Though you wouldn’t know it looking at how Russia treats activists who protest oil drilling in the fragile Arctic, Moscow has a soft spot for the environment – when it’s politically expedient.
Days after a European Union representative said Brussels is moving forward with plans to build a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to Azerbaijan across the bottom of the Caspian Sea, a senior Russian official said Moscow is concerned about the effect on the Caspian’s “extremely sensitive ecosystem.”
Igor Bratchikov, the Russian president's special envoy for the delimitation and demarcation of borders with CIS states, also told Russia's RIA Novosti news agency on November 22 that the EU plans are an "interference in Caspian affairs.”
Bratchikov said that while constructing a trans-Caspian pipeline "it would be thoughtless and ruinous not to take environmental factors into account."
"The consequences of any incident would be catastrophic for the extremely sensitive ecosystem of the Caspian Sea," Bratchikov said. "Moreover, it is not Europeans or Americans, but the littoral states that would have to solve [problems] in case of a disaster."
The EU official, Denis Daniilidis, said the draft agreement, which he expects Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan to sign later this year, ensures that any pipeline adheres to the "highest environmental standards."
Russia has long blocked efforts to demarcate maritime boundaries among the five littoral nations that share the Caspian Sea. Many believe the Kremlin is stalling because any pipeline that allows Central Asia to diversify gas export routes to Europe would break its stronghold. Few will see the environmental claim as anything but part of that effort.
It looks especially cynical coming so shortly after Russian authorities arrested 28 Greenpeace activists and two journalists protesting state-run energy giant Gazprom’s efforts to drill for oil in the Pechora Sea. The 30 were initially charged with piracy. Charges have since been lessened to hooliganism, which carries a maximum sentence of seven years in prison. After two months, in recent days most have been freed on bail. But their legal problems are not over and it is still unclear if they can leave Russia.