The Greenpeace 30 Made Their Prison Bed – Let Them Lie In It
Last week one British MP wanted to know why the country wasn’t doing more diplomatically to “help the Greenpeace 30”. Today I watched yet another British TV news broadcast lamenting the hardship these poor dears are suffering in a cold Murmansk cell. A proper response to the MP would be: exactly what have the Russians done wrong? And to the empathising TV reports: that’s what happens when you choose to take on a regime not known for its fluffy liberal tendencies. And particularly when foreign groups with sabotage in domestic affairs is concerned. And yes, I did say ‘domestic affairs’, as I will explain.
To be fair, the Russians did show their …er…‘sensitivity’ by dropping the initial charges of piracy. But the substituted charges of ‘hooliganism’ still carry a maximum tariff of seven years. And there may yet be charges of possession of opium and heroin. Imagine that, anti-establishment hippies afloat on the ‘high’ seas. But it is my guess that Putin’s Kremlin won’t let it come to that. What’s almost certainly happening here is that the Russians have decided to teach Greenpeace a lesson in Russian realpolitik.
After freezing their butts off in detention in Murmansk for a couple of months, my guess is that the Russians will simply let them go. Thereafter it will be up to the Greenpeace leadership to decide whether they’ve learned that presenting a foreign, terrorist-style clear and present danger where Russia is concerned can have serious consequences. Will they think twice before sailing so frivolously into international incidents again? I doubt it. As Greenpeace founder Patrick Moore made clear when he quit the organisation, for Greenpeace political activism had long taken over from genuine environmental activism. But back to the why the Russians are right to act as they have done.
First of all we need to remember that the Arctic region is sea ice not land mass. As always when it comes down to international disputes over territorial waters, and the right to explore for minerals beneath them, clarification is the supposed to be the business of the UN Law of the Sea Department. Unfortunately, like God, the UN moves in mysterious ways. Unlike God however, the UN has a history of deferring equitable resolutions indefinitely. In consequence, Russia has already effectively annexed and militarized, NOT the Arctic per se, but the bulk of the 60 percent area to which even the Arctic Council members – those nations with borders and interests in the Arctic – acknowledge it has a perfectly legal claim. Whether the UN Law of the Sea Department gets around to formally fixing the borders or not, Russia knows it holds the international moral high ground here.
All of this was made abundantly clear at a two-day conference, The Arctic: Territory of Dialogue, to which I was a delegate in Moscow in 2010. It was a ground-breaking forum attended by all of the relevant members of the Arctic Council, and it provided a critical insight into Russian intentions in the Arctic. Vladimir Putin himself considered it of such high importance he attended to deliver the key message: that there would be “no battle for the Arctic” over its vast mineral resources. Indeed, the conference had been called specifically to set up a new Russian forum to work alongside the Arctic Council to ensure that any territorial disputes would be resolved, as Putin put it, “in a spirit of partnership through negotiations and on the basis of international law” and “in accordance with stringent environmental requirements”. These themes were regularly repeated throughout by the Russian participants, and with very good reason as most energy insiders know.
As with any new frontier of energy exploration, no one nation has a monopoly on the investment and technological expertise needed to open it up. The Russians know this. They do not want, and indeed cannot afford, to alienate potential international partners at the Arctic exploration table. When it comes to terrorist-style groups with private political agendas bent on wading into what Russia sees as its ‘domestic affairs’, well the Kremlin can be just downright bigoted.
What was abundantly clear from the Moscow conference, and the chief message Putin plainly wanted to hammer home, is that Russia does NOT want a new international Cold War over Arctic mineral rights. What Russia does want, and still awaits, is a formal UN acknowledgement that Russia is operating in de facto territorial waters when it comes to Arctic mineral exploitation. For a government only too aware that its entire economy depends on energy resources, however, and sitting around endlessly waiting for a dithering UN to resolve the Law of the Sea legalities is not an option.
Enter into Russian-annexed ‘domestic’ waters one Dutch-registered Arctic Sunrise vessel. A vessel crewed by a motley bunch of known propagandist foreigners bent on nefarious terrorist-like agitation and aggression. Agitators sponsored by the same Greenpeace organisation responsible for boarding a Shell Arctic ice-breaker in the Baltic in May 2012 and two Arctic-bound Shell drill-ships in New Zealand in February and July 2012. Greenpeace means business. Unfortunately for Greenpeace, so do the Russians when their energy-fuelled national security depends on it.
Let me be very clear. I am not here advocating the Russian way of ‘doing society’ or operating ‘international justice’ generally. But just because the Kremlin all too often skates over genuine human rights issues with surly contempt, it does not mean that Russia lacks the legitimate and moral right to act in its national interest when openly threatened. Bleeding-heart liberal MPs and Russia-vilifying British TV reports apart, if the Greenpeace 30 believe they are deserving of concerted national and international action aimed at freeing them, they can think again.
They made their Murmansk prison bed, let them lie in it – at least until they’ve learned their Russian lesson.
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