In the latest of a series of incidents stretching back to the 1980s, the naval arm of Greenpeace International has once again learned that poking the bear (this time it was the Russian Bear no less) can be quite unwise. Russian authorities have seized the Greenpeace vessel Arctic Sunrise after “protestors” from that ship attempted to force their way onto the Gazprom oil platform Prirazlomnaya as part of Greenpeace’s “Confronting Arctic Oil” campaign. While all 30 crew members remain in custody while the ship is being towed to port in Murmansk, Swiss citizen Marco Weber (28) (AKA Weber Marco Polo) and Finnish citizen Sini Saarela (31) have been placed under arrest, as they are the two activists who physically attempted to board the Gazprom oil platform.
The Russian Foreign Ministry has appropriately and accurately described Greenpeace activities in the Arctic as "aggressive and provocative," as this is not the first encounter between the Arctic Sunrise and the Russian Coast Guard. Despite being denied a permit to do so, the Arctic Sunrise entered Russian territorial waters this August and spent most of the past month attempting to disrupt and harass Russian vessels and citizens, notably from government-owned energy firm Rosneft, before Russian authorities boarded the "activist" ship and forced it to withdraw.
The naval arm of Greenpeace as a whole has a history of violent confrontation with everyone from national governments and intelligence agencies to blue collar workers and fishermen. These incidents are largely provoked (as they were in this case) by Greenpeace activists' tactic of forcing their way both into restricted waters and onto other people’s vessels at sea. A Greenpeace media artist speaking to the BBC as much as admitted this when he said Greenpeace “has been doing this for over 40 years.” The statement was made in sheepish reply to the BBC journalist’s question of whether the protesters’ actions were “juvenile and dangerous.”
After being boarded by armed Russian security police, Greenpeace began to cry foul and drama ensued. Despite hyperbolic claims of having their communications severed, the detained activists had little trouble staying in contact with their global Greenpeace handlers, at least for some time. After the initial screaming about being held at gunpoint died down, Vladimir Chuprov, a leader of Greenpeace Russia, finally admitted that the officers who boarded the ship “behaved quite correctly, but bureaucratically, the Soviet way.” Greenpeace, it seems, fails to recognize the concept of state sovereignty. Russia is a state; Greenpeace is not.
What Greenpeace and the militant NGO community in general have not yet recognized is the intelligence goldmine the Russian Federation landed. In seizing the Arctic Sunrise, the Russians now possess all Greenpeace direct action communications with the vessel, its campaign plans and exchanges, emails, etc. In time, this will all be exposed by the Federal Security Bureau. Greenpeace targets in the West, Asia, and elsewhere stand to benefit from the intelligence coup landed by the Russians.
With all this in mind the Russian Government’s claim that terrorism was committed should be taken very seriously. Many of the actions taken by the Arctic Sunrise and her crew are perceived by Russian officials as terrorism-related since the Exclusive Economic Zone falls under the protection of the state. At this point it makes sense to wonder if Greenpeace has met its Waterloo? The answer will come when we see how the Russian Government plays out the rest of the drama. A harsh stance, such as terrorism charges for instance, would surely send shockwaves through the militant NGO community.
Greenpeace activists (whose experience in the oil and drilling industry is almost exclusively limited to protesting and disrupting it) decry the Russian plan to develop the vast energy resources buried beneath the Arctic ice as unsafe. The irony that forcing one’s way onto an operating oil rig at sea is one of the most unsafe things one could do, both on a personal level and for the integrity of the operation as a whole, seems to be largely lost on them. But the activists from Greenpeace simply don't care about their personal safety or the integrity of the drilling operation so long as disrupting it may further their short-sighted, self-aggrandizing agenda. In the eyes of the public they are fanatics and extremists after all. The Russian state acted within its power to seize the Arctic Sunrise after her captain refused to cooperate with the Coast Guard. Interestingly, many commentaries in the UK media, which is usually soft on Greenpeace, et al, are in fact supportive of the Russian action. Some even go to far as to argue the Russians should have sunk the vessel on the spot.
The Russians have long had the number of not only Greenpeace, but other militant NGOs as well. In April 2013 the Russian Government sent a strong signal to the NGO community when it passed legislation that classified several environmental groups as "foreign agents" for alleged political activity. Included among the targeted NGOs were four WWF partners in the Amur, Chelyabinsk, Khabarovsk, and Irkutsk regions. The new law requires all NGOs in Russia to register as "foreign agents" if they are involved in "political activity" and receive foreign funding. The term “foreign agent” in Russia is still considered derogatory and associated with espionage. NGOs classified as such are now subject to punitive levels of extra supervision.
At this point is makes sense to ask: Just who are these activists? In reading Greenpeace propaganda, one is led to believe they are peaceful, polar-bear-hugging idealists who want nothing more than peace on earth. The reality could not be further from the truth. It is a documented fact that crew members aboard Greenpeace maritime campaign vessels are not “newbies” to the cause. Crew members must possess a history and pedigree of activism in other Greenpeace operations prior to sailing on a campaign voyage. The process of becoming a proven member of the direct action department of Greenpeace is therefore identical to a terrorist induction process to be a “proven warrior.” Many times this pedigree will include not only arrests, but criminal convictions for acts of trespass, arson, and, potentially in the Russian case, piracy or terrorism.
This holds true for the crew on the “Confronting Arctic Oil” campaign, for whom confrontation, arrest, and detention are nothing new. Aboard the Arctic Sunrise are seasoned veterans of myriad disruptive protests ranging from mountain climbing in the Far East to disrupting the construction of European nuclear plants. Most ignominious, however, is the ship’s captain, Pete Willcox, who was skipper of the Rainbow Warrior when it was bombed and sunk in 1985 by the French Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE) while in port in Auckland, New Zealand.
Despite unrelenting attacks by the militant NGO community, the Russian Government has surprisingly stood firm in its policy towards protecting its national resources. The Russian reaction is the polar opposite of that taken by the Indonesian president who actually allowed himself to be received as a guest on the Arctic Sunrise’s sister ship Rainbow Warrior earlier this year in Jakarta. This visit sent a signal, valid or not, of the president’s tacit support of militant activism. This is a dangerous path for a head of state to take, and Indonesia’s next president should consider seriously whether he wants to continue down the same.
The Russian authorities are to be applauded for their moral courage and the men and women of the Russian Coast Guard for the professionalism and skill with which they carried out their duties as they stood up to these aggressive so-called "activists" who have their tentacles so deep in the politics of the West.