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Russian anti-nuke group waves off foreign agent law, refuses to pay fines

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Charles Digges − Bellona

Russia's Ecodefense anti-nuclear group has again been fined for refusing to register as a "foreign agent" with the country's Justice Ministry in a court hearing to which the group's co-chair, Vladimir Slivyak, said the organization had not even been invited to attend.

Slivyak told Bellona in an interview that Ecodefense was informed only Monday, July 20 that a judge in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad had on July 3 levied another 100,000 ruble ($1,700) fine against his organization for failing to register as a foreign agent.

He said his group never received any summons for the July 3 hearing, and as such, would refuse to pay the fine.

The foreign agent self-appellation is required under Russia's controversial 2012 NGO law stipulating that non-profits receiving foreign funding and engaging in vaguely defined political activity must register as foreign agents and submit to onerous reporting and auditing procedure.1

The law also requires NGOs that are so designated to indicate on all material they publish that they are foreign agents. The vast majority of NGOs in Russia ignored the law when it took effect in November 2012, which said that the foreign agent term characterized them as spies or traitors.2

The group denounced the law in a Russian-language statement yesterday, saying, "We consider the actions of the Justice Ministry (which led to our inclusion on the so called roster of ‘foreign agents') deeply politically motivated and directed at the destruction of the reputation of the civil society movement, which is defending Russia's rights."3

In July, apparently frustrated by the lack of foreign agents signing up, President Vladimir Putin gave broad powers to the Justice Ministry to list NGOs as agents on its own.4 Several days later, Ecodefense was ensnared in that dragnet.5

The group, which was the first ecological group to be named a foreign agent, was told that it ran afoul of the law for protesting the construction of the Baltic Nuclear Power plant. According to a letter Ecodefense received from the Justice Ministry, speaking out against government plans to build nuclear station is tantamount to speaking out against the government – which the Justice Ministry characterized as "political activity."

By Slivyak's own admission, and as stated openly in audits, the group has received funding from the European Union and several German environmental groups.

Ecodefense was previously fined 300,000 rubles ($5,200 at the current exchange rate) in September for refusing to voluntarily register itself on the foreign agent list.6

Slivyak said yesterday that his group won't pay that fine either. He also said that the group's choice to ignore the fines has not resulted in any official interference with the group's environmental activities.

"There is international cooperation and solidarity [with Russian NGOs], he said. People are helping us to continue our work."

Indeed, Slivyak is on a several week tour of South Africa to in an effort to thwart Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom's efforts to forge several nuclear power plant deals the company is trying to make with Johannesburg. He experienced no interference from authorities.

"Civil disobedience is the instrument of change, when you feel change is absolutely needed," he said. "We ignore their law – we will not give [Russian authorities] any reports, we will not mention that we are foreign agents in publications, we won't do audits as they request. We just tell them that we are not agents – we won't do this because only agents do this, and we are not agents."

He added that the authorities notified the group that it would be required to undergo another audit in August.

"They want [us to present] everything, like descriptions of projects, financial details, publications – everything," he said. But he said the group intends to disappoint inspectors when they come.

"Most probably we will just not give them anything," he said.

Such a strident approach, however, is not without its risks, and Slivyak noted that his organization's days might be numbered.

"We expect that after the August inspection, they will start the process of closing us down," he said.

A Justice Ministry spokesman also told Bellona that, under the law, legal actions could escalate to imprisoning Ecodefense's leaders.

But Slivyak remained optimistic that Ecodefense's choice to simply ignore the NGO law would have a positive effect in the long run.

"You never know what the government is planning," he said. "We will get our country back sooner or later – it's just a matter of time."

Until then, Slivyak said, his group will continue to wave off government fines and intimidation and go about its anti-nuclear advocacy.

"The ideal situation is to not follow rules when you think they're unfair," he said.

According to a Human Rights Watch tally, the Justice Ministry has listed 74 organizations on its foreign agent list as of July 8.7 Alongside Ecodefense, they include many more environmental organizations like Bellona Murmansk8, Planeta Nadezhd9 (Planet of Hopes, an advocacy group for South Urals residents affected by radioactive contamination from the Mayak Chemical Combine), Dront of Nizhny Novgorod, Rostov's Eco-logika, Samara's, Educational Center for Environment and Security and many others.

The breakdown of foreign agents also targets groups affiliated with press rights, and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender advocacy.

Reprinted from Bellona











Russian government repression against Ecodefense

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Vladimir Slivyak – Ecodefense co-founder

On July 21, leading Russian anti-nuclear group Ecodefense was included in the Russian Ministry of Justice's "foreign agent" roster. Ecodefense, one of the oldest environmental groups in Russia, became the first environmental organisation in Russia to be targeted by the "foreign agent" law for successfully resisting the construction of the Baltic Nuclear Power Plant in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.

