Greenpeace’s anti-Gazprom stunt was not an act of piracy

Greenpeace vs Gazprom

It’s not piracy under Russian law. The platform is not a ship and the activists weren’t after Gazprom’s property.

See the criminal code of the Russian Federation, Article 227, “Piracy”: “An attack on a sea or river vessel with the purpose of gaining possession of [someone else’s – чужим] property using violence or a threat of violence…”

Prosecutors can always find a cop or security guard to perjure himself on the stand – as they often do at trials of anti-Putin protesters – and say some 60-pound Green lady hit his cropped cranium with her flowery umbrella. But they can’t turn the platform into a yacht and the Greenpeaceniks into highway robbers.

And then there’s international law. As Prof. Kontorovitch of the Northwestern University explains, it also considers offshore platforms to be non-vessels. (A commenter says semi-submersible rigs are treated as vessels and jack-up rigs are considered non-vessels in US maritime law. That’s amusing since jack-ups are eminently movable – they are supposed to be drilling, not producing.) In any case, the (in)famous Prirazlomnaya platform, which took a dozen (!) years to build and cost $3 bln or more is not a vessel. It’s standing on its own thick legs in shallow 20-meter water 55 km offshore. It follows that Russia is not justified in seizing Greenpeace’s Arctic Star since this is allowed only in cases of piracy.

So Russian prosecutors know well they are not going to charge the Greenpeace activists with piracy, but they are using this accusation to lock them up for two months in a Murmansk jail. Accusing suspects of really serious crimes early in the investigation helps prosecutors to obtain pre-trial detention orders from Russian judges – even though the early accusations have a near-zero chance of surviving until the start of the trial.

But what will the ultimate charges be, especially against the Russian members of the Greenpeace squad? They can’t be charged of entering Russia illegally, so my guess would be some sort of criminal reckless endangerment. I’ll go back to it in the next post.

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