Russia Takes On Greenpeace — and Stakes Its Claim to the Arctic

  • Share
  • Read Later
Sergei Eshchenko / Reuters

Greenpeace activist Anthony Perrett of Britain looks out from a defendants' box at a district court in Murmansk, Russia, on Sept. 29, 2013

Greenpeace could not have chosen a worse time to set sail for the Russian Arctic. On Sept. 15, as the eco-activists were making their way into the Barents Sea, Russia’s main news networks were trumpeting the return of the Russian military to the northern frontier. Admiral Vladimir Korolyov, commander of the Northern Fleet, was shown on state-run television raising the Russian tricolor over a permanent military base in the Arctic, the first one Russia has opened since the fall of the Soviet Union. “We shall consider these flags to be raised here forever,” the admiral said. “This is our territory, and we shall defend it.” Three days later, Greenpeace arrived, intending to stage a protest against Arctic oil drilling. Instead they stumbled into Russia’s show of force.

For the first time in history, Russia’s entire fleet of nuclear-powered ships, led by the guided-missile cruiser Peter the Great, had been dispatched to the region. Like the military air base they had come to unveil, the flotilla’s mission was to warn away Russia’s rivals in the Arctic, primarily the U.S., Denmark, Finland, Norway and Canada. As it happened, several of the activists on the Greenpeace vessel were citizens of these very countries, while the captain of the ship, Peter Henry Willcox, is an American. So their stunt gave Russia just the opportunity it needed to underscore the message of Admiral Korolyov: Do not tread on the Russian north.

On Sept. 19, when the Greenpeace ship arrived to hang an antidrilling banner on a Russian oil rig, that message was delivered by the coast-guard forces of the FSB, the post-Soviet successor to the KGB. Ordering the Greenpeace ship to halt, the FSB began firing warning shots, first from their Kalashnikov assault rifles, then from their artillery cannons. A group of FSB agents then dropped down onto the vessel from helicopters and arrested at gunpoint all 28 activists and two journalists onboard. On Oct. 2, the admiral’s message was hammered home by Russian prosecutors, who began bringing charges of piracy against the activists. If convicted, they face up to 15 years in prison.

Vladimir Chuprov, head of the Arctic program at Greenpeace Russia, admits that the timing of the mission, coming in the middle of the nuclear flotilla’s historic patrol of the Russian north, may have been inopportune. “These [military] movements may have changed the way our mission was perceived, both in the eyes of the media and the security services,” he tells TIME. A year ago, Chuprov points out, Greenpeace staged a similar protest on exactly the same oil platform, Prirazlomnoye, which belongs to Russia’s state-controlled energy giant Gazprom. Greenpeace activists even chained themselves to the rig during last year’s protest and refused to climb down. “That time we were even more forceful, and the border guards did not react at all,” says Chuprov. Indeed, no charges were filed last year against the Greenpeace activists.

But last year, the scramble for control of the Arctic had not yet reached its current pitch. In 2014, the U.N. will receive competing claims on Arctic territory from all of the Arctic nations, and as Russia made clear in 2007, when its explorers planted the Russian flag on the seabed beneath the North Pole, it wants the lion’s share of the Arctic, as well as the seas of oil and gas beneath it. So the appearance of Greenpeace activists was seen by many in Moscow as a threat to these intentions, especially since the protest took place one week before President Vladimir Putin addressed a conference on Arctic policy in the far-northern city of Salekhard. “Russia’s leaders live in a world of conspiracy theories,” says Alexander Golts, an independent military expert in Moscow. “None of them have any doubt that all of these so-called activists work on the orders of the U.S. State Department, the CIA and so on.”

In light of the timing of the Arctic protest, Kremlin hawks and military brass would therefore have seen it as an act of foreign aggression, meant to spoil the mood of Putin’s Arctic summit last month while also pushing back against Russia’s military buildup in the north. “So these activists are being used to send a signal,” says Golts. “‘Stay away, don’t mess with the way we do things on our territory.’”

