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Exiled Russian Environmentalist: Russia’s Uranium Sales to U.S. & Europe Help Putin Fund Ukraine War

StoryNovember 18, 2022
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We continue our coverage from the U.N. climate conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, with prominent Russian environmentalist Vladimir Slivyak, co-chair of the Russian environmental organization Ecodefense and winner of the 2021 Right Livelihood Award for defending the environment and mobilizing grassroots opposition to the coal and nuclear industries in Russia. Slivyak says the Russian war in Ukraine, especially the Russian occupation of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, should serve as a warning to immediately transition to renewable energy sources, not nuclear energy, and to stop relying on fossil fuels. “As long as the United States and European Union continue to pay Vladimir Putin for uranium or fossil fuel, that means that this money will be used for the war in Ukraine. That means more people will die in Ukraine,” he adds.

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StoryNov 18, 2022Ukrainian Climate Scientist Says Fossil Fuels Enabled Russian War in Ukraine
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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

As we continue to broadcast from U.N. climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, we’re joined now by the prominent Russian environmentalist Vladimir Slivyak. He’s co-chair of the Russian environmental group Ecodefense. Last year he won the Right Livelihood Award, the “alternative Nobel Peace Prize,” for defending the environment and mobilizing grassroots opposition to the coal and nuclear industries in Russia. He’s now living in exile in Germany but is joining us here in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

Welcome back to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us, Vladimir. You have been to every single climate summit since the first one back in 1995 in Berlin?

VLADIMIR SLIVYAK: Yeah, that’s true.

AMY GOODMAN: So, can you talk about your experience here, a bit different from the past, with your own country, Russia, at war with Ukraine, and what that means when it comes to climate catastrophes?

VLADIMIR SLIVYAK: Well, first of all, I can say that Russia been very silent at these negotiations. I mean, there was couple of events, but obviously officials don’t want to risk and get into trouble with Ukrainian people, and they’re afraid of them. And the only governmental side event happened two days ago, and there was a lot of Ukrainian activists who were at the side event. They were shouting. They were, you know, giving really hard time to Russian officials. And —

AMY GOODMAN: Did you agree with their position?

VLADIMIR SLIVYAK: I am totally agree with them. Russia started bloody war in Ukraine that should be stopped immediately. Ukraine must be free, and Russia should withdraw its troops from Ukraine, absolutely.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about what your greatest concerns are? I mean, the whole discussion about a possible nuclear bomb, or nuclear power plant becoming a kind of bomb if it is attacked, and what that means? That has long been your work.

VLADIMIR SLIVYAK: Well, for the first time in history, we’re witnessing how one country is taking over another country’s nuclear plant and actually threatening to — well, with nuclear accident. And at the same time, this country, which is Russia, is also threatening the world with starting nuclear war. And, I mean, we’ve never seen it in the history. I hope we will never see it again in the history, anything like this. But I think it’s totally irresponsible. And it’s done by Vladimir Putin regime. And from my point of view, unfortunately, my country became a fascist state. And I really mean it when I’m saying it. Well, I just hope there will be system change and a regime change in Russia, so activists will have another chance to continue working there.

AMY GOODMAN: How do you think that will happen?

VLADIMIR SLIVYAK: Well, I think there is quite some chance the regime will fall by itself, because so many things been done so wrong in Russia. And I think that, well, our best chance is that this regime is just too weak. It was not designed for a war. It was designed for peaceful times. So, I mean, it’s a big question for me whether this regime will actually survive the war it started.

AMY GOODMAN: Vladimir Slivyak, there was a BBC correspondent who was removed from a Russian side event. Can you talk about what actually happened there and the question that that reporter was asking?

VLADIMIR SLIVYAK: Well, the reporter asked a question about war in Ukraine, about Russian war in Ukraine, and Russian responsibility. And the security just removed him from the room. And obviously, security was informed by the Russian delegation to remove people who talking about war, because this is what they wanted to avoid, basically. They thought they could avoid speaking about war at this side event.

AMY GOODMAN: Your organization, Ecodefense, together with the Helsinki Committee, one of Russia’s oldest human rights groups, filed a lawsuit, one of the first climate-related lawsuits, against the Russian Federation. Can you talk about what your demands are and what the latest news is about this lawsuit?

VLADIMIR SLIVYAK: Well, our demands are very simple: We want climate action from Russian government. Russian government has never been doing anything for climate. There is not any plans to reduce use of fossil fuel. There are not any plans to develop renewable sources of energy. And in general, that’s some kind of a policy that you would expect 50 years ago from a big country, but not now, not in the 21st century.

