moral standards and misleading the public. Ecodefense has always conducted its activities in accordance with decisions made by its board, a council consisting of Russian citizens, and never in the interests of any foreign citizens, organisations, or governments. As a matter of principle, Ecodefense has never in its history participated in politics – elections or any other actions aimed at gaining access to political power. Never has our organisation even agitated for or endorsed any politician, Russian or foreign.
Being designated as a "foreign agent" would harm the reputation we have worked for many years to build and would create a false impression that environmental work is undertaken in the interest of foreign entities when in fact it is undertaken to defend the ecological rights of Russian citizens.
Therefore, Ecodefense will never agree to the "foreign agent" status. We know that Russian courts almost always side with the state, and we do not entertain high hopes for a just decision when we face these charges in court. But some little hope we do hold out – and we will fight to continue our work in Russia. Russia's environmental situation is too severe to abandon this fight.
You can help Ecodefense in these ways:
Please donate to help us to cover legal costs (we have two lawsuits proceeding presently). Our contact details are listed below.
Organisations are asked to sign the letter initiated by Friends of the Earth France and WISE Amsterdam − see the box below.
Organisations or individuals can write your own letter. Please mention two most important points – protesting nuclear power is not a crime; and Ecodefense is not anyone's agent, it is an independent organisation campaigning for an environmentally-sustainable and nuclear-free future. Write to:
Mr. Alexander Konovalov
Minister of Justice of the Russian Federation
14 Zhitnaya Str. Moscow, Russia
Official municipal post-1, 119991
Solidarity Statement for Ecodefense
Organisations willing to endorse the following statement are asked to contact Friends of the Earth France (firstname.lastname@example.org) or WISE Amsterdam (email@example.com) as soon as possible.
On July 21st, the Russian government included one the oldest environmental non-governmental organization Ecodefense on the Ministry of Justice "foreign agent" roster. As national and international organizations from many countries, we strongly condemn this decision that criminalizes environmental defenders and supporters of social and environmental justice.
We strongly condemn this decision of the Russian authorities that was taken while proceedings to determine their status have either not yet concluded or even started and that leaves some these organizations without any recourse to contest this labelling.
We are very concerned about the adoption of the "foreign agent" law in November 2012 and the motivations for this adoption as only this environmental organization – Ecodefense − and several more human rights groups are listed in the "foreign agents" roster right now.
While the Russian authorities should protect human rights and support the organizations that help it to do so by bringing human rights violations in Russia to light, this decision illustrates threaten even more democratic rights and leave Russian citizens under the threat of arbitrary choices.
We also particularly condemn the listing of the environmental association Ecodefense for the campaign against Baltic nuclear plant construction near Kaliningrad. Protesting nuclear power cannot be considered as a crime and discussing risks of nuclear is a democratic right. We have been working with Ecodefense for many years and acknowledged the quality of its work as an organization that works independently from any other political power for the people and the environment in Russia and elsewhere.
We urge you to stop repression and let Ecodefense as other environmental and human rights organizations work free in Russia. We called the Russian authorities to reverse their decision to include Ecodefense on the "foreign agent" roster and repeal the November 2012 "foreign agent" law, which brings under threat civil and democratic rights.