Russian oligarchs and executives from multiple companies under international sanctions are among the lobbyists currently attending Cop27 in Sharm el-Sheikh.
Among those listed as part of the Russian delegation at the pivotal climate talks are the billionaire and former aluminium magnate Oleg Deripaska, who is under UK sanctions, and the billionaire Andrey Melnichenko, the founder and former board member of the Swiss-headquartered fertiliser company EuroChem Group, who has been targeted with individual sanctions by the European Union; Melnichencko has disputed the sanctions, calling them “absurd and nonsensical”.
The Gas giant Gazprom has sent six delegates to the talks, alongside the managing director of Sberbank. Both are under US and EU sanctions. Representatives from the oil company Lukoil, the mining company Severstal, and Magnitogorsk Iron and Steel Works are also in attendance, all of which are under US sanctions.
The Oil and gas company Tatneft, currently sanctioned by the EU, sent three lobbyists to the climate talks, according to data compiled by the organisations Corporate Accountability, Global Witness and Corporate Europe Observatory. The provisional Russian delegation includes the metallurgical companies Severstal and NLMK Group, part of an industry that has faced sanctions by the EU.
The Cop27 climate talks have been coloured in large part by debates about how the world should adapt to a shortage of Russian gas supplies. This follows months of fears in Europe around energy shortages stemming from Moscow’s decision to abruptly halt gas supplies to Europe, in response to international sanctions because of President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in February.
As delegates gathered in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh, environmental groups, scientists and representatives from the global south voiced fears that Europe’s energy crisis could be used as a pretext for further gas exploration in Africa, rather than a push to increase renewable energy resources worldwide.
The presence of industry lobbyists and oil and gas industry executives, including six representatives from the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, a lobby group, suggests Russia is using the crucial climate talks to drum up business.
It also suggests the Russian delegation may be looking to promote unsanctioned industries, like some metals and fertiliser, which are tied up with Russia’s impact on global food supplies and the rising cost of food products, particularly in the global south.
Russia is the world’s fourth-largest emitter of greenhouse gases and third-largest supplier of oil, behind the US and Saudi Arabia, with a troubled environmental record that includes a decade of drilling in the Arctic for further fossil fuels supplies as permafrost melts under rising global temperatures.
Critics have argued that Russia had looked for ways to gain from the climate crisis, particularly in terms of Arctic drilling. Putin’s climate envoy, Ruslan Edelgeriev, told the Cop27 talks that “if there were no sanctions, or restrictions or any discriminatory approaches, the Russian Federation could have come to carbon neutrality earlier”.
Deripaska was indicted by the US justice department in September for sanctions evasion linked to his company Basic Element. According to the Interfax news agency, he dropped his controlling stake in the company EN+, who sent three representatives to Sharm el-Sheikh, in 2019 under an agreement with the US Treasury’s office of foreign assets control.
Dr Oleksiy Ryabchyn, a Ukrainian member of the delegation at Cop27, said it was “ridiculous to know that Russian oligarchs are sneaking through the corridors. It is ridiculous that they are able to freely travel. For me, if these oligarchs are not able to stop this bloody war then they should not be [at Cop]. Ukrainian NGOs tried to find those Russians to organise a protest but they are hiding in offices and are afraid to walk freely in the corridor. We see that Russia is in complete isolation at this conference.”
The wealth of Melnichenko and representatives from his former company Eurochem is linked to the production of vital Russian fertilisers. In August, the head of EuroChem praised the division of the US Treasury Department responsible for enforcing global sanctions for their decision not to sanction them, saying it meant they were “recognised as a crucial player in global food supply”. The UN chief, António Guterres, has said he would work with officials to ensure the global supply of Russian fertiliser products.
Samir Brikho, EuroChem’s executive chair, said: “Thousands of farmers all over the world depend on us to supply them in a timely manner with the crop nutrients they need to get the most out of their land, so that they can feed their communities.”
Ukrainian and western officials have accused Russia of using food as a weapon since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, which triggered a global surge in food prices. Russia has used surge to apply pressure on western countries supporting Ukraine, and as leverage over global south nations, including the Cop27 host nation, Egypt.
The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, told the UN in May that “the food supply for millions of Ukrainians and millions more around the world has quite literally been held hostage by the Russian military”.
• This article was amended on 13 & 15 November 2022. An earlier version described EuroChem Group as “Russian”; it has mining operations in Russia but is headquartered in Switzerland. And Andrey Melnichenko is the company’s founder and a former board member, not its “former head”. Also NLMK Group contacted us after publication to say that their representatives registered for COP27 but are not attending.