Russian President on Greenpeace: Not Pirates, Just Lawbreakers
Russia's President Vladimir Putin said Greenpeace activists arrested for staging a protest at Russia's first offshore oil platform had violated international law, but signalled they should not face charges of piracy.
The activists' ship was seized and towed to shore on Tuesday after two tried to scale the platform to protest against Russian plans to drill for oil in the Arctic which they say pose a threat to the fragile eco-system.
The 30 activists, who were onboard the ship, were due to be questioned on Wednesday, Greenpeace said, a day after Russian investigators said they had opened a criminal case on suspicion of piracy, a crime punishable by up to 15 years in jail.
"It is absolutely evident that they are, of course, not pirates, but formally they were trying to seize this platform ... It is evident that those people violated international law," Putin said at an Arctic forum.
Russia is concerned such protests could undermine efforts to draw foreign investment to its efforts to tap rich Arctic resources.
"All 30 people were sent to different investigative detention facilities in Murmansk and the Murmansk region. Today questioning continues, but lawyers and diplomatic representatives are not allowed to visit the activists," Greenpeace-Russia spokeswoman Tatyana Vasilyeva said.
Greenpeace said the boarding of its icebreaker by Russian authorities was illegal and denied allegations of piracy, saying its activists had conducted a peaceful protest.
The federal Investigative Committee called the protest an "attack" and said it violated Russian sovereignty.
Putin, who has promised to increase Russia's military might in the Arctic and stressed its economic importance, said: "Our law enforcement institutions, our border guards didn't know who was trying to seize this platform under the guise of Greenpeace.
"It would have been better if representatives of this organisation had sat in this room and voiced their attitude to the issues we are discussing," he said at the Arctic Forum in Salekhard in western Siberia, attended by the presidents of Finland and Iceland and officials from other Arctic nations.
Putin says he does not meddle in criminal investigations but political analysts say his words appear to have influenced decisions by law enforcement agencies and courts in the past.
The Investigative Committee said it questioned three Russian activists on Tuesday and planned to question the remaining foreign protesters after translators were found and it was in the process of providing them with lawyers.
Russia plans to reopen a Soviet-era military base on an Arctic island and bolster its naval presence in the region.