Central Europe Review: politics, society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 1, No 16
11 October 1999

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E N V I R O N M E N T:
Working with Russia
The ups and downs of international environmental collaboration
(Part 5)

John Massey Stewart

Although much time, money and effort have gone into solving Russia's vast environmental problems, not all of it has been effective. Last year an independent survey questioned a broad range of those working to save the Russian environment on what has been going wrong, what has been going right and why (see part 1, part 2, part 3 and part 4).

The survey's 55 respondents included many leading non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Russia and the West, as well as representatives of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the World Bank and the European Commission. Individual respondents included Russia's environmental minister, Prof Viktor Danilov-Danilyan and Russia's best known environmentalist and former Environmental Counsellor to Boris Yeltsin, Prof Alexei Yablokov. All of these respondents gave full and frank responses to a series of questions on aspects of international environmental collaboration (see disclaimer). Although they all spoke with specific reference to Russia, the vast majority of what they said could be applied to any Central or Eastern European country, or indeed to any country anywhere.

In the final installment of this five-part series we give the summary recommendations that the respondents themselves gave as to how to be more effective in environmental collaboration.

Sixty-three recommendations

Recommendations for Westerners

Involve Russians

1. "Contact NGOs, local residents and universities from the start and show a willingness to co-operate and listen." (Jennie Sutton, Baikal Environmental Wave)

2. Avoid Moscow or the money will only go to those regions that have blat (power and influence), warns Lisa Tracey of the Ottawa Peace and Environment Resource Centre (PERC). Work closely with the local group, she advises, ask them how they want you to act with the media and local officials and "never give the impression that you are in charge" or that the local organisation receiving Western funds no longer represents local interests. "And don’t go in and try to create by decree a large organisation with a large agenda. Allow broad-based grassroots to evolve organically. Establish what the real needs are by speaking with local scientists. Don’t just go for the trendy issues. And don’t be outsiders."

3. "Back local consultants, not Western ones." (Andrei Laletin, Friends of Siberian Forests)

4. "We can’t tackle the underlying issues unless we include and educate the population and are driven by demand from the local population." (Laurence Mee, formerly of the Black Sea Environmental Programme - BSEP)

5. "We [Initiative for Social Action and Renewal in Eurasia - ISAR] have a local board exclusively consisting of Russians, who take all the final decisions."(Eliza Klose, ISAR)

Be culturally aware

6. "Don’t just transplant or impose standard projects and procedures which may have been successful elsewhere." (Eija Kiiskinen, Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development - OECD)

7. There is a "need to be aware of the tremendous level of expertise and cultural depth that the Russians have... They’re naïve in terms of the possibility of democracy and democratic systems - they’ve had no experience. But in terms of the subtlety of political intercourse, they are probably masterminds." (IFI representative)

8. A quote from President Yeltsin: "It is important to remember just one thing. Russia must always be addressed in a tone or respect because our people will never accept anything else from any country." Financial Times, May 10, 1994.

9. Allocate aid to independent organisations controlled by Western institutions as many different constituent parts of the Russian Federation are affected. Tatyana Petrova (Ministry of Natural Resources).

10. Use grassroots, ensure participation. "Put money into the grassroots: a small amount of money can go a long way, and grassroots organisations will end up training their own staff and being sustainable when the funding runs out." (Lisa Tracey, PERC.)

11. "People have to be actively engaged in these processes if they’re going to make a difference, because nobody 'up there' will" (Laurence Mee, formerly of BSEP.)

Build trust

12. "Share data openly and honestly. Put your cards on the table." (anonymous international funding institute representative)

Think small

13. "Over-ambitious projects are more likely to go wrong than small projects. It is more difficult to spend wisely 1 million than 50,000 euros. Agencies should invest more in small projects, even if it complicates their bureaucracy. Involvement of penny-saving NGOs is fundamental. They are often more cost-efficient than governments." (Eladio Fernandez-Galiano, Council of Europe)

14. "Small disbursements are more flexible and more regular," (Christopher Le Breton, formerly of Technical Assistance to the Commonwealth of Independent States - TACIS), while "Large funds are very volatile and potentially counter-productive." (Eliza Klose, ISAR)

15. "Work on the soft side of technology, improving management systems – it's not necessary to change technology en masse." (Eija Kiiskinen, OECD)

Plan carefully

16. "Focus on concrete projects and tasks." (Viktor Danilov-Danilyan, State Committee for Environmental Protection)

17. "Identify problems, organise costed and targeted action plans for their solution and donors’ conferences to raise the necessary funding." (Viktor Shebek. Advisory Committee on the Protection of the Sea - ACOPS)

18. "Problems must be carefully analysed before financing. The principal of spreading your resources thinly over a wider area is simply not appropriate for huge territories." (Pavel Ponomaryov, Ros-Jug)

19. Hartmut Jungius (World Wildlife Fund International) gives as his chief recommendations: Improve co-ordination between the different donors, increase funding and in particular more funding through the NGOs, "which speeds things up, saves money and brings money to where it’s needed".

