More on the Greenpeace Saga

So far, things seem to be playing out more or less as I expected:

Russia has dropped charges of piracy against 30 detained Greenpeace activists connected to a protest against Arctic drilling and replaced it with a lesser charge of hooliganism, the environmental group confirmed.

The charges of hooliganism carry with them a possible sentence of seven years in prison. The piracy charges came with a maximum jail sentence of 15 years.

There could be any number of reasons behind this, ranging from a genuine belief that piracy did not take place but hooliganism did, to the Russians wanting to keep Greenpeace as confused and off-balance as possible just for fun.  Who knows?

One possible explanation is that it removes a key element of hope from those enjoying the warm hospitality of a Murmansk prison: the fact that Putin said that Greenpeace’s actions did not constitute piracy.  I’m sure those imprisoned would have been clinging to this statement to some degree, and now that’s been removed from the picture entirely.  Putin said nothing about hooliganism.

As I said before, I think the Russians want to show the detainees enough of their criminal justice system to deter anyone else from trying a similar stunt in future.  In Russia, the process is the punishment (and in case anyone thinks I’m getting on my high-horse here, the UK is rapidly heading in a similar direction).

That said, I think Greenpeace need to tread very carefully at this point.  They need to recognise that Russia is probably posturing here, and has no intention of imprisoning these people for too long.  They also need to interpret the Russians dropping the piracy charges as the first step in a compromise, and I’m not sure they do.

It is fine to argue with Russian authorities, they don’t mind it too much – provided you begin by acknowledging their authority and position, and you don’t try to play hardball.  You’ve got to be ready to concede something, even if you’re 100% in the right.  When the local tax authorities find “anomalies” in your accounts and impose a nominal fine, you don’t self-righteously challenge them.  You apologise, pay up, and let them move on.  That’s how it works in Russia, in a multitude of situations.  So if I was Greenpeace, I’d be negotiating with the Russians on how we can both come away from this with both sides being able to credibly say that they made their point.  As this article notes:

The country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has … offered a possible olive branch to the so-called “Arctic 30” who have all been charged with piracy over an Arctic drilling protest, as it said Russia is “open to settling the situation”.

However, I’m not sure Greenpeace has got the message:

But Greenpeace is still determined to contest the current charges, which the group called just as much a “fantasy… that bear(s) no relation to reality” as the previous piracy allegations.

“The Arctic 30 are no more hooligans than they were pirates,” Vladimir Chuprov of Greenpeace Russia said in a statement. “This is still a wildly disproportionate charge… It represents nothing less than an assault on the very principle of peaceful protest.”

In other words, ignore the concession on the part of the Russians – if indeed it was a concession – and continue to stamp your foot and shout loudly.  This ain’t gonna work.  For a start, the Greenpeace protesters are in jail, whereas the Russian authorities will go home each night.  If this turns into a waiting game, Greenpeace will come off far worse.

In my experience, Russians can be a petulant lot: willing to work with you to a point, but if you put a gun to their head or offend them in some way, they can be as stubborn as hell and refuse to budge an inch on pure principle.  That is why I don’t think it’s a good idea that the Dutch government has decided to wade in on behalf of Greenpeace.  What was a dispute between regional authorities and Greenpeace has now been turned into a direct challenge of Russian national authority by a foreign power.  If there is one way to get Russians to adopt a hardline stance and start making examples of people, this is it.  It may be that Russia has downgraded the charges because they have now decided that it is no longer a charade, and they now intend to fully prosecute those involved.  They’d be unlikely to convince even themselves that this was genuine piracy, never mind the rest of the world.  But hooliganism?  That’s a different story.

For a start, the average Russian is probably struggling to get his head around the idea that forced entry onto an industrial offshore facility constitutes peaceful protest.  In a country which sees genuinely peaceful Russian protesters campaigning for Russian human rights getting the shit kicked out of them by their own security apparatus, they are unlikely to be moved to tears by the sight of middle-class foreigners being roughed-up after trying to force their way on board a drilling rig.

Indeed, I’m not sure how many in the west have much sympathy for Greenpeace in this regard.  Peaceful protest to most people means standing a little way off shouting slogans and waving banners, not clambering on board oil rigs.  I’m sure I’m not the only one who appreciates that had the people climbing on board been called Mohammed and had dark skin and beards, by now they’d be wearing orange jump suits and trying to breath through a wet hessian sack.  Wealthy middle-class lefties being denied special treatment for once is likely to invoke a degree of schadenfreude in some who would otherwise support Greenpeace’s broader aims.

