An Inexplicable Neglect? Russia’s Relation to the Environment in the Post-Soviet Period

The argument is often made that much of Russia’s policy in the post-Soviet period is determined by the search for its lost status as a superpower. In the Putin era, this has been exemplified by the celebration of Russia’s land, history, and civilizational values – a set of vaguely defined conservative traits. Nevertheless, as this presentation shows based on a discourse and content analysis of televised speeches by Russian leaders from 1992 to 2020 and on archival research, environmental protection has been absent from Russian elites’ discourse. The latter finding is surprising given that one might have expected Russia’s rich nature to stand in the same category as its territory, history, and be associated with Russian identity. The fact that this was not so correlates with Russian authorities’ reluctance to tackle environmental issues, exemplified by their inadequate response to the recurrent man-made disasters striking Russia. The presentation explores the reasons for this disregard for the environment. It argues that it is (1) both a legacy and a break with the Soviet period, (2) a complex issue that the dysfunctional Russian regime cannot effectively address, and (3) one that contradicts the emphasis put by Russian authorities on economic and traditional security aspects.