I have a feeling that Greenpeace has blundered badly here:
Russian authorities on Thursday charged all 30 Greenpeace activists with piracy following a protest against Arctic drilling last month.
A total of 14 were on Wednesday charged with piracy with the remaining 16 similarly charged on Thursday. The charge carries a maximum prison sentence of 15 years.
Unsurprisingly, Greenpeace doesn’t like it:
Once the first charges were laid, Greenpeace International executive director Kumi Naidoo reacted with incredulity, saying: “A charge of piracy is being laid against men and women whose only crime is to be possessed of a conscience.
“This is an outrage and represents nothing less than an assault on the very principle of peaceful protest.
Weeeell. I’m not sure exactly where the law stands on the rather blurred line between peaceful protest and criminal trespass, but I suspect environmental activists have always gambled on western oil companies preferring to allow the protest/trespass to go on rather than suffer the bad publicity of Swampy getting his head kicked in by a security guard (captured on video and uploaded onto YouTube) or being bankrupted through the legal system. Random people are not allowed to clamber onto offshore drilling rigs for good reasons, security and safety being two of them. I don’t believe that permission to do so is automatically granted if the person does it under the vague banner of a protest. I’m also not convinced that stopping somebody going about their legitimate business can always be considered peaceful protest, but I’ll not go into that now. My guess is that their actions fall on the wrong side of the legal boundary, but they rely on the oil companies’ fear of bad publicity to shield them.
If that is the case, they’ve badly misunderstood Russia. Branches of the Russian government are rarely concerned about bad publicity, unless they are getting a public bollocking from a senior member of their own government. Even then their concern is for their own skins, not the reputation of the agency in question. I thought they would run into trouble when I read this:
Greenpeace has defied Russian authorities by sailing into the Northern Sea Route in protest over the Arctic drilling plans of ExxonMobil and Rosneft.
Russian authorities generally don’t like being publicly defied by foreigners. Previously:
Greenpeace has hit out at Russian authorities’ “unjustified” blocking of a protest against drilling in the Arctic by ExxonMobil and Rosneft.
Russia’s Northern Sea Route Administration has denied the environmental group’s vessel Arctic Sunrise right of passage into the ice-riddled water way, citing safety fears.
However, Greenpeace has cried foul saying it had “all necessary requirements” to navigate the passage and that is vessel had a higher ice-class specification than many vessels currently working in the Arctic for Russian oil giant Rosneft.
“The decision was made in violation of international law and the right of free navigation.
I’m not sure how the right of free navigation applies if you must first obtain a permit from the Russian authorities. This all seems terribly naive. Back to the original article:
“Any claim that these activists are pirates is as absurd as it is abominable. It is utterly irrational, it is designed to intimidate and silence us, but we will not be cowed.”
That’s easy to say when you’re an executive director who can go home tonight. But you might find yourself short of volunteers for the next trip if the first lot are languishing in an icy Russian prison.
But he’s right to say it is designed to intimidate. I doubt the Russians will inflict serious jail time on any of those being held. My prediction is they will be subject to enough of the Russian penal system, including a few days or weeks inside a Russian prison, to deter any further such protests before being released. Putin has already put himself in the role of benign arbiter, ready to step in if necessary to ensure no unnecessarily harsh treatment is dealt out (and making everybody aware – in case there still exist people who don’t already know – that he personally can decide your fate should you be foolish enough to try a similar stunt in future).
But there’s a certain irony here. Back in 2006, when the Russian government was citing dubious environmental concerns during their ultimately successful attempt to wrest control of the Sakhalin II development from Shell – concerns which magically vanished the moment the keys were handed over – Greenpeace was cheering them on:
In a show of official outrage over the environment, which is unusual for the Russian government, Oleg Mitvol, the deputy director of Russia’s environmental agency, Rosprirodnadzor, recently led journalists, diplomats and conservationists on a tour of the Shell project.
He accused Shell’s operating company, Sakhalin Energy, of allowing erosion into salmon streams. He also accused the company of illegally dumping dredge material into a bay and of cutting trees in a park. On the tour, he pointed angrily at a muddy hillside on Shell’s pipeline route, led journalists to upturned trees, and said he suspected that pollution was behind the death of two fish he found belly up in a stream. At one point, as Mitvol denounced Shell dumping in Aniva Bay while standing on a pier, one of his aides casually flicked a cigarette butt into the Pacific Ocean.
Greenpeace, the International Fund for Animal Welfare and Sakhalin Environment Watch – Lisitsyn’s group – sent representatives on the tour and supported the allegations, echoing complaints they have raised for years with little response from the government.
So Greenpeace, having been quite happy to support the arbitrary wielding of state power in Russia when it was directed against Shell, are now finding themselves on the receiving end of much the same thing.
I wonder how many of the 30 activists contemplating a spell in a Russian prison on piracy charges appreciate the irony?