(Updates with Gazprom comment in 10th paragraph.)
Sept. 26 (Bloomberg) -- Russia extended the detention of Greenpeace activists for up to two months as it presses piracy charges against 30 campaigners for seeking to board an Arctic oil platform, a move the organization says will spark an international outcry.
Investigators have opened a criminal case against the activists for piracy, a charge that carries a maximum prison sentence of 15 years.
“Nineteen countries are affected by this, and in the context of not very good relations with the European Union this isn’t useful for Russia,” Vladimir Chuprov, head of the energy program of Greenpeace’s Russian branch, said today in a phone interview from Moscow. “This isn’t what President Vladimir Putin needs right now.”
A crackdown by Putin on the opposition and civil society after winning a third Kremlin term last year has provoked criticism in Europe and the U.S. Ties with the U.S. are also frayed over support for opposing sides in the 2 1/2-year conflict in Syria and Russia’s decision to grant asylum to former American security contractor Edward Snowden.
A court in the Arctic port of Murmansk has ruled to prolong by two months the detention of two Russians, photographer Denis Sinyakov and Greenpeace spokesperson Roman Dolgov, and five foreign citizens, one from the U.S., one from Poland, one from New Zealand, one from Canada and one from France, the organization said on its Russian branch’s Twitter account.
A Dutch national and a Swedish citizen had their detention extended by 72 hours, Greenpeace said. Six judges are expected to deliver 30 individual rulings, Elena Kukina, the court’s spokeswoman in Murmansk, said by phone.
The measures against the activists may be relaxed and their detention cut short at the discretion of investigators, Interfax reported, citing Vladimir Markin, spokesman for the Investigative Committee.
Putin said yesterday that while the Greenpeace campaigners “clearly” aren’t pirates, they violated international law by trying to seize a drilling platform and alarmed officials who didn’t know who was attempting to take over the facility.
Russia’s Coast Guard boarded Greenpeace’s Arctic Sunrise ship in international waters on Sept. 19, a day after two protesters scaled an OAO Gazprom rig in the Arctic and towed the vessel to Murmansk two days ago. State-run Gazprom plans to become the first Russian company to start producing oil in Arctic waters at the Prirazlomnoye deposit as soon as this year. Greenpeace activists scaled the same drilling platform in 2012.
Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov accused Greenpeace of endangering the lives of workers on the rig who were underwater at the time. “Just imagine what it’s like to work underwater in Arctic conditions,” he said in an interview with Ekho Moskvy radio. “Any violation of the norms can lead to catastrophe.”
Diplomats from at least five countries -- the U.S., Finland, Germany, Argentina and Switzerland -- are in Murmansk to assist their nationals, Chuprov said. The activists also include citizens of the U.K., Australia, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Ukraine, Russia, France, Italy, Turkey, Poland and Sweden, according to Greenpeace.
The captain of Arctic Sunrise, American Peter Wilcox, who’s among those detained for another two months, was in charge of Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior when it was sunk in Auckland in 1985 by a bomb planted by the French intelligence service.
The Netherlands has asked Russia to immediately release the Greenpeace activists, Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans said in a letter sent to parliament yesterday. Timmermans spoke yesterday in New York to his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, who pledged to inform the Netherlands as soon as possible about what will happen to the ship and its crew, Friso Wijnen, a Dutch Foreign Ministry spokesman, said today by phone.
Switzerland’s Foreign Ministry said yesterday it’s “closely monitoring” the situation and asked its Russian counterpart and Russia’s embassy in Switzerland for “clarifications” over the case. A Swiss diplomat in Murmansk is coordinating with the representatives of the countries of other individuals who have been detained, the ministry said.
Greenpeace International’s executive director Kumi Naidoo denounced what he termed “blatant intimidation” by the Russian authorities.
“We call on people in Russia and around the world to stand with our activists and defend their right to peaceful protest,” he said.
--With assistance from Fred Pals in Amsterdam and Zoe Schneeweiss in Zurich. Editors: Andrew Langley, Torrey Clark