Russia said it found drugs on a Greenpeace ship, warning that more serious charges may be added to a piracy case as the environmental group threatens to hold European protests against OAO Gazprom and its partners.
Investigators also accused some campaigners of trying to ram a Russian Coast Guard craft, endangering the lives of officials. The suspects are being identified, the Investigative Committee said in a website statement today.
The detention of 28 activists and two journalists from 18 countries, who are facing as long as 15 years in jail for alleged piracy during an Arctic protest, has provoked a diplomatic row as the Netherlands seeks to force Russia to release the Dutch-registered Arctic Sunrise and its crew, detained after two Greenpeace protesters scaled natural gas exporter Gazprom’s Prirazlomnoye oil rig in the Pechora Sea.
“We are not picking a fight with the Russian government, our focus is Gazprom,” Greenpeace International’s executive director Kumi Naidoo, said in a phone interview from Amsterdam today. “We are looking at where Gazprom operates, in Europe in particular. We are trying to understand its points of vulnerability. We think that consumers of Gazprom gas in Europe will be appalled by what the company is doing in the Arctic.”
Greenpeace denied in separate statements that the ship was carrying drugs and said the accusation that campaigners tried to ram a boat carrying border guards is “a fantasy.”
New charges will “obviously” be brought against some of the activists, Russia’s Investigative Committee said, without giving details.
Greenpeace is planning to target Gazprom and European companies buying its natural gas to secure the activists’ release, according to Naidoo. The group is considering a consumer campaign against the state-run Russian company, which supplies about a quarter of the European Union’s gas, he said.
Gazprom, Russia’s largest company, plans to become the first Russian explorer to start producing oil in the Arctic offshore as soon as this year. Greenpeace activists scaled the same drilling platform in 2012.
“This confirms that their goal is not to protect the environment but to attract attention,” Sergei Kupriyanov, a spokesman for Moscow-based Gazprom, said by phone. “The activists were detained not by Gazprom but by state investigative bodies and our European clients have absolutely nothing to do with it.”
Greenpeace campaigners earlier this month occupied gasoline stations in Germany operated by Gazprom. They also delayed a Champions League soccer game between Basel and Germany’s Schalke 04, sponsored by Gazprom, unfurling a protest banner. Last month, demonstrations were staged in 30 countries, including Brazil, France and the U.S., outside Russian diplomatic missions and Gazprom offices.
“If we make it difficult for Gazprom to sell to Europe, that will hurt the company,” said Naidoo, adding that any campaign would also target “partners” of Gazprom, including companies in Germany and other EU states that buy its gas.
Adding to the tensions, President Vladimir Putin yesterday demanded a Dutch apology after police arrested a Russian diplomat in The Hague and allegedly beat him in front of his family, according to a statement by the Foreign Ministry in Moscow. The Netherlands today said the envoy’s diplomatic immunity had been violated and offered its apologies over the incident.
Two citizens of the Netherlands are among the Greenpeace activists in custody in the port city of Murmansk. The country’s authorities said Oct. 4 that they had started arbitration to free them and the Arctic Sunrise on the basis of the United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea, a decision Greenpeace said it “applauds.”
Russian investigators said they found morphine and opium straw on board the ship as well as “dual-use” equipment that may have been intended for other than ecological purposes.
“We can only assume the Russian authorities are referring to the medical supplies that our ships are obliged to carry under maritime law,” Greenpeace said in an e-mailed statement. “The ship was first searched by Russian officers weeks ago, they scoured every corner of it, so we assume this announcement is designed to deflect attention from the growing global outrage over the continued imprisonment of the detainees.”
Naidoo sent a letter to Putin asking for a meeting and offered to come to Russia and make himself a personal guarantor of the group’s activists if they are released on bail, according to an e-mailed statement.