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New Cold War Sets Sights on Green Groups
When Russian commandos surrounded Greenpeace activists and arrested them for piracy, it created an international incident. The Arctic 30 have been released since, their boat returned to Greenpeace, and Russia commenced drilling in the Arctic. While Greenpeace is still agitating in the Arctic, the world’s attention has shifted elsewhere—to Ukraine, back to Syria and Iraq, and so on. What has gone unnoticed is that the political repression of the environmental movement, previously known as the Green Scare, has not only gone international, but in doing so, has adapted to international rhetoric—namely a new Cold War.
This is the Green Scare 2.0. Instead of ranting against the “brainwashing” torture tactics of the Communists in Russia and China, western diplomats are insisting that Ruskie agents are driving the annihilation of the West through anti-fracking campaigns. Meanwhile, Russia’s foreign agents law, put into effect in recent years, has characterized any and all organizations deemed threats to industry as agents of deconstruction from abroad.
According to Secretary General of NATO Anders “Fogh of War” Rasmussen, “I have met allies who can report that Russia, as part of their sophisticated information and disinformation operations, engaged actively with so-called non-governmental organizations—environmental organizations working against shale gas—to maintain European dependence on imported Russian gas.”
According to Tony Cottee of the grassroots, direct action eco-group Rising Tide, Rasmussen’s comments show “how ludicrously out of touch these people are. He clearly doesn’t know the type of person that has been turning up to demonstrate. There are 60 groups in Frackfree Somerset for example, and this includes the Women’s Institute, church groups—we’ve even got a knitting circle. These protests are involving everyone.”
Greenpeace had some choice words as well, “The idea we’re puppets of Putin is so preposterous that you have to wonder what they’re smoking over at NATO HQ. Mr. Rasmussen should spend less time dreaming up conspiracy theories and more time on the facts.”
In spite of the fact that the UK imported less than 1 percent of its gas from Russia, Rasmussen’s comments illustrate the kind of fear mongering that has overridden conscientious diplomacy in the North Atlantic. In the US, it has already been established that the DHS works with private intelligence corporations and the energy industry to intervene in municipal elections that effect zoning ordinances crucial to industry, while spying on activists and communities. DHS has also tried to link environmental groups with international drug cartels.
Similar public-private spying cases have been revealed in the UK and Australia, with industry hiring undercover investigators to spy on the Mauls Creek blockade in Australia and the UK deploying undercover police notorious for engaging activists in sexual relationships. Canada has dispatched a counterinsurgency team to Alberta on the heels of OKing the Gateway Pipeline, and has published reports on combating First Nations uprising in tandem with environmental and human rights activists. With the hard right gaining important seats in the EU parliament, the trend is likely to get worse.
Espionage is back in vogue with revelations that the NSA has been spying on world leaders at climate summits and beyond, and some of the paranoia may be justified. The most aggressive contention is happening in the Arctic. Russia has reopened a naval base in the region, recalling the Cold War era of submarine surveillance under the sea ice.
Last year, a naval officer was arrested in Canada for spying on behalf of Russia, and a Lloyds Register employee was arrested in Toronto for attempting to give information about Arctic patrol ships to the Chinese. In 2012, a University of Copenhagen employee was arrested on his way to a rendezvous with a Russian diplomat with a briefcase full of public Arctic policy documents under his arm.
The Norwegians have just christened a $250 million spy ship to monitor Russia’s arctic activities. “There is a demand from our political leadership to describe what’s going on in this region,” states Lt. Gen. Kjell Grandhagen. Particularly interesting for the Norwegians is Russia’s oil and gas production, and “military aspects in terms of being able to defend that.” According to Erik Haugland, head of counter-espionage, a foreign agent came to Norway three years ago on a mapping expedition of an underwater cable to Svalbard. You can never be too careful.
For its part, Russia’s new foreign agents law began with a formal registry in 2012. Every NGO barring one refused to register, but the law has been strengthened this year. Within a little more than a week, it was used to suppress Ecodefense, an anti-nuclear group, along with five other groups. The law declares illegal all NGOs working in relation to “political activity.”
According to Ecodefense head, Sliyak, “Throughout its entire history, Ecodefense has made and continues to make decisions by a council consisting of Russian citizens, and never in the interests of any foreign entities.”
According to the Russian government, resisting nuclear plants is tantamount to resisting a government plan. It is explicitly political, therefore. The group is also financed by EU grants and German foundations. The fine for administrative violation is $13,000, but
it is also a strike against a group’s reputation. According to the Chariman of the Environment and Rights Center, Alexander Nikitin, “being called a foreign agent is a gravestone—any demonstrations you wish to have, any projects, they’ll all fail as the population looks on you as a foreign spy.”
Putin has also granted vast powers to law enforcement and security agencies to raid NGOs. One of the things that vexes Ecodefense, says Sliyak, is that the group passed inspections. “The prosecutors say no problem, and the Justice Ministry says we are agents—the only thing that changed is that construction at the Baltic NPP stopped.” Sliyak is referring to a nuclear power plant that Ecodefense helped to halt, indicating that the foreign agents law has been enforced punitively.
The escalation of political repression resulting from the new Cold War is to be expected. The beginning of the conflicts can be sourced to the argument over Syria, which Russia wants to continue to use for the “four corners” pipeline networks involving the southern route (Pakistan-Iran-Iraq), the Caspian route (via Turkmenistan), the Crimea, and the Mediterranean. The shift of conflict from Syria to Ukraine signified another resource conflict over infrastructure. The fact is that Europe needs more energy inputs, and aside from scrapping with Russia over routes, the extremists in NATO are attacking its own population as agents of Russia over domestic production. Either way, the gas must flow, the power plants must be built, and disruption is always coming from the other side.
Alexander Reid Ross is co-moderator of the Earth First! Newswire and editor of Grabbing Back: Essays Against the Global Land Grab (AK Press 2014). His work can also be found in Life During Wartime: Resistance Against Counterinsurgency (AK Press 2013).