Russia Says Arctic Activists ‘not Pirates’ But Broke Law

(Efrem Lukatsky / Associated Press / September 25, 2013) Also By Sergei L. Loiko and Julie Cart September 24, 2013, 4:43 p.m. MOSCOW Russia opened a criminal case Tuesday against Greenpeace activists, accusing them of piracy for attempting to stage a protest on an Arctic oil rig. A Greenpeace spokeswoman called the accusation “absurd.” Russian border troops seized the Greenpeace icebreaker Arctic Sunrise, along with its multinational crew of 30 activists and sailors, in a commando operation Thursday in the Barents Sea. The day before, the group had been foiled while attempting to raise a protest banner on a Russian oil drilling platform. The ship was towed by the Russian coast guard to an anchor in Kola Bay, about six miles from the port of Murmansk. “After conducting a preliminary investigation, the Russian Investigative Committee’s northwestern branch initiated a criminal case on the signs of … piracy committed by an organized group,” Vladimir Markin, the investigative committee spokesman, said in a statement published on the agency’s website Tuesday. No formal charges have been filed. Piracy carries a potential sentence of five to 15 years in prison. Greenpeace has said the group intended to raise a banner on the Prirazlomnaya drilling platform to protest Arctic pollution. Prirazlomnaya is a major Arctic oil exploration project of Gazpromneft, a subsidiary of the Russian state-owned energy giant Gazprom. It lies within a Russian exclusive economic zone.

Greenpeace said five activists were questioned into the early hours of Wednesday. Yevgenia Belyakova, a Greenpeace activist, said nine more were questioned later Wednesday. Speaking from Murmansk, Belyakova added that the activists had been moved ashore without any basic necessities like toothbrushes. The foreign campaigners are nationals of Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Britain, Canada, Denmark, the United States, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Ukraine, France, Italy, Turkey, Finland, Switzerland, Poland and Sweden. A representative of the regional investigators in Murmansk told AFP the high-profile case was overseen by Moscow-based colleagues. “That means it is all very serious,” she said on condition of anonymity. ‘We did not know who they were’ The environmentalists’ detention drew immediate condemnation from Greenpeace and generated concern in the West. A Greenpeace activist climbs a Gazprom oil platform in the in the Barents Sea, on September 18, 2013 Finland’s President Sauli Niinistoe raised the issue in a meeting with Putin on Tuesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told AFP. Foreign diplomats from countries like Poland and Sweden said they were in touch with Russian authorities. Putin sought to defend the Russian authorities’ response, saying it was not immediately clear that those storming the platform really were campaigners from Greenpeace. “Our law enforcement agencies, our border guards did not know who was trying to seize the platform under the guise of Greenpeace,” he told the Arctic forum. Putin acknowledged that the “fragile” Arctic environment should be handled with care but dismissed that Greenpeace protest as a PR stunt. “A technical error could have happened and could have created a risk to the life and health of people,” he said.

Russia Hopes For UN Resolution On Syria This Week, Deputy FM Sergei Ryabkov Says

Rebels including al-Qaida-linked fighters gained control of Maaloula, Syrian activists said Sunday. Government media provided a dramatically different account of the battle suggesting regime forces were winning. It was impossible to independently verify the reports from Maaloula, a scenic mountain community known for being one of the few places in the world where residents still speak the ancient Middle Eastern language of Aramaic. A poster with the portrait of Syrian President Bashar Assad is seen bottom right. (AP Photo/SANA) This citizen journalism image provided by The Syrian Revolution against Bashar Assad which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, a Free Syrian army fighter stands on a damaged military tank in Zabadani, near Damascus, Syria, Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013. (AP Photo/The Syrian Revolution against Bashar Assad) A Syrian man, who requested not to be named, wounded in the ongoing violence in Syria, is hospitalized at Ziv Medical Center in the northern Israeli city of Safed, Israel. The Syrian man is one of 89 victims of the Syrian civil war who have been treated at the hospital this year. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty) A member of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party holds a portrait of late Syrian President Hafez Assad the father of Bashar Assad during a demonstration against a possible military strike in Syria, in front of the United Nations headquarters, in Beirut, Lebanon, Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein) This citizen journalism image provided by The Syrian Revolution against Bashar Assad which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, a Free Syrian army fighter stands on a damaged military tank in Zabadani, near Damascus, Syria, Sunday, Sept.