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Oil & Minerals

Russians fire warning shots at Greenpeace activists during Arctic protest

Conflict over oil drilling heats up as protesters climb an oil rig to protest against Russian oil drilling in the Arctic
Oil & Minerals
Smoke rises from a Russian coast guard vessel after it fired warning shots against the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise (Photo: Greenpeace)

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Activists from the environmental group Greenpeace staged a protest in the waters surrounding an offshore oil drilling platform in the Russian Arctic on Wednesday morning.

Two protesters were arrested and the Russian coast guard fired eleven warning shots across the bow of the Greenpeace icebreaker Arctic Sunrise, according to information on Greenpeace’s website.

SEE VIDEO BELOW: Warning shots fired during during clash between Russian forces and Greenpeace activists

“It is totally disproportionate to experience such a show of force against a peaceful protest,” said Ben Ayliffe, international head of Greenpeace’s Arctic campaign in a press release. “It is clear that the oil companies are accorded special protection by the Russian authorities who seem more interested in stopping peaceful activists than protecting the Arctic from unscrupulous companies.”

Greenpeace said the coast guard threatened to fire directly on the Arctic Sunrise if it did not leave the area.

Russians claim security was threatened
The Russian security service confirmed that the coast guard vessel had fired the warning shots in response to what it said was a “genuine threat to the security of the Russian oil and gas complex, and failure to obey a lawful order to stop illegal activity”. The shots were fired from an AK-47 machine gun, the security service said.

Greenpeace launched five inflatable boats from the Arctic Sunrise at about 4:30am Moscow time, headed for Russian energy giant Gazprom’s Prirazlomnaya oil rig, located in the Pechora Sea northwest of Russia.

Two activists scaled the side of the rig using ropes and harnesses and dangled there for several hours. One of the protesters tweeted that he had been hosed with freezing water during the attempt to climb the rig.

The Russians stopped one of the boats and arrested two activists.

In the Greenpeace video below, a Russian official apparently says he suspects the group of “terrorism” and threatens to board the Arctic Sunrise for an inspection.

When permission to board was denied, the warning shots were fired. Greenpeace said that the activists were being held on the coast guard vessel.

Oil high on Russia’s list
Russia has made petroleum exploration a priority. Gazprom inked a deal with Royal Dutch Shell to explore Russia’s Arctic shelf and launched the Prirazlomnaya platform in 2011. Gazprom plans to begin oil production from the platform later this year.

“Let me make it absolutely clear,” said Ayliffe, “the real threat to the Arctic does not come from Greenpeace,  but from oil companies like Gazprom, that are determined to ignore both science and common sense and drill in the Arctic.”

Greenpeace has been engaged in a battle against Russian offshore drilling in the environmentally fragile Arctic Ocean. They staged a similar protest at the same platform last year, when six activists climbed the rig and dangled for several hours displaying a banner reading ‘Don’t Kill the Arctic’.

The Arctic Sunrise was also in the news at the end of August when it attempted to enter Arctic waters through the Northern Sea Route to stage a protest on oil exploration in the area.