By John Helmer, Moscow
“Greenpeace has broken the safety zone. Greenpeace activists have forced their entry into the drilling rig. This constitutes an obvious illegal act that disregards the democratic rules. It furthermore constitutes a severe violation of the safety regulations put in place to protect human lives and the environment. The Greenpeace action [is] a very grave and illegal attack on constitutional rights. It is highly disturbing that Greenpeace in its chase for media attention with all measures breaks the safety regulations put in place to protect people and the environment.”
If that sounds like a statement issued by the Murmansk prosecutor, the Investigative Committee of the General Prosecutor, Gazpromneft, or the Kremlin, you’d be mistaken. In fact it’s a statement  by Kuupik Kleist, premier of Greenland, after his police had arrested a Greenpeace group which had attempted to occupy an oil drilling rig off the coast of Greenland. The date was more than three years ago, on August 31, 2010. The Greenland prosecutor also arrested a helicopter Greenpeace had hired to drop its members on to the rig, which was operated by Cairn Energy.
This is an Edinburgh-based oil explorer owned by Sun Life Financial of Canada, BlackRock of the US, and Yad Hanadiv. That last one happens to be a Rothschild family foundation in Israel. It says it “ is dedicated to creating resources for advancing Israel as a healthy, vibrant, democratic society, committed to Jewish values and equal opportunity for the benefit of all its inhabitants, carrying forward the philanthropic tradition of the Rothschild family.” That tradition extended 175 kilometres into the sea off western Greenland in July of 2010, when Cairn announced  its oil drilling programme. At the time, Cairn was reporting half-yearly revenue of $333 million, and pre-tax profit of $94 million. The attempted Greenpeace occupation halted drilling for two days. By September 2, Cairn announced it had resumed work. “The actions taken by Greenpeace,” Cairn also announced , “remain a matter for the Greenlandic authorities.”
Source: Financial Times
Four Greenpeace members were arrested on the rig. They were then taken to a local court, charged with trespassing and breaching a 500-metre security zone around the rig. They were convicted; their equipment was confiscated; they were fined between 1,500 ($259) and 4,000 ($690) Danish kroner, substantially less than Greenpeace has announced. A Danish Navy frigate, armed naval commandos, and police boats also participated in the operation against Greenpeace.
By October 26, two months after Greenpace had made its move, Cairn announced it had plugged two of three wells drilled by the rig, and suspended work on the third. The findings were uncommercial, Cairn said, and costs of $185 million were written off. By August of this year, Cairn had moved most of its offshore drilling exploration to the south Atlantic off the coasts of Morocco, Senegal, and Mauritania.
In September 2011 another group from Greenpeace was arrested after they had boarded another of Cairn’s rigs in Greenland waters. They too were convicted of criminal trespass.
A few weeks earlier, on June 9, 2011, a Dutch court had issued an injunction in favour of Cairn’s Greenland exploration company Capricorn. This prohibited Greenpeace from approaching within 500 metres of oil rigs in Greenland waters. The judgement of the court in Amsterdam noted there are serious accident and spill risks in deep drilling of the seabed.” Cairn, said the court, “has not disputed that if a similar scenario [of the Gulf of Mexico disaster of May 2010] would develop on the drilling locations at issue, it would be very difficult due to the climactic circumstances in the area, which permit navigation for only a few months a year due to the formation of ice, to stem an oil spill. A leak of this kind could indeed have major consequences for humans, wildlife and the environment in a large region.”
“However, taking into consideration that GPI [Greenpeace] has been able to draw wide attention to the dangers connected to the drilling by Capricorn [cairn] with the action taken so far, and also taking into consideration that Capricorn lawfully uses the licenses issued by the government of Greenland, and further taking into consideration the interest of Capricorn to have a safe environment during the execution of its risky operations and the presumably high costs in the case of a delay, whereby account must also be had of the limited time which climactic circumstances permit for a safe execution of the drills, a balancing of the interests between a justification for the actions of GPI and the interest of Capricorn in unhindered progress of its drilling activities at this time tips in favour of Capricorn. […]” Read the Dutch judgement here ; An excerpt translated into English by Greenpeace can be read here .
The Amsterdam court order threatened Greenpeace with a fine of €50,000 per day for violating the prohibitions up to a maximum of €1 million. That was not counting what Greenpeace would be liable to the Danish and Greenland authorities for breaking their trespass laws. When Greenpeace repeated the tactic and occupied another Cairn rig in Greenland waters in September of 2011, the 20 individuals involved were jailed until they were tried in court, then deported.