Be informed

20. "Try to find out what happens in the area you're interested in, what activities there have been and are under way. Find out the needs of the people there. Never rely on one source of information but try to get as broad a picture as possible". (Mara Silina, Friends of the Earth, Europe)

21. "Know who is the key actor on the ground responsible for what." (Eija Kiiskinen, OECD)

22. "There should be proper broad public access to specific information relating to projects." (Oleg Negrobov, Voronezh State University)

23. Set up a database of who's involved to avoid duplications, advises Jennie Sutton (Baikal Environmental Wave). Establish some forum for publishing NGOs' and agencies' internal reports and assessments of projects. Produce good translations of environmental literature.

Ensure continuity, sustainablity

24. "Invest in.projects and structures already up and running" (Vladimir Karpov, Society of Naturalists, St.Petersburg)

25. "Develop and train local consultants, so that projects are sustainable." (Jennie Sutton, Baikal Environmental Wave)

Encourage education

26. "Russia is a very fertile ground for environmental education, because people are genuinely closer to nature there." (Jennie Sutton, Baikal Environmental Wave)

27. "Appropriate training of people, particularly the young, seems to us to be a priority." (Eladio Fernandez-Galiano, Council of Europe)

28. "Education should be targeted, with less aggressive propaganda. Find a common language and get the message across that the problem is with us now." (Vyacheslav Bakhmin, Open Society Institute)


29. "Get the message across that individual citizens can do something themselves and persuade them that Russia’s environmental problems are their problems and that they should be more active in trying to solve them and not wait for the West to do so." (Viktor Shebek, ACOPS)

30. "Make people aware of what the problems are and their own rights within a democracy, that they have the power to influence local government. Target schools and support environmental education programmes – all of a sudden you have 4,000 new citizens with a different attitude." (Laurence Mee, formerly of BSEP)

31. "Provide training in consultancy, procedures, etc." (Jennie Sutton, Baikal Environmental Wave)

32. "Expand training so that we can conduct environmental audits and EIAs to European standards, above all so that we are eligible for loans." (Evgeny Saburov, State Environmental Committee, Yaroslavl oblast)

33. "Charity assistance should be gradually replaced by actual partnership in solving fundamental environmental issues. Highly skilled professsionals, mostly political scientists, lawyers and sociologists have to be involved in this process". (Oleg Yanitsky, Institute of Sociology)

Recommendations to Donors and IFIs

34. Rather than funding specific projects and creating donor dependency, stimulate the democratic process which will enable Russian NGOs to lobby on their own.

35. "The full responsibility for problems or an issue must always be taken by the partner in the country where you are working. This also includes a responsibility for co-funding... I recommend long-term relationships and networks. Don’t enter into co-operation if you don't want to work together in the long term... The Western partner should focus on what it can do and do that well!... Project leaders should be very clear and distinct with their message and in the way they work." (From a presentation by Bo Libert of the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, Umea, 26-27 March, 1998).

Improve donor coordination

36. Co-financing: "Perhaps one of the most likely and logical avenues for development of cooperation to address major environmental problems - especially as the volume of assistance from individual countries declines - is co-financing."

Database creation: "[The] creation of a regularly updated system focussing on environment and resource-related projects would allow for at least a minimal degree of coordination without the costs and logistical problems of organising meetings [...] USAID's ROLL project [Replication of Lessons Learned] may present an ideal framework within which this database could be developed."

Coordination groups: "Foreign donors interested and active in specific areas may find it beneficial to form coordination groups, at which information on all relevant environmental and resource management projects would be distributed and discussed."

Excerpts from Foreign donor assistance for environmental protection and natural resource management in the Russian Federation - an overview of programs and projects and analysis of real and potential coordination. USAID. Moscow, January 1998.

Improve financial mechanisms

37. "There should be clear earmarking of funds for allocation to different areas and regions, [and] selection by Western experts on a competitive basis of those who are to carry out projects..." (Fedor Lisetsky, Belgorod State University).

38. Build in financial flexibility, advises an IFI representative: "Dealing with environmental issues is like hitting a moving target, so an Adjustable Project Loan, where you borrow only an initial portion of the loan and change the details of implementation as you go along, is a very effective system. Insist on more project loan conditionality. Stop all multilateral grants -'free money' - until specific policy objectives have been met."

