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Will Putin's Aggression Keep 30 Environmental Activists in Prison?

The Greenpeace activists imprisoned in Russia for protesting oil drilling in the Arctic are up against a proud Putin hungry for an energy grab.

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Lipman said that one national polling group framed their question about the Arctic 30 like this:

What’s your assessment of the current Greenpeace action? Is it: An attempt by environmentalists to save the Arctic? A conspiracy of foreign special services and government, who under the cover of Greenpeace, are trying to deprive Russia of valuable natural resources and territories? … [or] a public relations tactic —a way for Greenpeace to attract attention to itself and to find sponsors.

She said 42 percent of Russians believe it was a conspiracy of foreign special services. The Ecologist reported that 60 percent of Russians approved of their government’s action. Linking to one of these polls, Gazprom's Arctic division  wrote on its Twitter feed: "We hope the investigative committee puts a stop once and for all to Greenpeace's piracy in Russian waters … Good luck to them!"

But help for the Arctic 30 may not be coming soon from the international community, either. Nations across the globe may also be lacking in outrage because they have interests in energy production and drilling in the Arctic.

“In general, governments and oil companies really hate the environmental movement and would like to do something like this,” Ames said.

But things are even trickier. Elena Racheva in the Ecologist also points to the financial interests at play in this case: 

Another important factor is Gazprom and Rosneft's offshore oil production partnership with US ExxonMobil, Italy's Eni and Norwegian Statoil, which means that all these companies have a vested financial interest in increased offshore production. … Italy's Foreign Minister, Emma Bonino, called a meeting of EU ambassadors in Moscow, but Italy is also not hurrying to make loud noises about releasing its citizens. Nor is the US. Finnish citizen Sini Saarela can't count on much help either because Gazprom owns 25% of the Finnish state gas monopoly Gasum Oy, and Lukoil owns 33% of Finnish filling stations. So a dispute is in no one's interest.

Greenpeace's MacDuff said, “As we saw from  Shell's farcical bungles in the American Arctic last year, the race to be the first to tap Arctic oil holds significant wealth and glory.”

Numerous presidents, prime ministers and government officials from around the world have spoken out, including UK Prime Minister  David Cameron, former U.S. Secretary of State  Hillary Clinton and Germany’s chancellor  Angela Merkel.

MacDuff said she remains hopeful when it comes to the international community.

“More and more governments are speaking out, taking a stand or petitioning the Russian government to back down from their repressive and highly punitive response to peaceful protest,” she said. “The U.S. State Department has been helpful so far and we’re confident it is doing what it can to secure the prompt release of the activists, including providing the U.S. citizens among the Arctic 30 with consular assistance from the very start of the affair."

Only the Netherlands, however, has taken legal action. On November 6, the country initiated an arbitration case against Russia in front of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, an independent judicial body. This may be because of the fact that when overtaken, Arctic Sunrise was sailing under a Dutch flag. The Dutch claimed that because they did not consent to Russian authorities boarding the ship, Russia’s actions breached the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. They demanded the Arctic 30 be released. The Tribunal’s presiding judge tentatively set a date of Nov. 22 to reach a decision.

Russia, however, did not even show up to the hearing, and stated that it will not accept the arbitration process. This is the  first time in nearly 25 years that a nation did not appear at a tribunal hearing. An  op-ed from Moscow journalist Masha Gessen in the New York Times said of her country, “There is no court in the world whose authority they recognize.”