Media coverage of the Russian arrests of the Greenpeace vessel, Motor Yacht Arctic Sunrise, and the 30 individuals involved in last month’s attempt to occupy the Prilazlomnaya oil rig of Gazpromneft, has largely ignored the operations of the Danish and Greenland authorities, all initially at gunpoint; the imprisonment of the Greenpeace members; their convictions, fines and deportation.
The same western journalists reporting this week’s application by the Dutch Government for a hearing on the vessel and individual arrests before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) have either ignored, or been quite unaware of the Amsterdam court’s 2011 ruling on the legality of the 500-metre security zone around such rigs and platforms; and the illegality of attempts by Greenpeace to board them and stop them operating. The Hamburg tribunal has released these documents  on the proceeding requested by the Dutch.
Not only is the Dutch government claiming its jurisdiction over the vessel, but it is also claiming jurisdiction over the majority of the crew arrested and in prison in Murmansk, who are not Dutch nationals. According to the ITLOS release, the Dutch government is demanding that ITLOS order “immediate[ ] release [of] the crew members of the ‘Arctic Sunrise’, and allow them to leave the territory and maritime areas under the jurisdiction of the Russian Federation; (iii) Suspend all judicial and administrative proceedings, and refrain from initiating any further proceedings, in connection with the incidents leading to the boarding and detention of the ‘Arctic Sunrise’, and refrain from taking or enforcing any judicial or administrative measures against the ‘Arctic Sunrise’, its crew members, its owners and its operators.”
Unsurprisngly, the Russian government has responded that neither the government in The Hague nor the Hamburg tribunal has jurisdiction over criminal acts committed on Russian territory and against Russian property. So the Russian government won’t participate in the ITLOS proceeding.
That this is already a case exempted from the jurisdiction of the tribunal is evident from the Russian accession documents to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. They explicitly allow Russia to opt out of an ITLOS proceeding for “disputes concerning law-enforcement activities in regard to the exercise of sovereign rights”. This is precisely what the court in Murmansk and the Prosecutor-General in Moscow state to be the grounds for the arrest of crew and vessel. If you are in doubt, read page 26 of this .
Greenpeace claims the Arctic Sunrise was boarded in waters of Russia’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) “outside of the safety zone declared around Prirazlomnaya. The Convention permits boarding in very limited cases, that are clearly not applicable. The Russian Federation has never publicly stated on what legal basis it seized the ship.”
Those arrested at the oil rig had obviously penetrated the 500-metre security zone; those arrested on board the Arctic Sunrise, and the vessel itself, were just as plainly part of the same operation. The specification of the charges in the indictment thus depends on what the intentions were of the Greenpeace group and the crew of the Arctic Sunrise. It also depends on how much evidence the Russian prosecutors can gather to prove these intentions. There is no telling (yet) what admissions the thirty accused have been making in their interviews with Russian investigators to inculpate, if not themselves, the Greenpeace directors.
If raising large sums of money was demonstrably part of the Greenpeace plan, then the operation looks more like a type of hostage-taking in reverse, in which the “pirates” wittingly become the “hostages” of the authorities who arrest them, in order for a “ransom” to be raised from the two to three million card-carrying supporters Greenpace claims officially, plus others attracted by the publicity. Less Somali piracy than the Gilbert & Sullivan type, but a lucrative scheme just the same – also one in which the Russian authorities had no choice but to follow the same playbook as the Danes and the Greenlanders.
By challenging Russian “sovereign rights” in the strategic Arctic economic zone Greenpeace has had a surprise assist from the Dutch. Oddly, that was withheld when Greenpeace’s targets were Cairn Energy and the authority of Greenland and the Danish governments, and when the Dutch court was asked to rule. This is why the Kremlin thinks Greenpeace has been put up to this by other powers.
According to Greenpeace’s publications, “to maintain absolute independence Greenpeace does not accept money from companies, governments or political parties.” Greenpeace’s financial statements  indicate it is spending more than €90 million per annum to raise a gross annual sum of about three times as much; in 2012 total income in grants and donations came to €264.9 million. In short, Greenpeace must spend one euro to collect three. That requires a massive global advertising campaign. As the Greenland premier said when the first oil rig seizure was attempted in 2010, “the Greenland Government regards the Greenpeace action as being a very grave and illegal attack on Greenland’s constitutional rights. It is highly disturbing that Greenpeace in its chase on media attention with all measures breaks the safety regulations put in place to protect people and the environment.”
