By Mark Wachtler
September 25, 2013. Murmansk, Russia. (ONN) The world’s number one defender of the globe’s oceans, forests, wildlife, food supply, air and drinking water has suddenly found itself with a different kind of fight on its hands. The organization is asking supporters the world over to contact their individual Russian Embassies and give them one message – Free the Arctic 30.
Greenpeace has launched a global campaign to, 'Free the Arctic 30'.
Battle for the Arctic
Over the past few decades, it’s become obvious that the North Pole is a goldmine of oil and natural gas. Countries like Russia, Canada, the US and other polar neighbors quickly declared every inch of the arctic pole as sovereign territory and they continue to dispute the imaginary national borders to this day. And while governments have rushed to claim the lands and oceans, global oil and gas companies have rushed the start drilling.
First, environmental groups like Greenpeace demanded that drilling be banned in the Arctic, that weather conditions were too violent and it would make the polar bear extinct. When governments and corporations refused to listen, the activists did what they always do – they took action. Part of their recent success in stopping the drilling in the Arctic is that many of their warnings have come true.
‘The administration’s “all of the above” energy policy is ignoring the uniqueness of the Arctic region and failing to appreciate the harsh conditions Big Oil will have to be able to endure to drill for oil in Arctic Ocean,’ Earth Justice wrote this summer, ‘After Shell’s summer of accidents and near-misses, a blistering report from the Department of Interior, and now ConocoPhillips’ admission, it is time for the Obama administration to recognize our country’s Arctic offshore oil and gas program was premature.’
Both Royal Dutch Shell and Conoco Phillips have called off any immediate plans to drill in the Arctic. In 2012, Shell was the first to rush unprepared into the harsh polar environment. After spending $5 billion on drilling with nothing but repeated accidents and disasters as a result, Shell packed up and left. This summer, Conoco Phillips announced it would temporarily suspend its Arctic operation as well. Russia’s Gazprom, however, is rushing to drill.
Gazprom vs. Greenpeace
As Gazprom’s drilling operation moved into the Arctic, Greenpeace enlisted one of its tried and true weapons – demonstrate, distract and delay. How do you stop a corporate logger from cutting down a thousand year-old tree? You chain yourself to it. How do you stop a Japanese fishing trawler from wiping out the ocean’s sea life? You put your boat in its path. And how do you stop a Russian oil company from drilling in the Arctic? You paste a bunch of activists on the side of their oil rig, stopping things until they can be pealed off like barnicles.
On September 18th, that’s exactly what Greenpeace did to the Gazprom oil platform Prirazlomnaya. Responding to the question of why they are targeting the Russian rig, Greenpeace released a statement on behalf of its activists reading, ‘They are here to peacefully protest against the Arctic oil rush, which threatens grave harm to the Arctic environment, as well as extracting more oil that humanity cannot afford to burn. The Prirazlomnaya is the first oil rig to start oil production in the ice-filled waters of the Arctic.’
Four inflatable boats were launched from the Greenpeace vessel Arctic Sunrise carrying the activists who would climb to the side of the Gazprom oil platform amidst the frigid waters. A watching Russian Coast Guard ship quickly responded by launching its own small fleet of inflatables filled with armed troops and the two small fleets battled for position alongside the oil rig.
‘They proceed to ram and slash the Greenpeace inflatables, threaten activists at gun and knife point and fire warning shots from automatic weapons,’ the Greenpeace account reads, ‘Further, the remaining crew onboard the Arctic Sunrise count 11 shots fired across the bow from the Coast Guard vessel's artillery cannon.’
Pirates and terrorists
When the frigid sea-scuffle was over, 2 Greenpeace activists were taken into custody by the Russian Coast Guard. The following day, the Greenpeace vessel Arctic Sunrise was stormed by an assault force which captured the ship and took a total of 30 activists into custody. At first, they were merely held at sea for five days while officials figured out what to do next. Six of the detained activists are British citizens and the rest are represented by Russia’s other friends and foes alike. Most governments simply let Greenpeace activists go just to avoid the political blowback.
After days of growing international outcry, Russian authorities finally let human rights groups visit the captives and assess their condition and treatment. Just after that, Greenpeace’ Arctic 30 were taken into custody in Russia and split off to different detention facilities throughout the coastal city of Murmansk. It was at that point that authorities insisted they only used heavy weapons because they suspected that the peaceful protest was an armed assault on the state-owned oil platform by pirates posing as Greenpeace activists.
In comments published by Reuters today, Russian President Vladimir Putin backpedalled from earlier statements. “Our law enforcement institutions, our border guards didn't know who was trying to seize this platform under the guise of Greenpeace,” he explained, “It is absolutely evident that they are, of course, not pirates."
Free the Arctic 30!
While the Arctic 30 are being individually questioned by Russian authorities today, Greenpeace International has launched a global effort, not to save the polar bears (although, they do need saving fast), but to save their activists.
A visit to the Greenpeace website shows an ever-changing call to action displayed prominently across the top of the page. ‘Tell Russia: Release Greenpeace Activists’ one headline reads. Another reads, ‘Arctic Sunrise Illegally Boarded.’ And another repeatedly cites the hash-tag, ‘#FreeTheArctic30’.
As Russian authorities spend today questioning the detained Greenpeace activists, their fate is still uncertain. In the meantime, Greenpeace is mobilizing its supporters. For more information, visit Greenpeace.org.
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