Greenpeace: The Clash of Civilizations in the Pechora Sea

October 11, 2013
Picture taken by Denis Sinyakov, the photojournalist who was arrested along with the Greenpeace activists.

The business newspaper Vedomosti, a jointly owned outfit between private Russian and American financial news ventures, posts this editorial on the detention of the Greenpeace activists. – Ed.

The events surrounding the Greenpeace protest in the Pechora Sea have more than just a legal dimension: it is something like a clash of civilizations.

Greenpeace activists are willing to fight for the environment using radical methods. However, they have long been accustomed to a relatively mild attitude towards them. Usually, they are accused of trespassing or of a security breach. Normally the consequences are limited to fines. There was a case, when the French secret service blew up the Rainbow Warrior ship owned by Greenpeace (killing a photographer, Fernando Pereira). But that was 28 years ago. In addition, environmentalists were heading towards a military facility to protest against nuclear testing at Mururoa Atoll. In the end, under pressure from the international community the French government was forced to take responsibility, and the agents were convicted of manslaughter.

In Russia, 22 of the 30 detained activists (including the crew of the vessel, Arctic Sunrise) have been arrested for two months. On Friday another eight activists were left in custody for another three days. In September the radical environmentalists attempted to climb up the “Prirazlomnaya” oil rig that belongs to “Gazprom Oil” in protest against oil production in the Arctic. They were accused of piracy. If found guilty the suspects could face up to 15 years in prison. Having caused a global turmoil by their over-reaction to the actions of Greenpeace, the Russian authorities have played into the hands of the international environmental lobby.

Knowing who they are dealing with, the authorities in other countries, as a rule, try to minimize the environmentalists’ opportunities to trumpet around the world about environmental catastrophes, genetically modified foods, or water contaminated with nuclear waste. However we are far from idealizing Greenpeace.

This is their PR strategy that has repeatedly proven its effectiveness against many governments and a variety of projects.

President Putin was once again forced to publicly correct security officials and to admit that it was not piracy. However, Putin reiterated that Russia’s security forces do not have a clue about a concept of civil protest (“Our border guards did not know who was trying to take over this platform under the guise of Greenpeace”). At the same time, the Russian security services take a highly differentiated approach to protection of the property of certain companies or individuals.

Incidentally, a year ago, Greenpeace already held a protest on the “Prirazlomnaya” platform, which resulted in Gazprom Oil postponing the commissioning of the facility for a year. Another cultural difference is associated with these methods. Russian officials said that that by doing what they had done the environmentalists could, on the contrary, hinder technological processes and cause environmental problems. It’s not so difficult to believe. The platform “Prirazlomnaya” was under construction for 15 years with multiple design changes and downtime due to lack of money, its surface part was removed from the decommissioned Hutton platform, produced in 1984. For two years after the installation they couldn’t put the platform into operation.

What should be important for us about this story is not politics, but rather what environmentalists and analysts alike agree upon: experts on both sides point out that oil production in the Arctic region is not profitable in the absence of technologies to clean up oil spills [caused by] ice conditions.