Russian Occupation Puts Crimea’s Environment at Risk, Bellona Says

April 6, 2014
Photo: NASA

Staunton, April 5 – Moscow’s occupation and annexation has already had many consequences, but one that is extremely important but that has not attracted much attention is the extent to which Crimea’s “transfer” from Ukraine to the Russian Federation threatens the fragile environment of the peninsula.

That is because, as Andrey Ozharovsky of the environmental watchdog organization Bellona says, Ukraine is a signatory to the 1998 Aarhus Convention which calls for public involvement in decision making about environmental matters and the right to use the courts to protect the environment but Russia is not.

Consequently, to the extent that Crimea will now be governed by Russian legislation, that territory and its people will be at significantly greater risk that the authorities will not pay close attention to environmental concerns and do not have to listen to popular complaints about them, Ozharovsky says.

Yesterday, Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Russian Natural Resources and Ecology Minister Sergey Donsky. They talked about Crimea, about the evidence of past environmental harm and about the status of specially protected nature preserves on the territory of the peninsula.

“These questions are important,” Ozharovsky says, “but there is another problem” that they did not discuss: Russia’s non-participation in the Aarhus Convention and the consequences that will have in the future.

At the present time, every country in Europe except the Vatican and Andorra is a signatory to that agreement, and “every country of the former USSR except for Uzbekistan and Russia” is as well. But if Russia’s annexation of Crimea stands, then that convention will no longer be applied there.

The preamble of that convention specifies and the signatory countries, which include Ukraine among many others, acknowledge that “in questions concerning the environment, the improvement of access to information and the participation of society in the process of taking decisions improve the quality of the decisions taken and the process of their realization.”

On March 31, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev declared in Simferopol that “not a single resident of Sevastopol must lose anything as a result of uniting with Russia. He or she can only gain.” But as Ozharovsky notes, in the environmental sphere, the people of that peninsula have already lost.