Friday, May 7, 2010

Russia Reacts To Piracy By Releasing Some, Prosecuting Others

Somewhat interesting couple of events unfolded today regarding the manner with which Russia has opted to deal with suspected events of piracy.

In the case of the tanker Moscow University, which was boarded by a band pirates in the Indian Ocean last Wednesday, a rescue operation was mounted the next day by elements of the Russian Navy operating from the warship Marshal Shaposhnikov. This resulted in the release of the tanker's crew and the capture of the boarders - and the death of one suspected pirate. Afterward, though, the Russians opted to release the captured suspects. As quoted in a BBC report, this was because of "imperfections" in international law. As EagleSpeak has noted from another site, the suspected pirates were apparently "put in an inflatable boat" and sent on their way by the Russians, since, in the words of one Russian defence official, they felt that, "Why should we feed some pirates?"

Nevertheless, on the same day the Russians also sentenced the first person to be convicted on piracy charges in that nation in some time. This related to the incident last summer when the freighter Arctic Sea went missing off Europe, an event which concerned a lot of folks. A court in Moscow today sentenced Andrei Lunev, originally said to be from Tallinn, Estonia, on charges of piracy. He was sentenced to five years in prison. Lunev and one other of the eight crew members charged over the incident admitted their guilt over the incident this past week. He is said to have struck a deal with prosecutors to avoid a lengthier jail term.

It's odd to see that the Russians are willing to prosecute those involved with the Arctic Sea incident, but not the Moscow University attack. With the latter case, it seems clear-cut that the individuals who boarded the tanker were intent on criminal actions. Being presumably armed and aboard a ship without the express permission of its master clearly violates some protocols. So why the double standard?

Many questions still remain unanswered about the Arctic Sea incident. According to the BBC report, some of the accused claim they were "set up" and had rescued the vessel, not hijacked it. And an unnamed Russian journalist who helped break the initial story is said to have fled Russia, "saying he had been warned to leave after suggesting [the ship] may have been carrying a secret consignment of weapons."

An odd set of events that leaves this observer scratching his head.

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