On Sept. 25, when Putin addressed the Arctic summit in Salekhard, the activists did get some hope of avoiding lengthy prison terms. Asked about their fate, Putin told the conference, “It’s completely obvious that of course they are not pirates.” But it was also obvious, Putin said, that “these people violated the norms of international law and got dangerously close to the [oil-drilling] platform.” He even added that the activists “tried to seize” the rig. So for now, the so-called Arctic 30 remain in detention in and around the far-northern city of Murmansk. But whatever sentences they receive, their voyage will already be a lesson to Russia’s Arctic enemies, both real and imagined.

60 comments
RicoLetomer
RicoLetomer

Here is an example of how international laws are respected in Dutch.

 Russia issues note of protest to Netherlands over raid on diplomat

 The Russian Foreign Ministry has sent a note of protest to the Dutch government after an alleged attack on a member of the Russian Embassy in the Netherlands, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich said Monday. "During the past weekend, armed men in camouflage broke into the apartment of Minister-Counselor, Dmitry Borodin. Using a false pretext of the alleged ill-treatment of children, they severely beat him in front of his children,” Lukashevich said. He also said that the assault was carried out after Borodin informed the masked men about his diplomatic status. The diplomatic residence is protected by immunity, the spokesman said. The diplomat was then taken into custody by law enforcement where he spent the night and was then released “without explanation or apology ."

RicoLetomer
RicoLetomer

Piracy, according to article 101 of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is DEFINED AS:

"... any act of boarding (or attempted boarding) …  and directed: against a ship, aircraft, persons or property in a place outside the jurisdiction of any State … any act of voluntary participation in the operation of a ship or of an aircraft with knowledge of facts making it a pirate ship or aircraft”.

 Greenpeace, did you get it? ANY ACT OF BOARDING (OR ATTEMPTED BOARDING). 

It does not matter what kind of intentions.
It does not matter if weapon was or wasn't used.
It does not matter if that was ship or oil platform as it was directed "against property".
It does not matter if that was committed in international water.

Break law - serve your term.

Fred-Crinson
Fred-Crinson

After their little stunt; they deserve prison. They could have been anyone, terrorists even. And their reportoire includes acts of sabotage. Russia was only defending it's interests.


Greenpeace also need to learn that they are not exempt from the law. The same as every other citizen on this planet.

Personally I hope the hippies enjoy their stay in Russia's Prisons. It'll give them time to reflect on their stupidity.

Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

V.Putin: "Our law-enforcement agents, our border guards didn’t know who was trying to seize the platform under the guise of Greenpeace."

"It would have been better if representatives of this organization had sat in this room and voiced their attitude to the issues we are discussing," he said at the Arctic Forum in Salekhard in western Siberia, attended by the presidents of Finland and Iceland and officials from other Arctic nations.

Singershooher
Singershooher

Seizure of private property is a violation of the law. What else can I say?

betomarzik
betomarzik

Esta base, la primera inaugurada en la frontera norte desde la caída de la URSS, marcó el regreso militar de Rusia a la zona.

falcon269
falcon269

Enthusiasm does not exempt you from law. Your cause can be just, but your methods can be illegal. Green Peace does not seem to understand this in its antics. Russian jail. That must be a pleasant place.

elenaberwick
elenaberwick

Here in the West there is no better, you just think it is...

SpbOccupy
SpbOccupy

Russia is a fake today, we - russians - even didn't elected Putin and Parliament. They elected themselves after fraud elections. So they are mafia and we will fight against them

seniormoment1
seniormoment1

Russia's claim to the Arctic is absurd and disputed by the USA, Canada and Northern European nations.  Greenpeace also never captures equipment or ships, it merely gets in the way and effectively warns whales off.  The biggest argument in favor of the US signing the Law of the Sea Treaty is that it would gives the USA undisputable rights in the Artic based on the continental shelf that competes directly with Russia's claim.  Right now the desire to do developments in the Artic is not that great anywhere because of high costs and the limited shipping season in Artic waters, but decades from now it is within the range of possibility that war will be fought over artic rights.

