On Sept. 18 in the Pechora Sea, which abuts the Arctic Ocean just north of Finland and the Arctic Circle, the environmental organization Greenpeace conducted a protest against proposed oil drilling in the Arctic cap of the globe.
A state-owned Russian enterprise called Gazprom has erected a very large oil-drilling rig in the Pechora, and it will probably soon be the first platform — of many anticipated — to raise oil from beneath the Arctic sea floor.
Two Greenpeace activists secured ropes to points high on the side of the rig and attempted to climb up the almost-sheer wall — probably for the purpose of unfurling a giant banner. The banner would most likely have read, “Stop Arctic Drilling,” and been seen against the backdrop of the enormous industrial platform, it would have made for a striking visual protest.
But before the climbers could ascend very far, they were apprehended and taken into custody by armed crewmen in small boats deployed from the Russian Coast Guard.
So far, so good. Greenpeace has a 42-year history of skillful, nonviolent protest and civil disobedience, and it has a sophisticated understanding of the risks involved and the possible consequences of its often dramatic actions. The Gazprom platform is private property, and I’m quite sure that the arrest of the two protesters — perhaps with some fines levied — would have been viewed by Greenpeace (and other observers) as possible, with precedent, and proportionate to the trespassing that indeed occurred.
But, crazily, Russia went much further. The next day, on Sept. 19, Russian assault soldiers lowered themselves from helicopters onto the deck of the Arctic Sunrise, the 163-foot converted icebreaker that Greenpeace uses for various ocean campaigns, and commandeered the ship and crew. The Sunrise was situated near the oil rig awaiting news of the detained activists (who had initially launched from the Sunrise in small rubber boats).