Over 120 human rights, environmental, and diaspora groups have today called on government to extend sanctions on Russia to cover timber trade

With calls growing for Western governments to extend sanctions on Russia to incorporate an embargo on fossil fuel exports, an alliance of human rights, environmental, and diaspora groups is today calling for a similar ban on all exports of timber-based products from Russia and Belarus.

The group, which includes Biofuelwatch, the Rainforest Action Network, WWF-Ukraine, and raft of NGOs from across Ukraine, Poland, and Belarus, is seeking to highlight how Russia and Belarus remain major players in the global timber market providing timber-based products to leading packaging, furniture, and energy companies across Europe.

According to the group, in 2021 the two countries exported timber and wood products worth nearly $16bn, with around a quarter of its exports going to the EU and a further two per cent going to the US and the same proportion exported to the UK. A number of leading European packaging and furniture companies are also known to have significant interests and suppliers in Russia.

The EU imposed sanctions on Belarussian timber late last month, as the preparations for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine escalated. But today’s letter calls for those sanctions to be extended and clarified to ensure they cover both timber raw material and processed goods such as furniture.

“The financial resources the Russian and Belarussian governments gain from wood exports help to equip the Russian invaders, fuel their tanks and produce their bombs,” the letter states. “Therefore, consuming Russian and Belarussian wood and timber products means supporting death and destruction in Ukraine… Therefore, besides the demands for support for Ukraine’s government, we, environmental and human rights NGOs and activists from Ukraine, Belarus, the United Kingdom, United States and European Union, appeal to all the governments of countries friendly to Ukraine: please, ban import of all types of Russian and Belarussian timber and wood products (including all paper products, furniture and furniture parts, pellets and sawn wood) now.”

The calls echo those of the Ukrainian Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, which this week called on the EU to block all exports of Russian timber as part of its sanctions regime.

The letter also appeals directly to international sustainable timber certification schemes, naming the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), Sustainable Biomass Programme (SBP) and Programme for Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC). “Please, wake up and terminate all forest management and chain of custody certificates for forest concessions and companies from both Russia and Belarus with immediate effect,” it states. “Not a single stick of wood from these countries is sustainable when it is used to finance overwhelming destruction of a peaceful country.”

The letter comes as the economic fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues to escalate, with the Ukrainian government ramps up calls for Western powers to impose a full embargo on Russian gas, oil, and coal exports.

On Sunday, Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign minister, called for “a full embargo for Russian oil and gas” arguing that importing Russian energy “now means paying for the murder of Ukrainian men, women and children”.

The EU and UK is yet to accede to such demands amidst fears they would leave Europe facing severe energy shortages, but governments are now scrambling to explore how they could drastically restrict Russian energy exports.

Across the continent plans are accelerating to ramp up energy efficiency measures and domestic energy capacity, so as to either guard against Russian leader Vladimir Putin turning off supplies of gas that meet around a third of EU demand or to enable a full fossil fuel embargo in support of Ukraine.

The European Commission is expected to announce a sweeping plan that would approve windfall taxes on energy companies to fund national energy efficiency and clean energy programmes. Meanwhile, the UK government has reportedly ordered a probe of the country’s ties to the Russian energy industry, at the same time as talking up plans to bolster domestic energy generation and curb demand.

At the same time corporates in multiple industries are under mounting pressure to sever ties with Russian interests and partners, after both BP and Shell announced they are to exit their Russian investments.

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