Russia is trying to block the reappointment of the Danish head of the UN’s leading environmental agency, following a highly critical report about the impact of the war on Ukraine, according to people familiar with the matter.
Russia has agitated for several months against the reappointment of Inger Andersen, an economist with a long career at the World Bank, as the executive director of the UN Environment Programme, according to two UN sources.
The move is seen by diplomats as part of a broader effort by the country to exert influence on the world stage and undermine the objectives of western nations that have condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Russian representatives penned a so-called non-paper in late 2022 that formally objected to the UN secretary-general António Guterres’ intention, shared with member states, to reappoint Andersen, the people said. Her first four-year term is due to end this year.
The Russian mission to the UN said that the role had been “‘monopolised’ by the representatives of western countries,” in a statement to the Financial Times.
It said UNEP’s executive director should be an “honest broker”, but Andersen had been “promoting western and, in particular, European environmental priorities and agenda, and politicising this body’s decisions.”
The president of the UN general assembly will formally propose Andersen’s reappointment this year, a resolution which Russia could call for a vote on. A successful vote against her would require the backing of at least the majority of the 193 UN general assembly member states.
In October, UNEP published a report about the devastating consequences for the environment of the war on Ukraine, in response to a request from the Ukrainian government.
“Ukraine, already burdened by a host of legacy environmental challenges, is now facing a compounded, multi-dimensional environmental crisis,” the report concluded. “The country and the region risk being burdened with a toxic legacy long after the conflict ends.”
While Russia has lobbied for support for its discussion paper on the UN environmental role, those familiar with the matter said they believed it was unlikely that it would secure sufficient backing to prevent Andersen’s reappointment.
But the move is seen as part of attempts by the Putin regime to frustrate western powers that have imposed financial sanctions and provided support to Ukraine. “The Russians are making things difficult for people in different contexts,” said one diplomatic source. “This is just another forum.”
Another UN diplomat said: “Our assessment is that this is classic Russian leverage-making . . . trying to extract a price for lifting their objection.”
“This is a narrative they’re trying to push at the UN — the west versus the rest,” the person added. “They’ve played this game before, pre-Ukraine, but now they’re absolutely going for it.”
A third person from an eastern European government said they were aware of the Russian push against Andersen.
At the UN COP27 climate summit in November, Russia was among the fossil fuel-producing countries that resisted an attempt by many nations, including the US, EU, UK and India, for a commitment to phase down the use of all fossil fuels.
Russia has long been an outlier in climate change discussions, despite suffering the consequences of global warming through forest fires and the threat of the vast release of methane and carbon as the Siberian permafrost melts.
The UN secretary-general was resolute about putting forward Andersen for reappointment. “In line with past practice, the secretary-general has informed member states of his intention to reappoint the executive director of UNEP for a second term. The secretariat cannot provide any specific comment on the ongoing consultation process with member states,” his spokesperson said.
UNEP declined to comment.