In the wake of a drama on the high-seas in which Russian authorities seized the Greenpeace campaign vessel Arctic Sunrise, Russian investigators announced on September 24, 2013 that they intend to file piracy charges against the 30-member crew. The charges were levied after two crew members attempted to force their way onto the Prirazlomnaya drilling platform in the Kara Sea. Article 227 of the Russian penal code defines piracy as "an attack on a ship at sea or on a river, with the aim of seizing someone else's property, using violence or the threat of violence," and provides for a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison and a fine of 500,000 rubles ($15,000 US).
This action has been some time coming. Since entering Russian-controlled waters in August, despite having been denied a permit to do so, the Arctic Sunrise has done little more than harass and harangue law-abiding Russian citizens. For their part, Russian authorities gave the Greenpeace vessel every opportunity to turn back from her disruptive course. The Russians tried everything from verbal warnings, to international diplomatic appeals, to physical warnings. Displaying great restraint, the Russians even went so far as to allow the Greenpeace vessel to depart Russian waters peacefully following an inspection, literally letting them off with a warning.
But Greenpeace would have none of it. Instead they responded to Russian leniency by becoming increasingly aggressive. When activists from the Arctic Sunrise attempted to force their way onto the Prirazlomnaya, they crossed the line that separates being a nuisance (albeit still a criminal one) to being a genuine danger to themselves and others. As Russian authorities have said, a drilling platform at sea is an inherently dangerous place. So when someone attempts to force their way onboard for the express purpose of disrupting the work, it places everyone and everything in the area in serious danger, the local environment included. It was time to act, and act the Russians did. In a display of determination and courage, the Russian authorities impounded the Arctic Sunrise and are treating her crew exactly as they deserve to be treated: as high-seas criminals who must be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
Russia’s opinion that such antics on the high-seas amount to piracy is not unique. In fact, the premise is shared by one of the most liberal legal bodies in the world: The United States Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. On February 25, 2013 a three judge panel of the Ninth Circuit ruled that the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (a cousin of Greenpeace) was a pirate organization. The opinion in the case brought by Japan’s Institute for Cetacean Research (ICR), written by Chief Judge Kozinski, stated, “You don’t need a peg leg or an eye patch. When you ram ships; hurl glass containers of acid; drag metal-reinforced ropes in the water to damage propellers and rudders; launch smoke bombs and flares with hooks; and point high-powered lasers at other ships, you are, without a doubt, a pirate, no matter how high-minded you believe your purpose to be.” Piracy charges are not for the light-hearted, but then the Greenpeace folks claim they are warriors. So some hard time in a Russian Gulag will show if they are knee-benders or stand up guys and gals.
But the battle against militancy does not stop with Russia and the U.S. In Australia new legislation will allow companies to go after the Greenies if they boycott products; in Indonesia a new bill to rein in NGO bill was endorsed; New Zealand cancelled the charity status of Greenpeace; and finally, even the UK is reviewing its NGO legislation. Governments, it seems, have finally come to their senses and opened their eyes to the fact that development and commerce is needed. Everything else is communism. And we all know how that experiment ended. Ask Vlad. He knows.
Like the Germans when they took on the Russians in WWII, Greenpeace is learning to deal with Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, or “Vlad, the Cardinal.” In short, this might be the biggest defeat for Greenpeace since the French sunk the Rainbow Warrior in 1985. Despite the heroic claims by Greenpeace, many public commentaries are supportive of the way Cardinal Vlad handled the manner.
Public sentiment is clearly not in favour of Greenpeace despite their global machinery gearing up to make the Russians’ lives miserable. Many in the West are in fact calling for the Russians to scuttle the ship and throw away the keys. At present, however, the sheer magnitude of what happened on the Russian high-seas is escaping Greenpeace, 350.org, the Rainforest Action Network, WWF, Friends of the Earth, and the rest of the lot. Russia’s brave decision to prosecute the Greenpeace activists for what they are could be the “shot heard ’round the world” in the battle against militant activist groups, a global mood changer, if you will. For too long the dangerous theatrics of Greenpeace and their ilk have been tolerated in the West. It would seem, though, that the tide is now turning. From Murmansk to San Francisco responsible leaders all over the world are starting to realize that the only proper way to deal with a bully is with the mature determination to simply not tolerate his petty nonsense any longer.