And this also amused:

Masked men broke into a Greenpeace office in Russia on Thursday night, stealing a structure intended for use in a protest against Arctic drilling, the environmentalist has claimed.

The development came as a court in the northern city of Murmansk rejected bail applications for two more of the so-called “Arctic 30” who stand accused of piracy following a protest against Gazprom in the Pechora Sea last month.

CCTV footage and images released by Greenpeace on Friday claim to show six people clad in balaclavas scaling a fence outside an office in Murmansk that the group is using as it tries to free the 30 activists arrested a month ago on board its flagship vessel Arctic Sunrise.

The group has claimed that a mock cage was stolen from the premises.

So a group that specialises in entering the premises of others without permission in order to achieve their own ends finds itself being burgled?  What did they think was going to happen?  That the Russians were just going to play nice?

As I said in my previous post, I think Greenpeace have blundered badly here.  For years they’ve deployed underhand tactics and relied on their opponents respecting the Queensbury rules to avoid getting their heads knocked off, and they’ve now carried this approach into Russia.

Good luck with that!

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17 Responses to More on the Greenpeace Saga

  1. ed says:

    Tim, what you’re saying makes sense in so far as securing the release of the “Arctic 30″ but I think Greenpeace doesn’t just want to get them out of prison, it also wants to extract the maximum possible amount of publicity from this incident that it can.
    The protestors always knew they were going to get arrested, that’s part of the civil disobedience deal. But by being arrested they can turn something rather abstract – Gazprom and others’ drilling in the Arctic – into something concrete: the incarceration of some friendly but motivated environmental types.

  2. Tim Newman says:


    You may well be right…but if that’s their plan, I think the 30 volunteers have seriously misjudged the resolve of the Russian government and the conditions in a Russian prison!

  3. Bardon says:

    Good on Putin, he really is kicking some winners recently with his dealing with the west and their subversive elements like Greenpeace. Do the crime do the time should be part of the induction process to these one eyed naive followers that intentionally intended join these secret intelligence created organisations for that noble cause of saving humanity.

    The captain is above all of this and is well guilty and at the very least an intelligence asset he should be keel hauled twice in the Murmansk harbour for starters. If you don’t were a uniform, your a spy and the rules of engagement are clear in this regard.

  4. Tim Newman says:

    Good on Putin, he really is kicking some winners recently with his dealing with the west…

    If you mean his coup over Syria, being able to outfox Obama after he’d simultaneously put his foot in his mouth and paint himself into a corner is hardly the epitome of hardball statesmanship. Not to mention that the result is the grinding civil war in Syria continuing indefinitely – not that I think western intervention was the answer, but it was Russia who ensured the war would not be ended quickly, and it is now Russia who is ensuring that it will likely not end at all. Unless you believe a few hundred thousand Syrian corpses and a couple of million refugees is worth being able to blow a raspberry at the US, I’m at a loss to understand what’s so admirable about Russia in this instance.

  5. Bardon says:

    “If you mean his coup over Syria”

    I was actually directly referring to his treatment of Greenpeace and your post. But yes there are many, many more which I am sure as always we will remain healthily diametrically opposed on. As far as Syria is concerned and your moral card lets not forget that it was the west that initiated this whole damming social destruction and death spiralling Arab spring, not Russia. It is the west that started and is supporting the Syrian Invasion and perpetrating the deaths. How you draw Russia into some responsibility for ongoing deaths is only something a one eyed pom could do and judging by Cameron’s recent rebuke an ever decreasing amount of poms are buying this bullshit anymore.

    But just before we leave Putin it should be noted that during his reign we now have Russia as a leading oil and gas producer, the largest gas producer, its GDP to debt ratio is a meagre 8%, it runs a very large trade surplus, unemployment in the 7-8% range, their economy has doubled, incomes have doubled, poverty has halved, gold reserves have increased, Moscow is now the second most expansive city in the world (read desirable for those that don’t understand these things) with more millionaires resident there than anywhere else on the planet, they are now the second largest military power, conduct more military drills than any other nation and have more spies in the US now than they did in the cold war. I will leave the Pussy Riot and gay marriage alone for now.

