Confront climate change – not Russia!

As NATO extends itself up to the Russian border, Ian Budge argues that we are forgetting the climate catastrophe. Stopping Russia destroying its natural environment should be the real imperative for the West. Recognising this would soften both sides’ aggressive reactions, and ease the way to an equable settlement over Ukraine

Putting conflict in context

War fever is now sweeping the West as in 1914 – only now the hate is directed at Russia. The sovereign right of plucky little Ukraine to join an anti-Russian alliance and plant missiles 400 miles from Moscow must, it seems, be asserted at all costs. Real war is against everyone’s best intentions. But so was World War I.

Branding Russia as an aggressor is a strange follow-up to that country’s unprecedented cession of a fifth of its territory to national independence movements in the early 1990s. Think of the US returning Texas and California to Mexico! – or tolerating Russian missiles in Cuba!

War fever now sweeps the West – but ignores the West's own role in the developing situation

For his first ten years in office, President Putin sought cooperation with the West. But Russia was simply excluded from important decisions like intervention in Libya. Meanwhile NATO breached its undertakings of the 1990s not to sign up ex-Soviet Republics. Russian speakers in the new States found themselves treated as second-rate citizens. Hardly encouraging for China with Taiwan!

The Russian response

Since then, Russia has pursued a cautious forward policy with considerable success. Such interventions have met with Western sanctions. However, Russia’s new-found oil wealth, and increasing access to the Arctic through climate change, have enabled it to withstand such sanctions relatively easily. The military build-up near Ukraine, which Russia can scale up or down at will, has now forced NATO to open negotiations about its own forward advance.

Negotiating a solution

Actually, there is an easy compromise. This would involve Ukraine declaring its neutrality (like Finland), and Russia tolerating its accession to the EU (but not NATO), with internationally supervised plebiscites in disputed territories.

Only negotiation can end environmental destruction in Russia and the Arctic. Sanctions will make it worse

Negotiations should include action against forest and bog fires and melting tundra spewing out methane. Cooperation here in the common interest would encourage it elsewhere. As noted above, Russia's oil wealth and Arctic access have thus far cushioned it from the full impact of sanctions. Imposing yet more would only spur on greater environmental destruction to counterbalance such sanctions in the largest country in the world.

The most effective sanction, in fact, would really be stopping London banks laundering money for Russian oligarchs. While denouncing ‘Russian aggression’, British governments have tolerated such laundering for years and are only now making vague statements of intent under American pressure.

Chapter 8 of Ian's book Kick-Starting Government Action against Climate Change: Effective Political Strategies, 'Climate Action in the World Arena', contains detailed analysis of Russia’s position.

This article presents the views of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the ECPR or the Editors of The Loop.


photograph of Ian Budge
Ian Budge
Emeritus Professor, Department of Government, University of Essex

Kick-Starting Government Action against Climate Change: Effective Political Strategies (Routledge, 2021)

Ian has pioneered the use of quantitative methods in studying party democracy across countries.

He is perhaps best known as convenor of the Manifesto Research Group (now MARPOR at the Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin) which pioneered the content analysis of party manifestos across 45 post-war democracies.

This has given rise to the widely used Left-Right scale used to trace party policy shifts over time and comparatively.

Publications from this research include Ian Budge et al., Ideology, Strategy and Party Change (1987, 2008), Ian Budge et al., ‘Ideology, party factionalism and policy change: An integrated dynamic theory’ (British Journal of Political Science 40, 2010, 781-804), and Ian Budge (with various authors), Mapping Policy Preferences (2001, 2006, 2013: winner of the American Political Science Association Award, 2003).

Ian has also pioneered other areas of political research, anticipating the autonomous development of Scottish politics in Scottish Political Behaviour (1966) with Derek Urwin, developments in voting behaviour in Party Identification and Beyond (1976) ed. with Ivor Crewe and Dennis Farlie, the saliency theory of party competition (with Farlie) in Explaining and Predicting Elections (1983) and developments in direct democracy in The New Challenge of Direct Democracy (1996).

A citation written by an international jury for his European Achievement Award (2013) noted his ‘outstanding contribution to European political science…through international research projects…scholarly production and institutional service’.

He tweets @IanBudge2021

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