Russia on Friday granted bail to all but one of 30 Greenpeace crew members detained over an Arctic oil protest, but dismissed a UN court ruling that they should be allowed to leave the country.
Courts in Saint Petersburg have now ordered the release of 29 of the Arctic Sunrise ship’s crew, 28 of whom have been freed already, while one Australian activist had his detention extended until February.
The move came just before an international maritime court ordered Russia to release the Dutch-flagged vessel and its crew on payment of a 3.6 million euro (US$4.9 million) bond.
The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, based in the German port city of Hamburg, also ordered Moscow to allow the detainees to leave the country on receipt of the bond.
Greenpeace International executive director Kumi Naidoo welcomed the ruling, calling it “a historic day.”
Naidoo said the activists should be allowed to leave Russia immediately.
“This tribunal has clearly stated that all 30 should be free to leave Russia until the arbitral proceedings have been concluded,” he said.
However, the Russian foreign ministry responded dismissively, saying in a statement that the case “does not fall under the jurisdiction of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.”
The ministry said however that it would “definitely study the decision.”
Russia said it did not take part in the proceedings because it does not view the case brought by the Netherlands as a maritime border dispute between the two countries.
The Hamburg tribunal’s judgements are binding, but if not complied with, the court has no other means of enforcing them, a court spokeswoman said.
The Russian authorities agreed to free the activists after Greenpeace paid a bail sum of 2 million rubles (US$60,750) for each. The crew members still face jail terms of up to seven years if found guilty of hooliganism.
Greenpeace said the foreigners in the group were staying in Saint Petersburg for the moment. Of the 30 detained, 26 are foreign nationals.
Greenpeace ship veteran US captain Peter Willcox was among the 17 to be freed on Friday.
Also released were five British crew members: video journalist Kieron Bryan, communications officer Alexandra Harris, activist Anthony Perrett, second engineer Iain Rogers and logistics coordinator Frank Hewetson. Activist Marco Weber from Switzerland, who was one of those to scale a Russian oil platform in the protest, was freed as well. A court in Saint Petersburg on Friday also granted bail to British activist Phil Ball, who has yet to be released.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russia had no desire to exacerbate a situation that has already seen Moscow draw sharp rebukes from several European heads of state.
“I want to assure you the political leadership of Russia has no desire especially to interfere in this process,” Putin told reporters.
“We are not able to interfere in the legal side of this case. We do not have the desire to aggravate anything or to specially detain anyone,” he added.
“The fact that the Arctic Sunrise and its crew should be immediately released and should be able to leave Russia is very positive,” Putin said in televised comments. “We are continuing to discuss with Russia to resolve the question.”
A Russian court on Monday refused bail to Australian radio operator Colin Russell, extending his pre-trial detention until Feb. 24, a day after the end of the Sochi Winter Games hosted by Russia.
It is unclear why Russell had his bail request refused. He is appealing the decision.
Russia initially charged all the crew members with the more serious offence of piracy, which carries a maximum sentence of 15 years before reducing the charge.