39. "Offer grants out for tender on a competitive basis." (Alexei Yablokov)

Involve economics

40. "Russia’s environment must be improved/protected in ways that make economic sense. Everyone involved in environmental cooperation, Western or Russian, needs to recognise this basic reality. Anyone unwilling to accept this premise should not be involved in environmental cooperation with Russia." (US government official)

41. Respond more quickly (this to Western organisations) and react to today's situation not to what happened two years ago, advises Eija Kiiskinen (OECD), who complains that Western bureaucracy is beset with too many rigid regulations and procedures while meanwhile the situation changes.

42. Ensure more time, Christopher Le Breton (formerly of TACIS) recommends, to research the correct beneficiaries, include them in programmes and ensure that all counterparts understand their responsibilities.

43. Take a longer term perspective as distinct from a slow pace, advises Eliza Klose (ISAR) in helping to expand the Russian NGO sector "without stop-starts, constant relocations and moving on once you've 'solved' an area's problem."

44. "Create a strong donor co-ordination body – a conference where donors can present their portfolios." (Laurence Mee, formerly of BSEP)

[Author's note: The Moscow Donors Forum, an informal organisation of international donors and not a grant-making body, was set up some two years ago to help coordinate, improve information flows and allow for discussion. e-mail: V.DAVIDOVA@fordfound.org]

45. "Use fewer consultants and keep them in the country, solving the problems from the inside." (Laurence Mee, formerly of BSEP)

46. "Don't be ostentatious," adds Laurence Mee, "we've had a consistent problem with the IFIs generally, that because they're working on expense accounts they have to maintain a high level of expenditure, so they stay in the best hotels. And there's peer pressure from their colleagues on them if they don't: 'Why are you staying in cheap hotels? This will put our expense account down.' "(Laurence Mee, formerly of BSEP)

Recommendations to the Russian Government

47. "It's not the case that more financial help needs to be directed towards Russia, because there are enough resources in the country already. It's a question of how they are spent. Three billion roubles was spent on all the environmental measures in 1997, while nine billion were spent on a fast rail link from St Petersburg to Moscow which is of no use to anyone and only came about because of lobbying. The existing rail link is only used to 40% capacity." (Igor Chestin, WWF-Russia)

Recommendations to Western NGOs

48. "Assist environmentally minded politicians: provide them with researchers and assistants who are fluent in drafting resolutions, proposals, etc., know the procedures and how to run an environment committee. And more on-the-ground dialogue and round-tables." (Christopher Le Breton, formerly of TACIS)

49. "We need to be very solid and supportive of the environmental activists who are speaking up and are simply trying to give information, which there should be public access to anyway, to Western organisations" (Eliza Klose, ISAR)

Recommendations to Russian NGOs

50. "Be patient, be optimistic, and try to solve your problems with the available resources." (Fernandez Eladio-Galiano, Council of Europe).

51. "Don't write a proposal to please a funder if you are not going to do what is in the proposal. Do maintain frequent contact. Do spend the money on what you have written in the proposal. Do make sure your financial books are in order and transparent; this is key in building trust." (Josh Newell, Friends of the Earth, Japan)

52. Critically examine and utilise the experience from abroad, so as not to repeat others' mistakes. (Laurence Mee, formerly of BSEP)

53. "Do not complain about another organisation even if you are competitors for the same project. Do not stress the need for money – this should not be the most dominating thing in your activities. If you start cooperation with one Western organisation on a specific issue, don't do exactly the same thing with other ones; it demands more work from your organisation, and Western ones won't see you as a serious partner." (Mara Silina, Friends of the Earth, Europe)

Recommendations to Business

54. "Russian firms don't have the funds for R&D, so organise industry-specific twinnings and exchanges between firms." (Tim Murphy, EBRD)

55. "The solution to environmental problems is domestic. The strategy may be trans-boundary, but the solution has to be internalised within a particular country's culture and politics – that’s the challenge." (Laurence Mee, formerly of BSEP)

56. Use more twinning programmes with industry associations. In the chemical industry, for instance, there are not only chemicals manufacturers’ associations but sub-groups for phosphates and other substances. They have had to learn about environmental handling management, worker health and safety, etc. Get them to find their counterparts in Russia and they could give invaluable information on such matters with even exchanges of individuals to help on particular problems or issues. "We don’t see a lot of that and it's really unfortunate." (Elizabeth Smith, EBRD)

57. Involve local financial power. "It is absolutely important to involve the local players who have the necessary financial power." One commendable experiment, still only two years old, is an American programme in Ukraine. This established a council to promote sustainable development, bringing together all the key persons from the government – ministers of finance, transport, environment, etc. – with high-ranking figures in joint business ventures to start various projects. Unfortunately, it was started as a US/Ukrainian undertaking and although the 'US' title was later dropped, potential sponsors saw it as an American-Ukrainian venture and tended to stay away. (Branko Bosnjakowic, United Nations/Economic Commission for Europe - UN/ECE)

