Russia Drops Criminal Charges Against Greenpeace Activists

Ahead of Sochi Olympics

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Updated 1:20 p.m. E.T. 

Russian investigators officially dropped criminal charges Wednesday against 30 Greenpeace activists arrested in September during protests against oil drilling in the Arctic. The move comes as Moscow has freed several other high-profile prisoners just weeks before the beginning of the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.

Russia’s Federal Migration Service will meet with the activists later today, according to a Greenpeace statement. Any non-Russian members of the group must secure exit visas in their passports before leaving the country, Reuters reports.

The 30 activists were detained in September aboard their icebreaker, the Arctic Sunrise, while protesting oil drilling in the Arctic.

“This is the day we’ve been waiting for since our ship was boarded by armed commandos almost three months ago,” said Peter Willcox, who captained the Arctic Sunrise. “I’m pleased and relieved the charges have been dropped, but we should not have been charged at all.”

Russian authorities initially charged the protestors with piracy, but later changed the charges to “hooliganism.”

President Vladimir Putin recently approved the release of two members of the punk-rock group Pussy Riot as well as the pardon of former oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Some consider Russia’s release of prisoners an effort by Putin to burnish Russia’s image before it hosts the Sochi Winter Olympics.