Analysis & Opinions - Ukraine War Environmental Consequences Work Group

What Does Russia’s War in Ukraine Mean for Global Biodiversity Conservation Efforts?

| Mar. 27, 2024

Note: First and foremost we recognize that Putin’s war is decimating Ukraine’s people, culture, and natural heritage. This article is not to place the Arctic region ahead of Ukraine in any manner. Rather, it is an additive piece of the picture needed to understand the ramifications of the destruction of relations between the West and Russia.

This article explores some of the environmental consequences of Russia’s war in Ukraine that are being felt far beyond the battlefields. In the high latitudes of the Arctic, thirty years of collaboration between Russia and the West in the fields of biological research and monitoring – as well as environmental protection – contributed to understanding and conserving transboundary species and ecosystems. For the last two years, however, most international science programs (with the exception of space exploration) have excluded Russian participation. In wildlife and climate-related studies, the severing of ties is hampering global efforts to track climate change and protect biodiversity.

Efforts to hold ground

In the immediate aftermath of Russia’s barbaric attack on Ukraine, western governments appropriately ceased diplomatic relations with Russia and rushed to implement punitive sanctions on Russian oligarchs, businesses, and organizations. Indeed, the US and Europe were quick to sever communications with nearly all of their Russian government partners. In the days and weeks that followed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a giant “whoosh” could be heard across the northern hemisphere as hundreds of Western businesses pulled up stakes and left in a hurry.

Over the previous decade, increasing tensions between the West and Russia had already created many operational challenges for western NGOs and scientific organizations working in Russia. New bureaucratic demands regularly required new contortions to move equipment or samples across borders. A number of conservationists, including employees of World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Pacific Environment, were harassed and detained on flimsy charges. Nevertheless, these groups still found ways to operate and remained determined to continue collaborating with their Russian partners. Some NGOs such as WWF were even weathering the difficulties of “foreign agent” designations, treading with caution while trying to hold their ground. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, however, was a turning point and many international organizations decided it was time to go.

This recent exodus of western partners from Russia and the abrupt end of joint conservation and research programs are now taking a toll on science and conservation at a time on the planet when cooperation is needed more than ever. 

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Williams, Margaret.“What Does Russia’s War in Ukraine Mean for Global Biodiversity Conservation Efforts?.” Ukraine War Environmental Consequences Work Group, March 27, 2024.