Russia’s War over Greenpeace Activists, Drugs and Cheese

Russia's War over Greenpeace Activists, Drugs and Cheese

Unofficial war is shaking up Russia and the Netherlands, mixing up tragedy with farce. Starting with the Dutch flagged Arctic Sunrise ship carrying Greenpeace activists protesting the Arctic oil drilling, it continues with diplomatic scandal involving an allegedly drunk Russian attache accused of harassing his toddler children, and Russia’s claims about poor quality of the Netherlands’ sacred food, their pride and glory – great Dutch cheese.

International Greenpeace activists protesting against the Arctic oil drilling might learn about the Russian justice the hard way. They started the war they cannot end. After climbing the Gazprom drilling platform in the Pechora Sea on September 19, they all were detained and faced charges of piracy. The Arctic Sunrise was docked in the port of Murmansk, but even now, anchored in the cold waters of Arctic the ecologists wanted to protect, it still brings them surprises.

Opiate-based narcotics are one of them. According to the Investigative Committee, probably poppy straw and morphine were found on the board of the ship and confiscated.

If piracy may cost Greenpeace activists up to 15 years in prison, drug offences could easily add up to their sentences, but even that is not all.

Some of the crew members might also face additional charges for ramming the boats of the border guards and thus deliberately putting up resistance to state representatives endangering their lives and health.

“The Investigative Committee is behaving like a tabloid of the yellow press,” was the reaction of the Greenpeace spokesperson in Russia, Anton Beneslavsky.

According to the Greenpeace lawyer Mikhail Kreindlin, any use of narcotics is against the Greenpeace rules and moral code. He pointed out that the Arctic Sunrise has been without any crew for many days now, which makes it possible to find everything you want to find, even a nuclear bomb.

However, morphine was on board the ship. It was presented there as a legal medical substance. It was stored in a medical office accessible only by a captain and a doctor. According to the Dutch regulations, no ship can leave its port without morphine stored in a special compartment for medical purposes. Before leaving a Norwegian port The Arctic Sunrise was searched with sniffer dogs by Norwegian authorities and they did not find anything illegal.

While Russia and the Netherlands still battle in a court for the release of the Arctic Sunrise, all defense attempts to release detained Greenpeace activists on bail were rejected by the Russian court.

Kumi Naidoo, the executive director of Greenpeace International, wrote an open letter to President Putin offering himself as a guarantor for the activists good behavior. He said he is ready to move to Russia and stay there if the activists were to be released on bail. However, his sacrifice has not yet help them. It seems the detained ecologists and journalists still have to learn about life in a Russian prison first hand.

So far, all Greenpeace activists are being held in a detention center in Murmansk facing the hardships of imprisonment. According to the Greenpeace supporting group in Murmansk, detained ecologists are deprived of fresh drinking water, spend up to 23 hours in their sells and stay under video surveillance even when they use bathrooms. One vegan activist has nothing to eat except bread and vegetable broth, said Sol Gosetti, member of the Argentinean Greenpeace.

The court war started over the controversial actions of Greenpeace activists has continued into the diplomatic field.

Minister counselor of the Russian Embassy in the Netherlands, Dmitry Borodin, was beaten by the Netherlands police and detained in the police department on the night of October 6th on absurd charges, according to Borodin. The Netherlands apologized for the incident after President Putin called it a violation of the Vienna Convention that grants inviolability to diplomats. However, the story is still to be fully investigated.

According to the Dutch Volkskrant, the Russian diplomat and his wife were drunk when police arrived at their place summoned by the neighbors and that was not the first encounter of Dutch police with the Borodins that day. The first time police were summoned was when the diplomat’s wife, intoxicated by alcohol, hit four cars trying to park her vehicle in the parking lot. Later, when police came to investigate the accident, neighbors told them that the Russians had maltreated their children – a four year old daughter and a two year old son. According to the neighbors, Borodin dragged his kids to the backyard of their house while pulling their hair. When policemen decided to check on the claims they found a heavily drunk Borodin in the apartment and had to detain him for the sake of his children, according to the same source.

Even if the Russian diplomat mistreated his children, which is unacceptable, he was under the protection of the Vienna Convention and was immune to the police charges, insisted the Russian Foreign Ministry demanded official apologies. The Netherlands Foreign Ministry granted them.

Regardless of the controversial details connected to this ugly incident of unofficial allegations of abusing children, many in Russia consider it as a vengeance of Netherlands authorities for the Greenpeace ship and detention of the ecology activists.

The war, started in the icy waters of the Arctic and continued onto the diplomatic field, widens and threats successful commercial relationships between these two countries. The Russian Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance is accusing Dutch dairy producers with poor quality of their cheese production. There are 71 companies that import dairy products to Russia, including their famous cheese, and many will be denied the right to import these products.

Banning import from countries that are unwelcomed by current official policies, is nothing new in Russia. Famous Georgian wine – one of the best on the post Soviet territories – was also banned in 2006, costing Georgia vast losses.  The reason was unsatisfying quality, the same as it happens now.  Lately, Kiev decided to sign an association agreement with the European Union instead of joining Eurasian Union led by Russia. Immediately after that, the Ukrainian-Russian border was almost blocked by long lines of trucks stacked at the Russian check points. At the same moment, the Chief State Sanitary Doctor Gennady Onishchenko announced that benzopyrene – a dangerous carcinogenic substance was found in Ukrainian sweets. None of the other countries, including European countries and the USA, found anything dangerous in these same products.

The procedure of signing the associate treaty between the European Union, the Ukraine, and some former Soviet republics, should be held in Vilnius, Lithuania, so Lithuanian dairy products were also banned as being of unsatisfying quality in Russia.

Is the planned ban going to hurt Dutch dairy production? So far, they represent the strongest product ever confronted by the wrath of Russian authorities, equal to French wine or German cars. They will survive.  Unfortunately, the second end of the stick will strike on Russians themselves. They might miss the delicious taste of Dutch cheese if the ban is really to be introduced.

But, it is not the first time that Russian authorities have punished their own citizens, when they are angry with somebody else. A ban on Russian orphan adoptions by American citizens followed the Magnitsky act sighed by the US Congress. There is no comparison between lack of cheese and children doomed to misery in the state’s public orphanages, of course, except a pattern. Nobody wants war, but one is unfolding now – the war that Greenpeace activists started without knowing where it was going to lead everybody, including themselves.


By Alsu Salakhutdinov

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