Facing international outcry over the jailing of 30 Greenpeace activists in the Russian Arctic, President Vladimir Putin sent a signal to prosecutors for leniency.
“It is obvious they’re not pirates,” he said Wednesday at an Arctic conference in Salekhard. “However, formally, they tried to seize our platform.”
Salekhard is 500 kilometers southeast of the Pechora Sea, where Greenpeace activists tried last week to board Russia’s only offshore oil production platform in the Arctic.
Russian Border Police intervened, arresting 30 activists and towing their boat, the Arctic Sunrise, to Murmansk. On Tuesday, Russian prosecutors said they were investigating, charging many of the activists with piracy, charges that can bring up to 15 years in jail.
This news drew a protest petition signed by more than 40 international environmental groups, asking President Putin to release the boat and its crew - activists from 18 countries.
Greenpeace representatives did not attend the Arctic Dialogue conference Wednesday. Greenpeace International executive director Kumi Naidoo denounced the piracy charges as “absurd.”
“We welcome President Putin’s recognition that our activists are clearly not pirates, and acted purely out of concern for the Arctic environment,” he said in a statement. “Our climbers attempted to attach themselves to the side of the platform to raise attention to the threat of Arctic oil drilling in this fragile environment, and the urgent need to deal with climate change.”
Last year, Greenpeace activists boarded the same rig and hoisted a protest banner.
At the Arctic conference, President Putin warned of the dangers of this kind of activism.
“They created circumstances that threatened health and lives,” he told the Arctic conference. “Are such PR actions worth the possibility of such severe consequences?"
Agreement came from other Russians at the conference, largely government officials or political supporters.
“Greenpeace’s actions were just to create a political scandal and draw more attention to Greenpeace,” said Mikhail Slipenchuk, a Duma deputy from the ruling United Russia party. “They probably need more money and to get new sponsors because their money is running out.”
Lawson Brigham, a retired U.S. Coast Guard captain, said that boarding an offshore oil rig would be prosecuted in the United States.
“It’s a very dangerous operation they’re trying to perform offshore - cold water, extreme environment - they are risking their lives,” he said.