So, all we wanted — and we applied to high court in Russia, and we wanted court should decide that Russian government should actually finally start doing something for climate, means reducing pollution and emissions, means reducing use of fossil fuel and start to develop renewable energy. Our appeal was turned down, so we’re now going with it to European Court on Human Rights.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you something. As we walk through the pavilions, we see a whole nuclear energy stall, let’s say. It’s way larger than a stall. And you see a lot of people wearing T-shirts: “Ask me about nuclear energy.” The International Atomic Energy Agency, for the first time in the 27 years of this U.N. climate summit, has set up presentations for nuclear energy. Can you talk about the significance of this and this being posed as an answer to fossil fuels?

VLADIMIR SLIVYAK: It’s unprecedented. It has never been like that in the previous COPs. We have never seen that big activity of the nuclear industry. And I think the reason is very clear, this industry being in the decline over a very long period of time. Well, it’s first time in the last 40 years when the generation of nuclear energy is below 10% globally. In the global energy balance, it’s now less than 10%. At the same time, renewable energy is growing very fast, and it produces more than 10% over global energy. And, of course, nuclear industry feel threatened. They feel like it’s their last chance to advertise. They feel like if they cannot get some piece of this climate money now, and if they cannot push countries for ordering more nuclear reactors, it may very well be the end of the nuclear industry globally. So that’s why they became so much active now and they’re lobbying so much.

And I also want to say that here at the negotiations, it’s great that we have a coalition of nongovernmental organizations called Don’t Nuke the Climate. They published a very good statement this morning condemning nuclear power and saying nuclear power cannot save the climate. And it’s very simple, and it’s very simple to describe why.

The first thing, it takes very long to build nuclear reactors. Like, for example, if you decide if you would be the country that decided to build nuclear reactors, you would spend close to 20 years from the moment you plan the rector to the moment that generate electricity. And we don’t need climate action in 20 years; we need it today. I mean, time is running out.

The second thing, it’s very expensive. It’s an extremely expensive source of energy. It’s much more expensive than everything else on Earth. And compared to renewable energy, renewable has been getting cheaper and cheaper and cheaper over the last decade. You cannot even compare it.

And, of course, the third thing, a nuclear accident. We all remember Fukushima 2011, Chernobyl 1986. Nuclear power can be extremely dangerous for people and the environment, and should not be allowed to be an instrument of a climate action.

AMY GOODMAN: Vladimir Slivyak, Russia is the third-largest supplier of uranium to the United States. Now, President Biden has banned oil and gas imports from Russia, but not uranium. Talk about the significance of this.

VLADIMIR SLIVYAK: Well, I’ve been a campaigner, I mean, this year, almost the whole year. I’m acting as an antiwar campaigner. I’m going around different countries, meeting politicians, talking to media, doing public talks, on basically only one issue. And this issue is stop war in Ukraine.

And it’s very important to understand how war in Ukraine became possible. It became possible because Vladimir Putin accumulated enough money. And he got enough money to start this war because the Western countries, European Union and the United States, been paying Russian regime over a very long period of time incredibly big money for the energy resources, for fossil fuel, for uranium.

And in Europe, where I’m mostly working now, we can hear a lot of statements about fossil fuel, and I think Europe is doing good about the embargo for fossil fuel, but we almost hear none — no information on the uranium delivery from Russia. And this is what I’m campaigning right now on. While U.S. is dependent on Russian uranium delivery, Europe is also dependent on it. It’s almost 20% of uranium supplied by Russia to the EU, and it’s another almost 20% supplied by Kazakhstan, and production of uranium in Kazakhstan is basically under control of Russia. So it’s close to half of uranium that’s used in Europe today coming from Russia.

But the most important thing to understand, that it’s still possible to do something with this dependence. And why we should do something about this dependence, for one very simple reason: As long as the United States and European Union continue to pay Vladimir Putin for uranium or fossil fuel, that means that this money will be used for the war in Ukraine. That means more people will die in Ukraine, because U.S. and the EU cannot stop it.

AMY GOODMAN: We have to leave it there, but I want to thank you so much for being with us.

VLADIMIR SLIVYAK: Welcome.

AMY GOODMAN: Vladimir Slivyak, co-chair of the leading Russian environmental organization Ecodefense.

That does it for our show. The U.N. climate summit is expected to go through the weekend. We’ll be reporting more on it on Monday.

A very happy belated birthday to our digital editor Ishmael Daro. Special thanks to our U.K. and Cairo-based AP team here for a great week at Democracy Now! at COP27.

Oh, and Democracy Now! co-host Juan González will be giving a speech today at the Columbia School of Journalism reflecting on his 40 years of fighting for racial and social justice in journalism. Check out our website at democracynow.org.

Special thanks to our team here and in New York. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks for joining us.

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Ukrainian Climate Scientist Says Fossil Fuels Enabled Russian War in Ukraine

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