The Russian prosecutor general’s office today declared Bellona an “undesirable“ organization. The prosecutor says that Bellona has:
“Taken 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 main consequence of this decision is that while it has previously been difficult for Russian citizens to work for and with Bellona, the Russian authorities will now consider doing so an outright crime. This applies both to Russian citizens within Russia and those abroad.
“The Russian Prosecutor General’s decision to declare Bellona undesirable in Russia is totally unacceptable,” says Bellona founder Frederic Hauge, to whom Russian authorities have denied visas since visas to enter Russia since 2016. “We note that the Russian authorities believe that working to secure the people’s right to a livable environment undermines the Russian economy.”
He added that: “This is of course very serious, and a continuation of a year-long harassment campaign by the FSB against Bellona.”
Since 1989, Bellona has documented and exposed grave environmental conditions within the then-Soviet Union, and later in Russia. Specifically, Bellona has worked to highlight large quantities of nuclear waste from the Russian nuclear industry and military. Bellona’s work has resulted in major clean-up operations and contributed to significant international cooperation and funding to clean up and secure nuclear waste.
In total, the international community contributed close to four billion dollars toward those efforts until Russia’s attack on Ukraine brought a stop to all international cooperation with Moscow.
Bellona has faced major challenges with the Russian authorities since 1995, when the Russian security service, the FSB, searched Bellona’s offices in Murmansk and the following year arrested and imprisoned Bellona’s associate Alexander Nikitin, a former submarine captain.
The FSB accused Nikitin of espionage for the work he had done for Bellona in mapping nuclear waste and accidents within Russia’s nuclear Northern Fleet. Bellona and Nikitin proved his innocence over the course of 17 trials that eventually reached the Russian Supreme Court in 2000.
Bellona and Nikitin thereafter continued their work in Russia until the war in Ukraine began.
Prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Bellona maintained offices in Murmansk and St. Petersburg, in addition to a separate Russia department in Oslo —this despite the fact that Bellona’s organizations in Russia been declared by Russian authorities to be foreign agents.
Russia’s attack on Ukraine impelled Bellona to stop all work with the Russian authorities, close its offices in Russia and moved personnel and expertise to a new office in Vilnius that opened in 2023.
Currently, Bellona has no employees in Russia, but continues to work on climate and environmental issues related to Russia from outside the country’s borders.
“The Russian authorities’ decision to declare Bellona ‘undesirable’ is an attempt to disrupt the ongoing work at our offices in Vilnius and Oslo, where we document and inform about environmental risks in Russia, among other things,” says Hauge.
“They obviously want to avoid information getting out about how poorly they handle environmental risks and what they expose their own population to. Bellona must continue to document this, even if the working conditions become more dangerous and difficult. At the same time, we will document the role of Rosatom and the Russian authorities in the hostilities in Ukraine. The Russian warfare is nuclear blackmail on so many levels,” Hauge added.
Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huidtfeldt said Oslo was deeply concerned by the development.
“I deeply regret that the Russian authorities have defined Bellona as an undesirable organization. For several decades, Bellona has played an important role as a civil society actor in Russia,” she said. “Norway views with deep concern the Russian authorities’ systematic suppression of civil society through laws on foreign agents and undesirable organisations. The situation for human rights in Russia is now very disturbing.”