The FSB has a close relationship with Russia's big oil companies and their pipelines -- which is something that Vladimir Chuprov has experienced firsthand. Greenpeace first opened its bureau in Russia in 1989, and went on to work uninterrupted for the next decade. Police raided the organization for the first time during the environmentalists' struggle to prevent the import of nuclear waste into Russia. Secret agents questioned Chuprov's family, friends, and even his teachers back in his hometown in the Komi region about his criticism of Russia's gas and oil giants. His father expressed pride about his son's activism and pushed the interrogators out the door. Chuprov's math teacher Galina Shpekht told the FSB: "If you intend to arrest Chuprov, then you can send me along to the gulag with my former student."
But not everybody in Russia feels the same way about Greenpeace's storming of the oil platform in Pechora Sea. As reported by the polling group VTSIOM, around 60 percent of Russians believe the authorities were justified in employing harsh measures against Greenpeace. Russians often accuse Greenpeace activists of working as agents of the U.S. State Department, protesting to support policies that serve U.S. interests in exchange for money.
Members of Russia's underground art scene, by contrast, are more likely to take the activists' side. They often criticize the country's oil and gas companies for embodying a destructive national culture of addiction to the energy industry. Last July, for example, the punk rockers of Pussy Riot released a new song called "As in a Red Prison." The lyrics describe Russia as kingdom of gas and oil pipelines enriching Putin's best friends. Indeed, activists across Europe are staging dramatic protests against the recent arrests. The photo above shows protesters in the Puerto del Sol square in Madrid on Oct. 5.
International diplomats and celebrities, including artist and activist Annie Lennox, Radiohead lead singer Thom Yorke, and actor Ewan McGregor, spoke out against the Russian authorities and their efforts to intimidate Greenpeace. The Dutch foreign minister vowed to free the activists: "I don't understand how this could have been thought to have anything to do with piracy," he said. "I don't see how you could think of any legal grounds for that." A Russian conservationist, Mikhail Kreindlin, who has also been threatened by the FSB for his attempts to prevent the destruction of nature around the future Winter Olympics site in Sochi, told me that the charges against his colleagues sounded outrageously unfair. "We are by principle a peaceful organization," Kreindlin said. "Our colleagues obviously weren't trying to take Gazprom's property by force."
The Kremlin's response to these criticisms was consistent with its reactions to previous arrests of oppositionists: President Putin's press spokesman Dmitry Peskov insisted that Putin was not involved in any way in the charges against Greenpeace. He pointed to Putin's observation that piracy wasn't an appropriate charge. "He does not and cannot interfere in the work of investigative agencies," said Peskov. Yet one has to wonder how many Russians who heard Peskov's words took them at face value.