President Putin has defended the detention of Greenpeace activists, saying they violated international law with their protest at Russia’s first Arctic offshore oil rig.
But he implied that the campaigners being held in the Murmansk region should not be charged with piracy.
Addressing an Arctic Forum in northern Russia, the president said:
“It is perfectly obvious that they are no pirates. But they made a deliberate attempt to seize the oil platform. Our law-enforcement agents, our border guards didn’t know who was trying to seize the platform under the guise of Greenpeace. Especially against the background of the bloody events that were taking place in Kenya – that could have been anything.”
In fact the activists were detained on September 18, three days before the Nairobi attack.
Greenpeace was alarmed when investigators said they would probably face piracy charges, punishable by up to 15 years in jail. Now there is relief at Putin’s intervention.
“Thank God, there is a reasonable high-ranking person who has finally admitted that this accusation is not right with regards to this international non-violent organisation. All our actions are non-violent, they are peaceful,” said Evgenia Belyakova, Greenpeace Russia Arctic campaigner.
Investigators have been questioning the activists since last week’s protest at the platform off northern Russia, which brought a swift response from the coast guard.
Greenpeace argues the oil exploration endangers marine life and a spill would affect thousands of kilometres of Russian coastline.
Onshore drilling is well established in the Arctic, but significant offshore work is in its infancy despite relatively shallow waters and numerous attempts.
A decade of high oil prices, scarcity of opportunities elsewhere and a shrinking ice cap have led companies to look to unexploited parts of the Arctic in recent years.
Global majors including ExxonMobil, Eni and Statoil have agreed deals with Russia’s state-owned Rosneft to enter Russia’s Arctic offshore waters.