MOSCOW: Greenpeace supporters held vigils across the world yesterday in support of 30 activists jailed by Russia after a protest against Arctic oil drilling, sparking a new row between Moscow and the West.
Pressure has been mounting on Russia from both activists and governments shocked by Moscow’s decision to level full-blown piracy charges against Greenpeace’s Arctic Sunrise crew.
But Moscow displayed few signs of leniency on Saturday as it hit out at both Greenpeace and the Dutch government under whose flag the environmental lobby group’s ship sailed.
“Everything that happened with the Arctic Sunrise is a pure provocation,” Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Alexei Meshkov fumed.
The 950-tonne icebreaker was impounded by Russian authorities last month after it approached the world’s first oil rig in the pristine Barents Sea — the focus of energy companies from around the world.
A court in Russia’s northwestern region of Murmansk has since charged all crew members — who come from 18 countries including Britain and the United States — with charges that carry jail terms of up to 15 years.
The incident has set off a burgeoning diplomatic effort to secure the activists’ release despite Russia’s tough stance.
The Netherlands broke more than two weeks of silence about the case on Friday by starting legal action aimed at quickly freeing the crew.
Russia’s Meshkov fired back on Saturday that the Netherlands had been repeatedly warned about the dangers of the ship’s actions.
“In the past year-and-a-half, Russia has asked the Dutch side on many occasions... to forbid this ship’s actions,” Meshkov told the RIA Novosti news agency.
“Unfortunately, this was not done. So now we have many more questions for the Dutch than they have for us.”