58. Adopt a larger strategy with clear benefits. "Successful projects must be part of a larger strategy with clear economic, political or national security benefits. They should be defined and executed in bilateral (or, in some cases, trilateral) channels, with support (but not oversight or interference) from relevant multilateral fora. They should be grounded (after some limited period of time, if not initially) in Russian federal legislation, if possible tied to implementation of some international commitment to which Russia is party." (US government official)

Recommendations to the World

59. The main lesson Hartmut Jungius (WWF International) has it that Central and Eastern Europe (including Russia) is now the region in the world where the chance for conservation, particularly setting aside areas for conservation for sustainable use, is greater than anywhere else. "The governments' readiness to set aside lands for sustainable use and for national parks is much greater there than in the West. There's much more openness there to all these problems. We are confronted in the West all the time with the word 'No', 'It's not possible...' and these do not exist in the East. The reason is that ... we're still working in a kind of peaceful revolution which conservation can - and does - use to its advantage."

Jungius finds the perception of Russian leaders completely different from elsewhere and sees Sakha (Yakutia) as an excellent example of the government deciding to set aside one third or one quarter of land as protected areas, not in the sense of national parks, but to provide a support base for the local population and to prevent destructive exploitation.

Russia, he believes, has very much taken a lead, and the readiness to do more of this kind is something we can – and should – learn from her.

Further Recommendations

These recommendations were received after the publication of the original report.

60. "It is imperative that an inventory of programmes and projects be drawn up to include their outcome, cost-effectiveness, and how they correspond to Russia's real priorities, in particular as regards the health of the population. It is essential that the entire approach be revised in the light of this information." (Dr Andrei Demine, President, Russian Public Health Association)

61. The ability of the NGO partners to adapt during the process of collaboration is important. (Dr Andrei Demine, President, Russian Public Health Association)

62. One of the most serious problems is the Russian government policy of development through the sale of natural resources. It needs to change its strategy away from the sale of primary resources. (Evgeny Shvarts, Julia Kuleshova, BCC)

63. To avoid wasting donor funds, control properly-formulated projects strictly and aim at realistic goals at the closest possible level to the actual beneficiaries: local and regional projects are more likely to succeed than federal ones. It is essential to draw up programmes which can be easily monitored and have optimum feasibility and flexibility. (Vladimir Tsirkunov, World Bank, Moscow).

John Massey Stewart, 27 September 1999

A few copies of the original survey, International Environmental Collaboration, Russia: A case study are still available from the author, priced GBP 15 for institutes and GBP 10 for NGOs and individuals. Prices include postage and packing.

More About the Survey

Considering the vast amount of money and effort involved in the West's involvement in attempts to solve Russia's environmental problems it seemed extraordinary that no survey seemed to exist on its effectiveness – or lack thereof. The London Initiative on the Russian Environment resolved to fill the gap. The result was a ground-breaking 38 page booklet International Environmental Collaboration. Russia: A Case Study, (chief editor John Massey Stewart), published for distribution at the major "Environment for Europe" ministerial and NGO conference at Aarhus, Denmark, in June 1998.

This was almost certainly the first comprehensive study of international collaboration on Russia’s environment and was aimed at both politicians and practitioners as well as presenting itself as a replicable model for the NIS as well as CEE. Compiled in association with Eco-Accord, a Moscow NGO, and the Central European University, Budapest, it was funded by the UNEP Regional Office for Europe, Reuters Foundation and an anonymous donor.

Founded in 1993 by John Massey Stewart (a Russian specialist, environmental activist, writer, consultant, and lecturer) - and the Conservation Foundation (a UK registered charity), the London Initiative on the Russian environment's aim is to help encourage, facilitate and co-ordinate the Western response to the Russian environment, working with government officials, international organisations and NGOs. It organised what is thought to have been the first ever conference between European and Russian environmental NGOs (Suzdal,1994), has arranged lectures and workshops, facilitated visits and built an international network of contacts among environmentalists working in the region.

Seven hundred original copies - and 100 photocopies of a Russian translation - were distributed at Aarhus, and EKOS, a leading Russian environmental magazine, has since devoted virtually a whole issue to a reprint in Russian.


The donors, facilitating organisations (Conservation Foundation and its London Initiative on the Russian Environment, Eco-Accord and the Central European University), or the organisations cited in this text do not necessarily agree with the opinions expressed herein, which remain purely the personal opinions of those quoted.





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