MOSCOW: Russia criticized the Netherlands before talks with the Dutch king on Friday, accusing it of “inaction” in not preventing a Greenpeace protest at a Russian Arctic oil rig in which 30 people were arrested.
Hours before President Vladimir Putin and Dutch King Willem-Alexander were due to meet in Moscow, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said the Netherlands was to blame because the Greenpeace icebreaker involved was registered in Amsterdam.
The Sept. 18 protest, off the Russian Arctic coast against oil drilling there, has strained relations between Moscow and The Hague and the remarks by the ministry’s spokesman, Alexander Lukashevich, are unlikely to improve the atmosphere.
Lukashevich told a regular ministry briefing that the “provocative action” by Greenpeace, in which some of the activists tried to scale Moscow’s first offshore oil rig, the Prirazlomnaya, “grossly violated” Russian law.
“The whole situation, to a large extent, is caused by inaction of the Dutch state, when it was clear the vessel entered the Russian economic zone on purpose to knowingly carry out unlawful actions,” Lukashevich said.
Russia previously said it had repeatedly asked the Netherlands to halt the Greenpeace protest before its own coast guards intervened.
His remarks appeared intended to defuse criticism over what is seen in the West as Moscow’s heavy-handed treatment of the activists. They are awaiting trial in Russia on hooliganism charges that carry a maximum jail sentence of seven years.
Russia has refused to take part in a hearing at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, in which the Netherlands is seeking the release of the 28 Greenpeace activists and two journalists from pre-trial detention.
“The final decision on that matter will be made by a Russia court. Nevertheless, the Netherlands continues pushing for the immediate release of all the Arctic Sunrise crew members,” Lukashevich said.
The 30 have been held in Russia since its border guards forcibly boarded their icebreaker after the protest.
Russian investigators charged them with hooliganism to replace original charges of piracy, which would have been punishable by up to 15 years in jail.
Ties between Moscow and The Hague have also soured over Russia’s treatment of gays and concern over a new Russian law banning the spread of “homosexual propaganda” among children. Other disputes include incidents involving a Dutch diplomat in Moscow and a Russian one in The Hague.
Kremlin foreign policy adviser Yuri Ushakov said Moscow did not expect the Dutch king, who is a ceremonial head of state, to raise any controversial issues during his talks with Putin due on Friday evening.
Such issues are more likely to be discussed at talks on Saturday between the countries’ foreign ministers, Frans Timmermans and Sergei Lavrov.