- POSTED: 29 Dec 2013 22:19
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The last of the 26 foreign Greenpeace activists who were detained after an Arctic protest flew out of Russia on Sunday, the group announced, finally ending a saga that had caused global concern.
SAINT PETERSBURG: The last of the 26 foreign Greenpeace activists who were detained after an Arctic protest flew out of Russia on Sunday, the group announced, finally ending a saga that had caused global concern.
Polish national Tomasz Dziemianczuk, 37, flew out from Saint Petersburg to Warsaw, Greenpeace said in a statement, following 25 other foreign activists who had all left by Saturday.
Thirty activists, including four Russians, were detained in September over the protest against oil drilling by Russian energy giant Gazprom before being bailed and then benefiting from a Kremlin-backed amnesty.
They were initially arrested when the Dutch-flagged Arctic Sunrise was seized by the Russian security forces who winched down from a helicopter in a commando-style operation.
They were first held in the Arctic Circle city of Murmansk and then transferred to Russia's second city of Saint Peterburg. They were charged with piracy although this was later changed to hooliganism.
It was courts in Saint Petersburg that in November ordered the release of all 30 on bail after over two months in detention.
Their departure from Saint Petersburg was made possible by the Kremlin-backed amnesty, which came after concerns raised by EU states including Britain and Germany over the charges against them.
The Arctic Sunrise ship remains under Russian control in Murmansk and Greenpeace had made clear that it wants its vessel back.
"I am very happy to be going home, but I don't feel the same for the ship and its future. I am emotionally connected to both the crew and the ship and for me the case will be over when the ship is back in Amsterdam," Greenpeace quoted Dziemianczuk as saying before leaving Russia.
"We sailed north to take action against the oil companies lining up to profit from the melting Arctic sea ice and this is far from over.
"This was only a great beginning to our Arctic campaign."
The amnesty came less than two months before the start of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, and critics have described it as an attempt by the Kremlin to shore up Russia's human rights image ahead of the Games.
The two jailed members of Pussy Riot punk band, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, were freed on Monday after benefiting from the same amnesty.
In apparent defiance of Greenpeace, Gazprom earlier this month announced launching oil production at the Prirazlomnaya oil rig that had been the target of the activists' actions.
Greenpeace argues that the rig is an environmental catastrophe waiting to happen that risks ruining the pristine Arctic ecology of the southern Barents Sea where the deposit is located.