A Greenland government statement  after the second oil rig incident in 2011 was more emphatic. “In Greenland, we consider Greenpeace’s actions against oil rigs to be an eternal hunt for media attention and ultimately a hunt for financial contributions from the western world. That takes place cynically at the cost of small developing countries’ legitimate right to economic development.”
Chasing media attention may be closer to the real dynamic behind the Prirazlomnaya operation than an anti-Russian plot by the usual suspects, as the Kremlin views them. Gazprom has said as much. “Whatever statement we give,” said Gennady Lubin, chief executive of Gazpromnetshelf, “they have replied: ‘This will not do, it’s bad, it’s wrong, all you’re doing is wrong.’ Dialogue can be conducted when people hear each other. But when one of the parties is in complete denial of everything plus in manipulation of information – this is not a dialogue , it is an attempt to impose their views.” Lubin was speaking after the Murmansk court had begun committal and bail hearings on application from prosecutors who said they were investigating what charges to bring, including piracy.
It is clear from the Murmansk court record and the statements by the prosecutors that piracy was not the offence for which the Greenpeace group would stand trial. It has since been replaced by the charge of hooliganism, the Criminal Code Article 213 which was also the basis for the prosecution in Moscow of Pussy Riot last year. That was an operation of the BBC . The problem for the Russian prosecutors in the Greenpeace case is that, unlike the Greenlanders and Danes, Russia is struggling with the problem of framing the charge of criminal trespass, according to the present Criminal Code.
In a press statement  yesterday by V.I. Markin, a spokesman for the Investigative Committee, the prosecution implied that what is clear in non-Russian law is problematic under Russian law in this case. “Under the international law any person commits a crime, if they illegally and deliberately seize a stationary platform or take control over it, no matter the intentions of these persons. It is obvious that a ‘peaceful’ campaign is out of question in this particular situation. The behaviour of the accused after they were held does not help to find the truth either. Of course, they have the right not to testify against themselves…the refusal of the accused to testify gives the investigators every reason to check carefully all possible versions of the incident, including the seizure of the platform out of mercenary and terrorist motives, because of illegal research activity, or even espionage.”
“At this point I can say that the investigators have performed a great amount of work to find the real picture of the incident. And today the investigators have decided to change the charges for Part 2 of Article 213 of the R[ussian] F[ederation] Criminal Code — hooliganism, that is gross violation of public order, expressing obvious disrespect to society, committed with objects used as weapons, by an organized group and accompanied by resistance to a representative of the authorities. The procedure of bringing new charges against all the detainees has been started in accordance with the rules of criminal procedure. However, as was reported earlier, the investigators do not rule out that some of the detainees might be charged with other serious crimes, namely Article 318 of the RF Criminal Code — use of violence against a representative of the authorities. The investigation is ongoing.”
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev conceded the juridical problem in April , when he was speaking at a Baltic Sea Forum in St. Petersburg: “I’ll explain my view on seizing oil derricks. Such acts are akin to taking hostages. I believe that this is not a very good practice, because it is always desirable to obey the laws. Regarding voluntary initiatives, this is an absolutely necessary topic, an absolutely necessary thing. And perhaps it is not bad that our colleagues from non-profit organisations behave more emotionally or more radically. Sometimes it is necessary to dramatise the situation to urge governments to act – this is probably the social mission of the environmental organisations. I repeat, unless this activity violates the law. This refers to all environmental organisations including Greenpeace, with whom all countries and governments should engage in dialogue, in my view.”
President Vladimir Putin said on September 25, at an Arctic Forum in Salekhard: “They are obviously not pirates, but formally, they did attempt to board the platform…What is clear is that they violated international law and came dangerously close to the platform.”
Russian officials acknowledge that the current Russian criminal code requires greater specificity and deterrence for forced entry on installations like the Prirazlomnaya. For the time being though that’s a loophole Greenpeace calculated it can sail a motor yacht through.
Anton Beneslavskiy, a Moscow lawyer for Greenpeace and head of its Russian forest programme, says there can be no basis for charging the Arctic Sunrise or its Greenpeace complement for violating the security zone around the Prirazlomnaya because “the security zone was not properly installed. Besides, Russian legislation does not provide liability for its violation.” They cannot be charged with criminal trespass either, according to Beneslavskiy, because the operative Russian criminal law does not allow it. That means, the lawyer said he believes, there “is absolutely no violation of Russian law by Greenpeace.” Finally, since technically there are no violations of Russian law, there can be no opting out by the Russian government from the ITLOS proceeding in Hamburg.