With the latest issue of Environment and Rights, which is available in English here, our editors had to confront a unique difficulty — merely possessing our magazine within Russia’s borders is now essentially illegal.
Since April 18, Bellona has been considered an “undesirable’ organization by the offices of the Russian Prosecutor General and stands accused of “tak[ing] actions that undermine the Russian economy, destabilize the socio-political situation in the country, and threaten the foundations of the constitutional system and security of the Russian Federation, and attempt to influence Russian legislation in order to change it.“
The accusation is ludicrous, though it isn’t much of a surprise given Russia’s current political climate. For years, we operated in St Petersburg and Murmansk as a supposed “foreign agent,” despite our more than two decades’ effort to make the environment cleaner and healthier for Russian citizens.
When Russia invaded Ukraine in February of 2022, a raft of even more repressive measures against free expression that were hastily adopted by Moscow officialdom forced us to withdraw our staff for reasons of their safety. We reconstituted our environmental monitoring from Vilnius — thus making us part of the mass migration of opponents of Putin’s invasion.
In that sense, the Russian Prosecutor is late on the draw. As an “undesirable” organization, we are required to cease our activities in Russia — something we have already done.
But the new label imposed on us also carries dangers for those we serve. In its intentional vagueness, the law on undesirable organizations also seeks to punish those who “cooperate” with Bellona by fining them or even sending them to prison.
Whether the term “cooperation” extends to the act of reading us remains unclear. Though the chances of such a thing are likely miniscule, any prosecution of our readers would probably vary from case to case, depending on how repressive officials intend to be.
But who knows? For it is the law’s intention to do exactly that — to repress by engendering uncertainty and creating fear, thereby ensuring silence.
To address that, our editors compiled a list of suggestions and instructions to our Russian readers within this issue in hopes of keeping them beyond the ambiguous reach of “cooperation” — suggestions such as keeping printed copies of the magazine in a secret place and sharing them only with trusted individuals, as well as not sharing the electronic version on social media.
In essence, for those who recall the stagnant world behind the Iron Curtain, they are the same common sense ground rules that surrounded handing Samizdat — that vast and secret literature of free expression that ultimately made such a contribution to the Soviet fall.
In that spirit, we have published this issue, and will continue to publish future issues to keep our Russian readers informed on the state of the environment as it actually is, not how officialdom insists it to be.