  6. Tim Newman says:

    Yes, Moscow’s expensiveness is proof of its desirability. Sure. And the abundance of millionaires is a sign of Russia’s success, uh-huh. No doubt the number of traffic violations prosecuted by the road police is evidence of their commitment to law and order, eh?

    And while we’re at it: what Syrian invasion? It’s a civil war. Sure you’re not confusing it with Iraq?

  7. Bardon says:

    The law of supply and demand states that Moscow is in demand, demand is synonymous with desirability.

    The foreign invasion of Syria has taken many forms initially political in accordance with US foreign policy for the region and foreign media propaganda, followed by economic and arms backing for the terrorists and in recent times that facilitation of ever increasing umbers of foreign jihadists entering Syria who also now appear to be taking command of the various factions particularly in the north.

  8. Tim Newman says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen such blithering ignorance on two topics simultaneously, so I’ll keep my responses brief:

    1. Demand is not synonymous with desirability in the context in which you used the word. If it were, Luanda would be the world’s most desirable city.

    2. Now I understand your point. You’ve redefined “invasion” to mean something entirely different from what it actually means in order to argue that the West has invaded Syria. If you have to make stuff up, it’s a reasonable sign that your argument is weak. As I’ve advised you before, you really need to read some books if you want your commentary on history and current affairs taken seriously, instead of picking up theories and soundbites from what I can only presume are adolescents.

  9. Bardon says:

    Tim I did say earlier that we are often diametrically opposed in our views and that was a healthy situation. Why does it need to be that you are right and I am wrong? In the short time I have corresponded with you I could highlight some subjects where you have been categorically wrong or unfamiliar with the subject, but I wont because thats not how I operate.

    Anyway to round it off, I am sure that Putin will go down in history as presiding over a golden era of the reemergence of the Russian Bear, which will also coincide with start of the demise of the USA.

    The analogy on Moscow house prices was in the same context of why Sydney house prices are dramatically rising in a relatively undistorted real estate market.

    As for Syria, its not a history lesson it is a current situation. Only this week I attended our AGM which included a Director who is also of a member of an arabic sovereign nations royal family, after which we continued on from our previous personal discussion on the Syrian situation of which I am on the opposite side of the fence on. I had lunch yesterday with some executives from Lebanon and Jordan and have personally supported a number of Palestinians relocate to Brisbane and have been travelling to the Gulf region in recent years. It is based on these interactions that I form my own view on current matters. As for reading up on the western authorised version of history, having been brought up in a household with a mother that is still to this day at 80 a practising historian, I have and like you and my mother I used to hold the conventional view on history, but I no longer do.

    That doesn’t make me right and you wrong though.

  10. Tim Newman says:

    The analogy on Moscow house prices was in the same context of why Sydney house prices are dramatically rising in a relatively undistorted real estate market.

    The Moscow real estate market is relatively undistorted?! Guffaw!

    As for your sources on Syria…well, yes. I lived in the Middle East four 3 years and heard nothing but opinions from the locals as to every problem in the region being the result of nefarious Americans/British who are in turn controlled by Israel/the Jews. I wasn’t aware these opinions were shared by adults, though. Perhaps there’s a reason why historical scholars prefer books as a medium to impart the fruits of their research rather than gobbing off in business meetings?

    So sorry, no: there is no Western invasion of Syria, and if your friends from the Middle East told you there was and you believed them, then you’re a gullible fool.

  11. Bardon says:

    I am in awe of your worldly insight and can only wish that someday we may all rise to the same lofty heights as your unabashed, anglified, middle management certainty about the world and its affairs has taken you.

  12. Tim Newman says:

    Bardon, it’s not about that. You seem to think knowledge is democratic whereby everyone’s opinion carries equal weight. It doesn’t.

    On the subject of Russia: I lived there for 4 years, ran a business there (kind of), devoured every decent book I could read on 20th century and modern-day Russia, learned the language, visited Moscow several times, pestered to death anyone from former Soviet countries, married a Russian, frequented many blogs and forums where the subject of Russia’s triumphs and failures both past and present were discussed at length, and wrote about it at considerable length on this blog here. No, I don’t know everything about Russia but I do know one fuck of a lot, especially compared to somebody whose view of the place and it’s politics seems to be based on a fantasy in which it rises up and gives the US a deserving (in your eyes) slap. This is the stuff of adolescents, and I have watched many self-declared Russian “patriots” (usually living overseas) with similar fantastic opinions demolished by their own countrymen and foreigners alike on umpteen web forums. Have you ever been to Russia? Even applied for a visa? Ever spoken to an ordinary, working class Russian?

