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Russia Drops Charges Against Greenpeace Activists

Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise crew member Mannes Ubels (L, front) holds papers certifying the termination of prosecution after he walked out of the offices of the Federal Migration Service Department in St. Petersburg, Dec. 25, 2013.
The environmental group Greenpeace said Russia has dropped criminal charges against most of its activists arrested in a September protest against Arctic oil drilling. Greenpeace said it expects all 30 cases to be closed down shortly.

On its official Twitter account Wednesday, Greenpeace said the last hurdle before the activists can return home is to secure exit visas. The group hopes that will happen by the end of the week.

The Russian government has released a number of high-profile prisoners in the past week -- including oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky and the last jailed members of the Pussy Riot punk band.

Khodorkovsky applied for a Swiss visa on Tuesday following his decade-long imprisonment. The former oil tycoon's wife and their three children live in Switzerland and he has extensive business ties there.

The releases are part of an amnesty viewed by many as an effort by President Vladimir Putin to polish Russia's image before hosting the Sochi Olympic Games in February.

Greenpeace said crew members of its ship "Arctic Sunrise" had been peacefully protesting at a Russian oil rig and should never have been arrested in the first place. The protest was aimed at drawing attention to the environmental threat of oil drilling.

The 28 Greenpeace activists and two freelance journalists were initially charged with piracy. The charges were later downgraded to hooliganism, which carries a potential seven-year prison sentence.