The Russian government also filed a lawsuit against activists which may result in the fine of up to US$22,000 (€16,500). The first court hearing is to be held on August 25 in Kaliningrad. Further governmental action may lead to Ecodefense being closed down and even a jail term for its director.

Ecodefense's campaign against the Baltic Nuclear Power Plant started in 2007, when information surfaced that Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom was looking to build a nuclear power plant in the enclave of Kaliningrad Region to export energy to Russia's European neighbours. Ecodefense succeeded in convincing a number of European banks to deny financing for the construction. Several major energy companies in Europe also declined to invest in Rosatom's project, and no contracts for future electricity have been signed with potential customers. Europe's financial participation could have given Rosatom the needed market entry to sell nuclear power to European grids – but the plan failed, and construction of the plant ceased in June last year. Kaliningrad Region has plenty of energy of its own, and there is no exporting electricity to customers who do not want to buy it from a plant no-one wants to invest money in. Stopping the Baltic nuclear project was a major success for the environmental movement and Ecodefense owes a great debt of gratitude to its partners in Europe, who helped make it happen.

Russia's 'Foreign Agent' law

In 2012, Russia adopted the notorious law that forces to register as "foreign agents" non-governmental organisations that engage in "political activities" and also receive funding from abroad. Since then, no organisation actually engaged in political activity has come to harm from the new law. Rather, trouble started for those who have always distanced themselves from the political process and focused on protecting the rights of Russian citizens.

Having completed its inspection of Ecodefense in early June, the Ministry of Justice asserted in its summary of inspection that Ecodefense is a "foreign agent" by saying that "the organisation has been conducting political activity, including in the interests of foreign [funding] sources." Now, the justice ministry sees Ecodefense's campaign against the Baltic nuclear plant as political, not environmental activity. This, after Fukushima and Chernobyl – two catastrophes that showed to the world what irreparable environmental harm nuclear power can wreak. The accusation appears all the more absurd if one takes into account that opposition to the Baltic nuclear plant is a sentiment shared by a large majority of Kaliningrad residents.

Ecodefense's position

Given the scarce resources, the day-to-day work that the organisation has been created to do is thus effectively finished; what follows is inspections, more inspections, court hearings, and fines. This naturally forces the organisation to stop its activities and close because a non-profit group like Ecodefense does not earn any money. The Ministry of Justice was well aware of this situation.

And yet, this is not the main problem, and not the main reason why the status of a "foreign agent" is unacceptable to the group. Agreeing to be labeled as a "foreign agent" would mean compromising one's moral standards and misleading the public. Ecodefense has always conducted its activities in accordance with decisions made by its board, a council consisting of Russian citizens, and never in the interests of any foreign citizens, organisations, or governments. As a matter of principle, Ecodefense has never in its history participated in politics – elections or any other actions aimed at gaining access to political power. Never has our organisation even agitated for or endorsed any politician, Russian or foreign.

Being designated as a "foreign agent" would harm the reputation we have worked for many years to build and would create a false impression that environmental work is undertaken in the interest of foreign entities when in fact it is undertaken to defend the ecological rights of Russian citizens.

Therefore, Ecodefense will never agree to the "foreign agent" status. We know that Russian courts almost always side with the state, and we do not entertain high hopes for a just decision when we face these charges in court. But some little hope we do hold out – and we will fight to continue our work in Russia. Russia's environmental situation is too severe to abandon this fight.

Support Ecodefense

You can help Ecodefense in these ways:

Please donate to help us to cover legal costs (we have two lawsuits proceeding presently). Our contact details are listed below.

Organisations are asked to sign the letter initiated by Friends of the Earth France and WISE Amsterdam − see the box below.

Organisations or individuals can write your own letter. Please mention two most important points – protesting nuclear power is not a crime; and Ecodefense is not anyone's agent, it is an independent organisation campaigning for an environmentally-sustainable and nuclear-free future. Write to:

Mr. Alexander Konovalov

Minister of Justice of the Russian Federation

14 Zhitnaya Str. Moscow, Russia

Official municipal post-1, 119991

Contact Ecodefense: ph +7 903 299 7584, e-mail, web (in Russian)

Solidarity Statement for Ecodefense

Organisations willing to endorse the following statement are asked to contact Friends of the Earth France ( or WISE Amsterdam ( as soon as possible.

On July 21st, the Russian government included one the oldest environmental non-governmental organization Ecodefense on the Ministry of Justice "foreign agent" roster. As national and international organizations from many countries, we strongly condemn this decision that criminalizes environmental defenders and supporters of social and environmental justice.

We strongly condemn this decision of the Russian authorities that was taken while proceedings to determine their status have either not yet concluded or even started and that leaves some these organizations without any recourse to contest this labelling.

We are very concerned about the adoption of the "foreign agent" law in November 2012 and the motivations for this adoption as only this environmental organization – Ecodefense − and several more human rights groups are listed in the "foreign agents" roster right now.

