Staunton, March 20 — Bellona-Murmansk, the Russian branch of the international environmental monitoring group, has been declared a foreign agent nominally because it receives funds from abroad but in fact because it has exposed the Russian government’s complicity in destroying the environment in northwestern Russia.
On March 19, the Russian justice ministry updated its list of NGOs classified as foreign agents under Russian law to include, among others, Bellona-Murmansk, an ecological group that has been operating since 1998 and whose website, Bellona.ru, is one of the most visited ecological sites in Russia.
Anna Kireyeva, who serves as a spokesperson for Bellona-Murmansk, said that the group “had still not received any documentary confirmation” of this but had found about the group’s new status “from the media.” Obviously, she added, “we do not agree with this decision of the [Russian] justice ministry.”
At the same time, she said, the group does not plan to appeal to the courts “because we consider this a complete waste of time, effort and money. Bellona representatives will continue to monitor the ecological situation in Murmansk, but in a somewhat different organizational form.” What that will be will be “decided over the next few days.”
Kireyeva told Barents Observer.com that she believes Moscow’s action was triggered by Bellona’s latest report on the ways in which Russian heavy industry on the Kola peninsula is harming the environment. That report concluded that firms find it cheaper to continue to pollute and pay fines than to stop polluting and not pay fines.
Nils Bøhmer who works at Bellona’s headquarters says that “we obviously don’t agree that our offices in Murmansk should be designated ‘foreign agents,” adding that “together with our Russian colleagues, we are now examining alternative ways to continue our environmental battle in Northwest Russia.”
The Russian government has been conducting a sweeping crackdown on environmental activists around the country over the last three years, driving some into political emigration such as Suren Gazaryan who now lives in Estonia and imprisoning others, including most prominently Yevgeny Vitishko of the Environmental Watch on the North Caucasus.
The total number of NGOs on the Russian Justice Ministry’s list of “foreign agents” is now 49.