Russian embassy replies to your emails demanding freedom for the Arctic 30

Posted by Graham Thompson — 6 December 2013 at 2:10pm - Comments
All rights reserved. Credit: Cobb/Greenpeace
Over 2.5 million emails have been sent to Russian embassies around the world

We've received a reply from the Russian embassy in London in response to the thousands of emails sent in support of the Arctic 30. It's a shame they didn't respond to everyone personally, but any response is always welcome.

It's a short letter from press secretary Artem Kozhin and a much longer Q&A-style document which sets out the Russian government's position, but naturally it's not one that I, or anyone else here, agrees with.

Here are the main claims and allegations, and details on why they're unfounded. Read the embassy's full response at the bottom of this page.

The allegation that Greenpeace tried to ‘attack’ or ‘storm’ the Prirazlomnaya
If the Russian authorities are using these words in the same way a football commentator might, it would be a bit pedantic of us to criticise their choice of metaphors. If they mean it literally, then we can help them out of this confusion. If you study the video evidence carefully, you’ll notice that the people waving guns and knives, abseiling out of helicopters and pushing people around are Federal Security Service coastguards. The Greenpeace activists are the people with their hands in the air.

The allegation that the Greenpeace action was ‘dangerous’ to the rig and its workers
The Prirazlomnaya is a bit of a rickety old thing – at least for drilling for oil in the icy waters of the Arctic. It’s pieced together from bits of old rigs, and we are deeply concerned as to whether it can withstand the rough conditions in the Arctic Ocean. However, weighing in at half a million tonnes, we suspect it probably stands a fairly good chance of coming through a Greenpeace banner-hang relatively unscathed. If, however, we have miscalculated, and the Prirazlomnaya really could sink under the weight of a couple of climbers and a banner, then we recommend immediate evacuation.

The claim that the Russian authorities needed two months (now extended to five) to investigate ‘the true motive and purpose of the Greenpeace action’
Speaking as a Greenpeace press officer, this is just depressing. I’m frequently surprised at how difficult it can be to get our message across to people, and sometimes it’s hard to really sum up an issue in a banner slogan, but no-one has ever needed a five month investigation before.

The allegation that the crew of the Arctic Sunrise violated Russian law, specifically Section 4, Article 226 (piracy) and Article 213 (hooliganism)
Both charges require violence to have been used by the perpetrator. Article 226 requires the violence to have been for the purpose of personal gain, Article 213 requires the violence to have been committed on Russian territory. Peaceful protest in international waters does not come under either article. 

The claim that the investigative committee have downgraded the charges to “hooliganism”
Officially, the Arctic 30 are still currently charged with “hooliganism” and “piracy”. We strongly support the Investigative Committee’s view that the piracy charges should be dropped, and encourage them to do so at the earliest opportunity.

The allegation that Greenpeace violated international law, specifically the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)
Fortunately, this issue has now been resolved by the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (Itlos), consisting of 21 judges from around the world. On 22 November, Itlos ordered that the Arctic Sunrise and her crew should be released(pdf).

The allegation that the Arctic Sunrise ‘was not responding to repeated radio requests and warnings from the Russian Coast Guard’
We’re quite a chatty bunch, and always scrupulously polite – and there was a native Russian speaker on the bridge of the Arctic Sunrise at the time of the action. We think they probably mean ‘not obeying’ rather than ‘not responding’.

The claim that Russia was fully aware of the Arctic Sunrise’s history, its presence in the Russian Arctic, and its plans to protest at the Prirazlomnaya
Could well all be true, actually. Pretty much everything the Arctic Sunrise does is detailed extensively on our websites, as well as in the media, it’s a pretty distinctive looking ship, and did indeed do exactly the same thing in the same place at the same time last year. This does rather call into question the Russian authorities’ insistence that the Arctic Sunrise were a security threat because they "could have been anyone".

Update, 10 December 2013: The original version of this blog included the claim that, in addition to ordering the release of the Arctic Sunrise and her crew, Itlos had ruled that the Russian boarding and seizure of the vessel and crew were 'illegal'. The Itlos ruling was provisional, and the tribunal have yet to give a final verdict on the legality of Russia's actions.

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