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By John Helmer, Moscow

While the Greenpeace organization has been drawing worldwide attention to pending charges of a pirate attack against the Prirazlomnaya oil platform in the Barents Sea, Russian prosecutors and the Russian Navy reveal they have abandoned the prosecution of piracy threatening Russian vessels in the Indian Ocean off the Horn of Africa.

Article 227 of the Russian Criminal Code defines piracy as an “assault on a seagoing ship or a river boat with the aim of capturing other people’s property, committed with the use of violence or with the threat of its use”. The penalty for a conviction on one count is prison for between five and ten years. Repeated acts of the same type “with the use of arms or objects used as arms”, according to section 2, draws a penalty of 8 to 12 years. If pirate acts are organized by groups the sentence grows from 10 to 15 years.

According to Alexei Moiseyev, a professor at the Diplomatic Academy in Moscow, piracy wasn’t recognized in the Soviet statute-book, and wasn’t adopted in the Russian Criminal Code until 1996. “With the exception of the situation in Somalia, the rules on anti-piracy applied by states are relatively rare.”

The best known, indeed the only case of a Russian prosecution, trial and conviction of individuals under Art. 227 was the story of the Arctic Sea. This began in July of 2009, when a timber-carrier of that name was boarded in the Baltic, and ended in March 2011, when six men were convicted in a St. Petersburg court and sentenced to terms of 7 to 12 years. For unravelling some of the mysteries of the Arctic Sea story, read this.

For what Greenpeace the organization intended to do, and through the 30-person crew of the Arctic Sunrise, an unrelated vessel, did do on September 19 of this year, read this backfile.

The Investigative Committee of the Prosecutor-General of the Russian Federation is responsible for investigating and prosecuting Art. 227 offences. It won’t say, however, how many piracy prosecutions there have been, and what has become of the Somalis arrested by Russian Navy vessels and held on charges of attempting piracy against Russian vessels and others.

Over the past four years Russian anti-piracy policy has been the work of the federal procuracy; the Navy; and diplomatic emissary Mikhail Margelov. None has made recent statements on piracy or on Russian policy for dealing with pirates.

Considering that Russia is one of the largest exporters of oil and gas in the world, the importance of secure passage for the movement of its energy cargoes on the high seas is obvious. This is how then-President Dmitry Medvedev articulated the Russian policy of “internationalization”, following the capture of 15 Somali pirates by the Russian cruiser Peter the Great in February 2009, then another 29 Somalis by the destroyer Admiral Panteleyev in May 2009: “We have seized the pirates, now we’ve got to understand what is to be done next. After all, they can be tried in different jurisdictions. This is an international matter which will require calling a conference or creating some independent judicial institution.”

Medvedev’s call for a policy for dealing with the piracy episodes of that year triggered the appearance of government action, but little follow-up, as this report documented at the time.

zvyagintsevThe Russian prosecutor in charge of piracy is Alexander Zvyagintsev; he is a deputy prosecutor-general. In 2009, after the Panteleyev operations, he made several public statements on Russian piracy policy. He also represented Russia at international conferences called to discuss what was to be done with the pirates. A year later in 2010, Russian policy on what to do with them was still unclear. This week Zvyagintsev wouldn’t answer questions about what he’s been doing recently on Russian piracy law.

That leaves the Russian Navy. It is responsible for anti-piracy patrols in the Horn of Africa and Gulf of Aden; it began its anti-piracy patrols in the region in 2008. On November 19, 2012, at a United Nations debate on piracy, Russia’s UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin said: “Russia supports the extension of a mandate to carry out all necessary measures to prevent piracy off the coast of Somalia, including its territorial waters. We intend to maintain the presence of our Navy in the Gulf of Aden, working in close contact with other countries and regional organizations [involved in the fight against piracy].”

The Russian Navy said at the time it would continue its patrolling in the same region in 2013, with at least three 12-week tours of duty scheduled. The first tour ran from December 2012 to March 2013; the second ran from May to July. The third commenced at the start of this month. The Navy units on station include a destroyer, tanker, rescue tug, with helicopters and a unit of marines; they are usually deployed from the Pacific Fleet based at Vladivostok. In this year’s second tour, the patrol was led by the Neustrashimy, a frigate of the Baltic Fleet. But the Navy has abandoned its earlier policy of announcing engagements with pirates, and it won’t say what arrests it has made last year or this one during its patrols.

dygaloThe Navy spokesman in Moscow, Captain Igor Dygalo, is all at sea when it comes to answering questions about the Navy’s rules of engagement with pirates. He won’t acknowledge there are new orders not to engage or capture pirates. He won’t say what happened to the Navy’s request for longer-range air reconnaissance so that its men are better prepared to deter the pirates from coming closer.

In October 2012 Russia asked France to allow the deployment of two Ilyushin Il-38 naval reconnaissance planes at the Lemonnier airfield, a French base in Djibouti, to add range to its anti-piracy missions in the Gulf of Aden. “We have asked France to host two reconnaissance planes at its air base in Djibouti in addition to three French planes deployed there,” then-Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov said after a meeting of the Russian-French Security Cooperation Council in Paris. There has been no confirmation of the deployment.

According to Igor Korotchenko, editor in chief of National Defense Magazine, the French said no. Other evidence indicates that the French refusal was seconded, if not prompted by the Americans. The US operates drones from the Lemonnier airfield, and bases 3,000 intervention troops there as well. In September of this year the US moved the drones to Chabelley airfield, further away from Lemonnier, after incidents indicated collision risk between drones and conventional commercial and military aircraft.

What has happened to the Somali pirates, who were detained by the Russian Navy in 2009-2010? “Nothing happened with them,” Korotchenko responds. “After they were disarmed, they were put into boats equipped with the necessary supply of fuel and water to reach the shore. After that, the Russian Navy does not track the fate of these pirates.”

Mikhail Margelov, a member of the upper house of parliament (Federation Council) is the Kremlin’s designated troubleshooter for piracy, Somalia, and the Horn of Africa more broadly. For background on Margelov’s public service record. Margelov’s last contribution to Russia’s piracy was: “if we don’t rebuild Somalia, piracy will continue. This is a disease of the failed state.” He said that in May 2009.

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