Staunton, November 22 – Everyone wants to breathe clean air and drink clean water and to have an environment which can be enjoyed, but that does not mean that all those who organize protests against economic developments that appear to threaten those outcomes are doing so innocently, Natalya Varsegova says.
Instead, many of these protests are organized by ecological groups financed from abroad and thus influenced by their Western funders and represent a new form of attack on the Russian economy, one that is all the more effective because few Russians see it as the threat that it is, the investigative journalist says (kp.ru/daily/21712089/4324787/).
But it is not just the protests themselves that are the problem, Varsegova says. She quotes Yevgeny Minchenko of Minchenko Consulting as saying that a far larger problem is that these foreign activists often blow a problem out of proportion and thus lead ever more Russians to be suspicious about development as such.
Since 2012, the journalist reports, the Russian justice ministry has put 29 environmental groups on its list of foreign agents. “This means that they are financed from abroad.” Not all of them all of the time are working against Russian interests, but “as specialists note, in recent time, it is precisely ‘pseudo-ecological organizations’ sponsored by the West” that are a problem.
They have discovered that innocent-appearing environmental activism is the perfect way to “put pressure on our industry and state institutions.” That is obvious from the places where they have devoted the most attention – in areas Moscow cares most about – and the fact that their counterparts in the West don’t complain about equivalent developments in Western countries.
But that is only one part of the problem Russian officials and Russian society face from environmental protests, Varsegova says. Sometimes, one group of business interests inside Russia backs environmental activism to give it a comparative advantage over its competitors regardless of what that means for the Russian economy as a whole.
Nikolay Nikolayev, chairman of the Duma committee on natural resources, argues that what Russia needs now are a series of steps to protect Russia from what he calls “ecological extremism.”
According to the Duma deputy, “the country needs a law on environmental information because the first problem which ‘eco-terrorists’ use is the lack of information.” The government and businesses need to provide more information to the population not only about what they want to do but also about those who oppose them.
Had those in charge devoted more attention to such efforts, Nikolayev says, those who want to use environmental protests against the interests of the country would face greater difficulties. “The misuse of the right to ecological protest carries with it no small threat to the national economy,” he continues.
As a result, “the deeper the decline of business activity on the basis of the coronavirus pandemic, the higher the price out country will have to pay for inaction” in this regard. Unemployment is going up at least in part because of “ecological terrorism.” The government is still inactive on this front, and that needs to change, the Duma deputy says.
What this article and these comments likely mean, of course, is that the Kremlin is going to use the pandemic in yet another way, not just as a plausible explanation for its own failings on healthcare but also as the occasion for cracking down on a form of activism that has become increasingly important beyond the ring road.