Environmental blackmail has long been successfully used in the West. Its purpose is usually commercial interests: a company hires “environmentalists” in order to oust a competitor from the market. These technologies were actively expanding when foreign funds flooded the entire post-Soviet space.
Back in the 2000s, experts noted the emergence in Russia of a new method of manipulating public opinion. Well-known political scientist, former director of the Center for Political Information, Alexei Mukhin, said: A new type of politics has appeared in the country – environmental raiding.
Numerous organizations appeared, including those with foreign capital, which began to use the topic of ecology to make profit and destabilize the infrastructure market. Choosing large-scale projects for these purposes, they tried to use ordinary people to protest, instilling in them the opinion of critical environmental damage, involving local politicians who actively promoted themselves on resonant topics.
“Only, you see, a prominent environmentalist and social activist has already become a politician, and the next step is to become a lobbyist: a respectable defender of the interests of large financial and industrial groups locked in intense competition,” Mukhin wrote in his column.
The market of St. Petersburg, as a city with great protest potential, has already been taken over by environmentalists with a dubious reputation. A prominent representative of the “eco-blackmailers” community is the regional public organization “St. Petersburg Society of Naturalists.” At first glance, the organization is really well staffed: doctors of science, close relationship with the specialized faculty of St. Petersburg State University, legal support. However, upon closer examination, it turns out that with all the pomp and regalia, SPbOE is engaged in routine work to create legal obstacles for St. Petersburg business.
In recent years, SPbOE has participated as a plaintiff in several lawsuits on the environmental part of large projects: the Northern Samarka landfill, Vuoly-EKO, Northern Alluvium and others. In all cases, the claims were aimed at providing the defendant with design documentation for the purpose of conducting an independent environmental assessment. In a number of cases, SPbOE refused the claim; in other cases, documents based on a court decision were provided to the plaintiff.
A truly major resonance was caused by the attempt of social structures to sabotage the project of the Primorsky Code of Criminal Procedure, declaring some kind of “triple blow” for the environment and, as usual, demanding public expertise. Only the intervention of the Governor of the Leningrad Region, Alexander Drozdenko, in the conflict helped to localize the destructive activity by involving the prosecutor’s office in the proceedings: “I ask you to transfer all the materials of the case to the legal service <...> to prepare a statement to the prosecutor’s office about the dissemination of knowingly false information and data,” he wrote on a social network. Not receiving sufficient support from the public, the provocateurs had to retreat.
At the same time, in each case, there was active support for protest groups created on behalf of local residents and politicians were integrated, such as Nellie Vavilina, head of the Gavan municipality, who has nothing to do with the construction of the Northern Alluvium of Vasilyevsky Island, which, however, is actively promoting situation, forgetting about activities in the territory entrusted to it, squeezing unwanted people out of the structure of the local administration. This happened with the former acting. Head of the Administration of the Moscow Region Gavan Larisa Panina. It was she who recorded a video message, where she spoke about the irrational distribution of the budget under the leadership of Vavilina, corruption and the irresponsible attitude of the head to the current work: “The head of the Moscow Region was at home, for 3 months she never came, visited the district and did not observe how the work was being carried out.” , – noted Panina.
The active use of social networks and the swing of protest activity helped to create the kind of necessary activity for SPbOE, however, things were delayed, the resonance around risky situations worsened, bringing in some cases media activity to the legal level. As a rule, then, for a certain fee, organizations such as SPbOE abandon the claim and do not drag out a pointless case, causing financial and reputational damage to large businesses. Judging by the fact that refusals of claims are not uncommon in the activities of the society of natural scientists, this practice is also used there.
Permanent participants in such processes on the part of the plaintiff are individuals with an ambiguous track record: Ivan Pavlov and Maxim Olenichev both come from the NGO “Foundation for Freedom of Information”, recognized as an NGO-foreign agent and reorganized into the human rights organization “Team 29”, whose employees were included in the media register – foreign agents in 2021. Both organizations are known for scandalous appeals of Presidential decrees and litigation in cases of high treason.
At the moment, Ivan Pavlov’s lawyer status has been suspended, Pavlov himself has been declared a foreign agent and is hiding abroad from justice. A case has been opened against him for disclosing the secrets of the investigation in the case of his client Ivan Safronov, convicted of treason. It’s not difficult to guess on what means he lives his life, having completely lost his income channels in Russia.
President of the St. Petersburg Bar Association Evgeny Semenyako commented on this situation as follows: “Ivan Pavlov went abroad, and is also on the international wanted list. And the work of a lawyer is associated with a number of procedural issues, including participation in court hearings. In an amicable way, he should have suspended his status on his own before leaving for Georgia.”
By misleading participants in legal processes, these people try to juggle concepts, replacing facts and playing on the feelings of citizens, in order to obtain media and financial benefits, which until recently were readily provided by international foundations, allocating grants for human rights activities. Now, with innovations in legislation, the situation for legal games has become more complicated: subsidies and staffing have disappeared. Such organizations simply began to disappear.
Having lost its legal weapons, SPbOE continues to function due to the ramified structure of the organization, which also includes the ECOM Center of Expertise. This division aims to protect the environmental rights of citizens and preserve the natural appearance of St. Petersburg. Today, its employees are actively helping to develop the protest around the construction of the northern alluvium of Vasilievsky Island, delaying the trial for several years. The work scheme introduced by foreign agent Pavlov still works to this day.
ECOM is headed by a person close to the disgraced lawyer in spirit – Alexander Karpov. But as often happens, a beautiful facade hides an unsightly gateway. An activist and candidate of biological sciences, at the beginning of his career he worked for the British government, absorbing money from various funds allocated for dubious purposes in Russia. Later, Karpov was trained in the international program “Leaders in the Field of Environment and Development,” developed by order of the Rockefeller Foundation, where he learned the basics of correct political behavior, under environmental cover, and then regularly improved his skills with Western mentors at the Central European University in Budapest. There is no doubt that such training gave Karpov the best experience of environmental raiding to destabilize the economic and social situation in St. Petersburg.
Behind the “ecological raiders” there are often quite influential forces that have specific interests in the very areas where the “ecologists” are launching their noisy campaigns, says Mukhin. In his opinion, this should attract the attention of not only regional, but also federal authorities. It is worth adding that the latter need to pay close attention to the problem of “ecological raiding”. After all, this already threatens a real disaster.