Russia must pay for environmental damage in Ukraine, international group says

Ukraine should seek reparations from Russia for environmental costs such as contamination by land mines, a group of international figures including climate activist Greta Thunberg and European politicians said in a report on Friday.

The recommendations, intended for both Ukraine and the international community, include establishing a high-level body to oversee the collection and preservation of evidence of environmental impacts and appointing an official to oversee climate-friendly reconstruction.

The group’s report points to the land mine contamination of Ukrainian soil and the breach of the Kakhovka Dam last June, which flooded swathes of arable land and sensitive ecosystems, among other environmental impacts.

Legal experts assisting Ukraine said it was highly likely Russia was behind the collapse. Russian President Vladimir Putin accused Ukraine of destroying the dam as a Western-backed tactic to escalate the conflict.

The international group, established last year by Ukraine’s presidential administration to investigate issues ranging from nuclear safety to soil pollution, unveiled 50 recommendations aimed at tracking damage from the nearly two-year invasion, holding Russia accountable and charting a green recovery.

“The president gave us a formidable task,” said co-chair Margot Wallstrom, a former Swedish foreign minister. “The world is lacking agreement on standards for measuring environmental damages (from war).”

“Ukraine will be seen as a pioneer,” she said.

Wallstrom and several other members of the 12-person group, including European Union Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius and European Parliament Vice President Heidi Hautala were in Kyiv on Friday, where they met President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to discuss the report.

“We must find common responses to all environmental threats caused by war,” Zelenskiy said on social media together with footage of the meeting. “Without this, there will be no return to normal, stable life.”

The report recommended that Ukraine’s prosecutor general develop a strategy for prosecuting wartime environmental damage and consider ratifying the Rome Statute, which established the International Criminal Court.

The group also recommended that Ukraine speed up development of its Mine Action Strategy and create national guidance on the removal of toxic waste, such as asbestos-laden rubble and contaminated sediment from the Kakhovka Dam breach.

To pay for such work, the group “encouraged all avenues for reparation to be considered”, including using Russian state assets that have been frozen in overseas accounts.

“I think the moment will come when there is a legally sound solution,” Hautala said, referring to the application of those assets to environmental damages.

Russia’s upper house of parliament has asked the Finance Ministry to draw up a law that would impose retaliatory measures on the West if it moves against frozen Russian assets.

Brussels agreed last December to open membership negotiations with Kyiv, but has laid out an array of policy reforms, including on the environment and climate change.

“I hope that with the outcome of today, we can only reinforce this effort and, of course, soon have Ukraine (as) part of the European Union,” Sinkevicius, the EU environment commissioner, said.

© Thomson Reuters 2024.