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SDGs as a common good: how wars and aggression change the path of sustainability in the world by Nelya Rakhimova, Coalition for Sustainable Development of Russia (CSDR) Chairwoman

(Article coordinated by Lithuanian NGDO Platform, under the project #VBirNVO4.0)

Like all UN member states, Russia declared its commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015. On February 24, 2022, Russia launched a full-scale invasion of the territory of a sovereign state, Ukraine, accompanied by the shelling of peaceful cities. The civil society Coalition for Sustainable Development of Russia (CSDR) has conducted an analysis of the implementation of the SDGs in Russia since February 2022, since the situation in the country changed dramatically due to the outbreak of aggression against Ukraine. In this report, CSDR has reviewed all the SDGs – from human rights to climate change – describing what has changed in the implementation of each of the SDGs since February 24, 2022, and how these changes have affected Russia’s international cooperation.

The results of this analytical work show that state policies and decisions of individuals in power have a huge impact on the achievement of the SDGs. We see that within one year, even those few institutions and mechanisms that contributed to the progress made on the SDGs were eliminated in the country. The country has shifted to a policy of isolation. The expressions such as ‘technological sovereignty’, ‘economic sovereignty’, ‘environmental sovereignty’, and ‘sovereign ESG’ are circulated in political disucssions more often. All this fundamentally contradicts the principles of the SDGs, which aim to achieve sustainable development in a global context.

But even before the invasion, the SDG implementation in Russia looked like a simulation. The Russian government reported on the implementation of the SDGs in 2020 by presenting a Voluntary National Review at the High-level Political Forum at the UN headquarters in New York (in an online format, due to the COVID-19 pandemic). After that, interest in the SDGs at the political level in the country was maintained for a year. At the end of 2020, Anatoly Chubais was appointed the Special Representative of the President of the Russian Federation for Relations with International Organisations to Achieve Sustainable Development Goals. The implementation of the Goals at the local level was also discussed; there were plans to prepare a local review on the implementation of the SDGs in Moscow, but it was never released. The Federal State Statistics Service arranged the release of a yearbook with statistical data for each of the Goals. This yearbook has a very limited set of indicators, but nevertheless, work continues, and in December 2022 a statistical yearbook with data for 2021 was released.

At the end of 2021, it was clear that the state’s interest in the SDGs was only a formality. At the beginning of the invasion of Ukraine, the Special Representative of the President left his post. A new appointment has not taken place. Most likely, this position will remain unfilled, demonstrating the lack of interest in this topic on the part of the state.

Representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation continue to attend all international United Nations events on sustainable development. They are represented both at the UNECE and ESCAP regional forums and at the High-level Political Forum. Notably, at the 2022 Regional Forum on Sustainable Development in Geneva, representatives of the Russian Foreign Ministry expressed indignation at the position of many countries, who, in turn, condemned the military actions in Ukraine and accused Russia of creating another crisis that hinders the achievement of the SDGs amidst recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report of the Civic Chamber for 2022 ‘On the state of civil society in the Russian Federation’ included the section ‘Sustainable development’ for the first time, which again formally confirmed the commitment of state policy to the 2030 Agenda. The report was fully focused on the green agenda and ESG and provided information on ongoing public discussions, which traditionally only public organisations affiliated with the state to one degree or another, or GONGOs, are invited to.

NGOs, projects and social movements that refused to support the current position of the state had to either close their branches in Russia and relocate their teams abroad, or completely cease to exist. Many organisations and civil activists, without openly expressing their position for safety reasons, have been forced to limit the scope of their activities and reduce their potential, working less effectively. Nevertheless, there are organisations and civil activists who openly express their position and continue their activities, despite the huge risks associated with the state being able to bankrupt both organisations and people themselves as well as deprive them of their freedom. At the same time, the state machinery continues to exert pressure on people, even in places of deprivation of liberty. In addition, representatives of civil society continue their independent work abroad. At the same time, there are already precedents today for statements made by Russian citizens on international platforms criticising the Russian authorities being regarded as treason.

In the report « Invasion of Ukraine: implications for the Sustainable Development Goals in Russia », CSDR experts reviewed all the SDGs. Each of the chapters consists of three main sections: the situation from the beginning of 2016 to February 24, 2022, what has changed in the implementation of each of the SDGs since February 24, and how these changes have affected Russia’s international cooperation in this area.

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