The EU and Russia are strategic partners with shared environmental concerns and interests at the cross-border, European regional and global levels. The EU and Russia cooperate in regional environmental frameworks such as HELCOM for the Baltic Sea and the Northern Dimension Environmental Partnership as well as the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and its associated conventions. They are also partners in global multilateral environmental agreements and forums including the G20.
Since 2014, the illegal annexation of Crimea and the conflict in Eastern Ukraine have seriously affected the bilateral political dialogue. As a result, some of the policy dialogues and mechanisms of cooperation are temporarily frozen, and sanctions directed at promoting a change in Russia's actions in Ukraine have been adopted. However, Russia remains a natural partner for the EU and a strategic player combating the regional and global challenges.
Russia is the EU's largest neighbour, which has always been reflected in extensive cooperation and exchange over the 25 years prior to the current crisis.
Basis of EU-Russia Cooperation
The current legal basis for EU-Russia relations is the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) which came into force in 1997, initially for 10 years. Since 2007 it has been renewed annually. It established a political framework for regular consultation between the EU and Russia, based on the principles of respect for democracy and human rights, political and economic freedom, and commitment to international peace and security. Furthermore, the PCA is complemented by sectorial agreements covering a wide range of policy areas, including political dialogue, trade, science and technology, education, energy and environment, transport, and prevention of illegal activities. Some of these dialogues and consultations have been suspended following the annexation of Crimea.
The EU-Russia Environmental Dialogue
A formal EU-Russia environmental dialogue under this common space was launched in 2006 with high-level meetings (Permanent Partnership Council – PPC on Environment) held approximately every two years. The dialogue is conducted by DG Environment for the EU and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Ecology (MNRE) for the Russian Federation. The meeting planned for March 2014 was postponed following the invasion of Crimea and has not, as yet, been rescheduled.
Bilaterally, the European Union and Russia have been co-operating on environmental questions since 1995. Over the past two decades, the EU has provided support for numerous projects aimed at improving environmental standards in Russia.
Currently, the EU is channelling its support to environment action through its on-going partnerships' initiatives – the Cross-Border Cooperation (CBC), the Northern Dimension (ND) and the Partnership Instrument.
The Northern Dimension Environmental Partnership (NDEP) is a result-focused initiative responding to calls from the international community, in particular Russia and Belarus, for concerted action to tackle the most pressing environmental problems in the Northern Dimension area - a broad area around the Barents and Baltic seas. The NDEP's objective is to help to tackle the problem of pollution caused by poor waste-water treatment, insufficient energy efficiency measures and inadequate municipal, agricultural and nuclear waste management. The overall pledged size of the Northern Dimension support fund is € 353 million, with the EU as the largest contributor with a total of € 84 million. Of this €44 million goes to environment projects (with €40 million going to nuclear projects).