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Ukrainian climate activists and Polish conservatives make common cause in fight against Russian oil – POLITICO


The effort to punish Russia for its invasion of Ukraine creates bizarre alliances.

Eastern European climate activists from the Fridays for Future movement inspired by Greta Thunberg – including three fleeing war in Ukraine – met Polish right-wing and center-right members of the European Parliament this week to lobby for a complete embargo on Russian energy.

“The war is taking place in Europe, and Europe is financing it,” said Arina Bilai, who arrived in Warsaw from kyiv a week ago. “I’m 16. I’m in high school. But still, I’m here in Brussels and I have to tell EU parliamentarians not to fuel the war.”

The reception she receives is very different from when she made similar demands based on climate science and not geopolitics.

“It was so weird,” Bilai said. “Years” of pushing Conservative politicians towards decarbonization came to nothing, but she had now secured five meetings in a day.

Their program included a meeting on Wednesday with Anna Zalewska, with Poland’s ruling nationalist Law and Justice Party and publicly hostile to their movement. The group also met with three center-right opposition Polish MEPs aligned with the European People’s Party, as well as other MEPs from Germany, Sweden, Hungary and France.

Warsaw has been one of the most vocal European capitals in favor of a Europe-wide ban on Russian coal, oil and gas imports. Despite this pressure, there is little chance that European leaders meeting in Brussels on Thursday and Friday will accept such a move.

Polish activist Dominika Lasota called the meeting with Zalewska “bizarre”. Lasota had faced charges – since dropped – for his participation in a protest in 2020.

She said Zalewska had strongly supported an embargo on all Russian fossil fuels.

Zalewska did not respond to a request for comment.

“As a movement, we have had contact with other conservative politicians in the past,” Lasota said, adding that “right now” new doors are opening, “especially with people like Anna Zalewska . [who is] totally against any kind of climate agenda.

While there is common ground on Russia, nothing else unites the two sides.

Climate activists plan to stage a global strike on Friday aimed at fighting climate change and ending a system they say is designed to benefit “colonizers and capitalists”. Conservative MEPs “don’t really understand” this campaign, she said.

Russia’s war is “another effect of the destructive system we live in, which is based on fossil fuels,” Lasota said.

Meanwhile, for Zalewska, energy independence from Russia is not the same as rapid decarbonization; Poland gets around 70% of its electricity by burning coal. In the European Parliament on Thursday, she called on the EU to rethink its attitude towards coal and the operation of the emissions trading system.

“There is a chance for a return to coal,” Zalewska told Polish portal wPolityce. “I think we have to ruthlessly take advantage of this opportunity.”

This position dismays activists.

“If she thinks she can meet us, congratulate us, publicly say she met us and be satisfied, then she’s wrong,” Lasota said. “Because if there’s going to be climate hypocrisy…then we’ll call it out.”

The activists do not stop at the Polish right.

Arshak Makichyan, who fled to Germany to escape a crackdown on free speech in Russia, plans to meet with German conservatives “if they wish”.

“We have to talk with everyone, which before the war was unimaginable,” he said. “These times are strange, and it’s strange what is happening but we must come together to end it.”

Zosia Wanat contributed reporting.

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