It looks like the USA needs to join Canada's dramatic push to increase the size of its artic ice breaker fleet and patrol ships, which Canada has built up in anticipation of year around passages through artic waters that are currently lightly patrolled.

elenaberwick
elenaberwick

Greenpeace guys deserved what they got. It is not allowed to capture objects like huge oil rigs. They have to also respect legislation of the country they are operating in and no complains should be raised in case of breaching this legislation

LuSanChin
LuSanChin

Greenpeace? What have they done so far? Got some publicity and got arrested. What a stupidity trying to pull that stunt in Russia! This is not liberal west!

TrevorC
TrevorC

Greenpeace needs to learn that if they go around the world acting like a bunch of arrogant A-Holes; eventually someone is going to treat them like a bunch of arrogant A-holes. And the Russians are just the ones to do it.

builder7
builder7

It is a little interesting that big bad Russia can beat up on a few people who have an environmental conscience.  Do they need their entire armada to arrest a few Greenpeace people?  Russia sounds like they need something to do.  maybe they yearn for the days of the USSR.  Maybe Boris thinks that they will somehow take over the world, like they always wanted to.  They are a highly polluting country that doesn't have many scruples, which is seen in their many attempts to show how moral they are!  To go up against a bunch of idealist people shows how strong they are.  They are able to take a few hundred, if.  Boris just wants to have his little police state as is, without anybody interfering.  Remember Boris, a state that is run by wannabes like yourself is no better than what you replaced.

Ivan
Ivan

Russia is so greenpeaceed right now

recon819
recon819

Greenpeace is a terrorist organization, reagrdless of their purported "goals," and I'm glad to see there treated like one. +1 for the Russians!

ctmusc
ctmusc

Good riddance to bad Greenpeace terrorist rubbish

BobKosgak
BobKosgak

@TIME @TIMEWorld I would make a peace offering by bringing crackers with several cheeses. I would ask "What are you 'Putin' on the ritz?"

five_david
five_david

Japan is pouring 4 tons of radio active contaminated water, a day, into Pacific Ocean and it will reach Americas early next year. Is anyone going to do something about this?

five_david
five_david

Green Peace;  what are you going to do about the radio active contaminated water that Japan is pouring into Pacific Ocean and it will reach Americas early next year?  Why are you guys not protesting and put pressure on the Japanese to plug the leak?

elenaberwick
elenaberwick

This private property should not go to the Russian economic zine trying to seize the Russian property costing billions of dollars.

tsar_simply_tsar
tsar_simply_tsar

@SpbOccupy

<<we - russians - even didn't elected Putin >>what drugs eat?many do not eat, will cirrhosis.

<<So they are mafia and we will fight against them>>you like Don-Quixote(борцун)

<<we will fight>>cirrhosis will allow?

elenaberwick
elenaberwick

Here in the West there is no better, it is actually same everywhere.

elenaberwick
elenaberwick

There is no Boris in Russia. You live in the last century :)

elenaberwick
elenaberwick

There is no Boris in Russia, looks like you live in the last century

black.rob303
black.rob303

@builder7 you need to push a refresh button on your world view...we (US/UK) flare natural gas in Iraq instead of processing it while entire country cooks on wood. black flares ignited by Saddam still burn accross the country- where is greenpeace? Japan still kills throusands of whales for "research" and what difference did greanpeace do with their little stunts? Pollution in mainland China is off the charts, Oil leaks in Africa go unreported for decades by oil majors so not to affect stock listings... greenpeace...really? world doesn't need to have awareness raised- every being in the universe can recognise evil. So if you want to talk about environmental conscience- be objective and don't single out one particular nation- its everywhere, done by all countries- we are just have better wrapping paper called media

elenaberwick
elenaberwick

Just respect the law of the country. The laws in different countries is different

rkapo7
rkapo7

@chriss.opus It would not be the first time! CIA and Taliban, US and  a Military Dictatorship in South Vietnam, USA and many Right Wing Dictatorships in South America, now USA and Terrorists in Syria [probably getting most of the arms the US is supplying] etc.etc.  Don't be so "sanctimonious" as the President of China said about the US recently. The CIA and the USA has proved time and again they will side with anybody if it suits there purpose. If you bother to look at all the facts many of the NGO's in Russia receive a lot of US sponsorship from many suspect Government sources in the USA. After 50+ years this sort of thing is now so entrenched at many levels of Government in the US the people who work there think it is normal.