While the Russian authorities should protect human rights and support the organizations that help it to do so by bringing human rights violations in Russia to light, this decision illustrates threaten even more democratic rights and leave Russian citizens under the threat of arbitrary choices.

We also particularly condemn the listing of the environmental association Ecodefense for the campaign against Baltic nuclear plant construction near Kaliningrad. Protesting nuclear power cannot be considered as a crime and discussing risks of nuclear is a democratic right. We have been working with Ecodefense for many years and acknowledged the quality of its work as an organization that works independently from any other political power for the people and the environment in Russia and elsewhere.

We urge you to stop repression and let Ecodefense as other environmental and human rights organizations work free in Russia. We called the Russian authorities to reverse their decision to include Ecodefense on the "foreign agent" roster and repeal the November 2012 "foreign agent" law, which brings under threat civil and democratic rights.

Russia: 36,000 signatures to prevent reactor construction

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
WISE Amsterdam

(October 1, 2009) Northeast of Moscow) were handed to the Russian Presidents’ administration. The signatures were collected among the inhabitants of the 30km zone around the proposed construction site, in the towns of Murom and Navashin. Environmental and anti-nuclear activists are still subject of state harassment.

Prior to handing the signatures to the Presidents’ Administration, the environmentalists presented them to the media at the Independent Press-Center in Moscow. According to Vasily Vakhlyaev, member of the Murom City Council, the results of the public opinion poll indicate that 95% of the Murom residents strictly oppose the construction of the nuclear power plant.

Vladimir Slivyak of Ecodefense reported on numerous shortcomings of the Nizhny Novgorod nuclear power plant project. For instance, it is unclear what the plans are for nuclear waste treatment. According to the project documentation, spent nuclear fuel will be transported to a plant, which does not exist and is not planned to be built. Thus, high-level radioactive waste which will present danger for at least 240,000 years and for which there is no safe disposal technology, may remain in Nizhny Novgorod region forever. So, what is actually under discussion – a nuclear reactor or nuclear waste dumping site? It looks like both.

Well-known scientist and member of the Russian Academy of Science, Alexei Yablokov stated that a simple nationwide switch to energy-efficient light bulbs would save so much energy that new nuclear reactors will not be needed. He called for cancellation of the nuclear energy development program in Russia stating it as dangerous, expensive, and uneffective. At the press-conference Yablokov said nuclear energy has direct effect on sickness and death rates.

Earlier, on September 1, over 3,000 of Murom town’ residents took part in an anti-nuclear rally where both local authorities and activists of Ecodefense criticized the project of nuclear plant and urged local citizens to not be afraid to raise voices.

And on September 4, two activists, Vladimir Slivyak, who co-chairs Ecodefence, and the group’s nuclear physicist, Andrei Ozharovsky, on their way to a public hearing, were plucked from the crowd and detained by police at a local precinct. They were given no reason for their four hours detention.  “They simply held us until almost the end of the (public) hearings and let us go,” Slivyak told Bellona Web. Materials the two were carrying with them regarding nuclear energy were taken from them during their stay with the police, and after the rally was over, they were released and their literature returned.

The rally was in protest of ecological groups, other NGOs and other members of the public not being able to participate in open hearings on the construction of a nuclear power plant in the Nizhny Novgorod region.

Aside from representatives of Ecodefence, members of other environmental organisations – as well as members of the general public – were also turned away. The police had formed a well fortified barrier around the building were the hearings were to take place. Local residents who turned out to oppose the plant at the open hearings, were not able to pass through even the first police cordon. City officials from the town of Murom – which is 30 kilometres from the building site – were also turned away.

The Nizhny Novgorod Nuclear Power Plant is included in the  Russian government’s “General Scheme for the Construction of Electric Energy Installations Until 2020,” but is currently only at the review stage.

It is assumed that the first state of the nuclear station will consist of two reactor blocks. Each reactor will supply 1170 megawatts of power. The first is scheduled to come online in 2017, but a site for the plant has still not been chosen. Two are under consideration – the city of Uren, which is in the north part of the Region, or Monakovo, in the Navash district near Murom.

Exactly a year ago, on September 16, 2008, Russia’s economic crime unit and the Federal Security Service (FSB) raided the Nizhny Novgorod offices of the nationally known Russian environmental organization Dront. They confiscated financial documents, topographical maps and computers from Dront's biodiversity preservation laboratory. The office is accused of under-reporting on its tax return. But experience from earlier attacks on environmental organizations suggested that the real motives for the raid were not tax related, but rather because Dront is an extremely active organisation that is vocal in its opposition to a gamut of environmentally dangerous projects, that are close to the heart of the local administration and its business cronies. Dront is also very active and instrumental in the fight against the plans for new reactors.

Source: Press release Ecodefense, 22 September 2009 / Bellona Web, 18 September 2008 & 7 September 2009
Contact: Vladimir Slyviak, Ecodefense