18th Mar 2018


Eco-cooperation with Russia vital for Baltics despite sanctions

  • Continuation of the environmental cooperation regardless of the political situation in the Baltic Sea region is a legitimate demand (Photo: Mikko Itälahti)

Ministers of all nine Baltic Sea states and the European Union meet in Brussels (6 March) for the Helsinki Commission's, HELCOM, ministerial meeting. This meeting is of utmost importance.

From 1997 to 2017 about €1bn, of which approximately one-third comprise international loans and grants and two-thirds domestic Russian resources, have been designated to environmental projects in St Petersburg.

  • Finnish politician Christina Gestrin: Political tension in the Baltic region has serious negative consequences for environmental cooperation, (Photo: Magnus Fröderberg/

The results are visible in the eastern part of the Gulf of Finland, where the ecological state of the sea has improved as the discharge of pollution from St Petersburg has significantly decreased.

But the long era of positive development ended abruptly in 2014 with the political conflict that emerged when Russia invaded Ukraine.

The political tension in the region has continued since then, and it has had serious negative consequences for environmental cooperation.

Due to the sanctions it was decided that EU institutions were not to facilitate or finance new environmental projects and investments in Russia.

The Nordic Investment Bank (NIB) has followed the same strict principles as the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the European Investment Bank (EIB).

Consequently, only project agreements that were signed before the crisis in 2014 have been or will be implemented and completed.

Wastewater and sewage

Many challenges will therefore remain unresolved, including 184 sites in the Leningrad region (as the area around St Petersburg is still called) that are without properly working wastewater treatment plants and sewage systems.

Rapidly growing agricultural industries of cattle, pig and poultry production are serious, unresolved environmental threats.

The greatest danger in the Baltic Sea is associated with Krasny Bor, a landfill for hazardous waste situated close to St Petersburg.

A major leakage of toxic compounds would have a profound impact on the freshwater supply in this city of over five million inhabitants.

Southwest of St Petersburg is Sosnovy Bor, one of Russia's nuclear towns with four old nuclear power plants of the Chernobyl-type still operating, and four new nuclear power plants under construction. It is also a testing site for nuclear reactors for submarines and large amounts of radioactive waste.

EU citizens at risk

The objective of the sanctions against Russia is to weaken economic interaction with Russia.

It seems like common sense to make an exemption for action that reduces the environmental risk for millions of EU citizens living the Baltic Sea region; to allow European and Nordic financial institutions to contribute to projects carried out within the area.

Otherwise, interactions between environmental authorities will weaken and the exchange of information and communication in the Baltic Sea region will be hampered.

This will in the long run result in an increased number of critical situations, risking the security of people and the environment in the whole Baltic Sea region.

Continuation of the environmental cooperation regardless of the political situation in the Baltic Sea region is a legitimate demand.

The positive development of the environmental cooperation in the Baltic Sea region is at stake, and we, the people living in the Baltic Sea region, cannot allow a deterioration of the cooperation.

Christina Gestrin has been a member of the Finnish parliament, member of the Nordic Council, observer in HELCOM and chaired the Baltic Sea Parliamentary Conference 2008-2001. The Nordic Council has recently published her report Environmental Co-operation in the Baltic Sea Region

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