    Similarly your views on the Middle East. Whereas you might think you’re being edgy and radical by diverting from “mainstream” history, in fact the arguments you put forward are commonplace, tired, tedious, and have been demolished on thousands of occasions, usually at the juncture where the person espousing them is requested to provide evidence. I have spent years on the websites, forums, and blogs which argue about Middle East issues, as well as spoken to God knows how many people with interests or roots in the region (did I mention I lived there for 3 years?). I’ve seen the same arguments rolled out time and again, and dispatched on every occasion. This is not to say that mainstream history is necessarily accurate in every aspect, nor should it be accepted wholesale. But spare me the teenage “revelations” whereby you hint at special knowledge gleaned not from years of serious, scholarly research but from alleged special insight granted to you by people you happen to have met once or twice, and end up saying pretty much what you can find in any left-wing chat room.

    You appear to have led an interesting life and I’m sure there is lots you genuinely know about (personally, I find your comments on the engineering projects to be very interesting). Try writing about that instead of venturing opinions on stuff you don’t, and getting offended when somebody picks you up on it.

  13. Bardon says:

    I earnestly tried to not sound offended, sounds like I failed, but I thought it was more that you were being toey and righteous, but once again thats cool. As I said, you have a good place to fill in the world and you would make a good officer, but why ask if I have been to Russia when you knew that I hadn’t, and also feign that I didn’t know that you were learning the language, I didn’t know that your wife was Russian though, you lucky bastard.

    By the way it is the Sheikh that I chin wag with, not the tea boy.

    No I aint left wing either and I am genuinely surprised that you thought I came across that way. Its the left wing view ie British view that you tend to promulgate.

    Okay back to engineering then, an update and a question. We got our first order today for my oil and gas start up company. Its one small step for mankind but one great leap forward for my stock in the company. We are also hoping to break into the European market with a cutting edge construction machine in my day job.

    Is there any truth to the rumour that on the back of the unmitigated financial disaster that GLNG has been to all their stakeholders, including Total, not to mention that they don’t have anywhere near enough gas to feed their LNG trains, that given the recent return to Paris of the French Total executives that Fluor will now get the arse and wont get Phase 2 EPCM, since Total support which was all that Fluor had has now left the country?

  14. Tim Newman says:

    The questions are rhetorical, the sort I would be asking myself if I found myself arguing with somebody about, say, the situation in Shanghai. Not that I have a problem with throwing in an opinion on something I don’t know about, but I do tend to back off a bit when somebody who knows the subject puts me straight.

    I never thought you were left wing, merely that your views on the subject (and the monarchy and Empire, for that matter) are identical to what you would find in a left wing chat room. And the conventional British view, insofar as there is such a thing, is more of the a Conservative right than the left wing.

    On the GLNG…I can’t reply to that on here, and you’ve not provided me with an email address. Besides, I genuinely know nothing about it. Good luck with the new venture though, God knows our industry could use some improvements.

  15. Sergei says:

    first of all, I am happy I can read your brilliant blog again. I was pulling my hair that I did not save your posts for reading and re-reading offline when I saw that not-so-funny banner instead of a fresh post. Some of your posts are truly outstanding in the clearness of analysis, independence of thinking and – your wonderful sense of humor.
    And I am 100% with you on both Russia and Syria in this post and comment trail. Knowledge is not democratic (a good way to put it). An opinion of one expert in the area is more valuable to me than any number of ignorant one. And science, exactly as you put it, cannot be right all the time. But in science we know what is a fact, what is a theory and what is a myth. Many people do not have the toolbox to distinguish these.
    I do hope to read many more posts on this blog!

  16. Bardon says:

    Tim, that’s cool and Shanghai is my favourite Asian city, now that you mention it. When I check in the Park Hyatt on the Bund they always give me the top level and its on the bullnose (you know when you see those hotel with rooms on rounded corners) that overlooks the whole thing, the bund, the tower the full monty, I also get my own dedicated duck chef just for me at my table!

    Looking forward to arguing with you again, so don’t forge to stay on your toes, comrade.

  17. Bardon says:

    Hello Sergie, on the topic of ignorance I always though that this saying was very insightful.

    “Science is the belief in the ignorance of the experts” – Richard Feynman

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