builder7
builder7

@recon819 Ok, go ahead, be on the side of the Russians.  Greenpeace is not terrorist and it never has been.  On the other hand recon, you probably are.  Anybody that is as brainwashed as you are is probably the same as the Russians, only on another side.  Don't you like to see whales and eagles?  The only terrorists are the ones running things - in the East and the West!

wanderer
wanderer

@five_davidhttp://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/getinvolved/They-profit-you-pay/, http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/news/Blogs/nuclear-reaction/the-nuclear-sisyphus-needs-to-stop-pushing-hi/blog/46765/,

check out their homepage, you will see that they actually do protest about the leaks. You do have a point though, less "dramatic" action does not get as much media attention and thus goes often by unnoticed by those who do not actively seek information on environmental issues.

builder7
builder7

@black.rob303 @builder7 I seem to remember Greenpeace fighting Japanese whaling ships on the open sea in Antarctica.  They have protested on the 7 continents about environmental problems.  I think that you live in the century before last (1800's) and are afraid of a small group of dedicated people fighting corporations and the wealthy that have about $400 Trillion in the world.  Do you really think that these wealthy entities, such as the royal families of Europe, care about you?  The reason that pollution in China is off the charts is because the companies here exported the pollution because they built 120,000 factories there, which displaced millions of workers in the U.S.  That is our smog, without environmental controls.  Anybody that knows about oil companies and pipelines knows that they have leaks and are very messy and usually their management isn't intelligent enough to stop this.  It only cost money for the companies, but they continue to foster this environment, sort of like 'true men pollute, traitors don't'!  Greenpeace is worldwide - you should have done a little research.  You know, they are always looking for people to help them out with the mission that they have set out to do!

rkapo7
rkapo7

@builder7 @recon819 They are Criminals then if you prefer that  word. To say otherwise you are an Anarchist with no respect for any  Local, National or  International Law. In the Southern Ocean the Japanese have a right under International Law to hunt a certain number of Whales and they obey Maritime Law and have more right to do it than most Nations. It is part of  there Culture. Green Peace there continually breaks all Maritime Law putting themselves in danger and the Japanese in danger. I am Australian and I consider it a disgrace my own Country has chosen to turn a blind eye to Greenpeace  breaking the Law continually there. If I did what they do in a Boat repeatedly I would end up in Jail. Lock them up for 6-12 months Russia. Nobody else seems to have the guts to stop there criminal actions. If they are really at War as you say then I hope you will not cry foul when one day they get rammed by a Japanese ship either accidentally or deliberately. That's war. You can't have it both ways but then most on the Extreme Left or Right always think that way. Only what they want and think counts and other points of view don't count. Very much like Stalin and Hitler.

rkapo7
rkapo7

@builder7 @ctmusc What are you. A Redneck USA Right wing type or a Leftie Green. You seem to believe all the twisted anti Russia press in the US and Britain like a Redneck but at the same time like a true Leftie Anarchist you support non Law abiding Greenpeace who care about no one in reality but getting there own way.  You also lied saying Russia deployed massive force. They did not - they were holding a Naval Exercise in the area with Nuclear armed ships etc. - they had massive force already there. Surely Greenpeace knew that or were they hoping to disrupt it also. I would not put it past the idiots.




builder7
builder7

@rkapo7 @builder7 @ctmusc What are you, a right wing fascist fanatic or a left wing communist from Russia.  Don't you know that we believe in freedom and the laws of the sea also say so.  Do you believe all of the twisted Russian and Latvian press garbage about Greenpeace?  Russia does not own the sea and should mind its own business concerning private vessels.  Hopefully they did disrupt it - that is probably about all it takes with them!