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Putin's plane grounded by Arctic weather... on way to Third International Arctic Forum

By The Siberian Times reporter
25 September 2013

Russian president's flight to Salekhard delayed after airport closed by freezing rain.

Vladimir Putin, centre, with President of Finald Sauli Niinisto, right and Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak. Picture: kremlin.ru 

Vladimir Putin was grounded in Nyagan - birthplace of Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova - where he stayed the night after opening a gas-fired power station with his Finnish counterpart, Sauli Niinisto. He is due to host the Third International Arctic Forum, at a time of unprecedented interest in the economic potential of the region, but also the potential ecological perils.

'The airport of Salekhard is closed for arrivals due to weather conditions, because of freezing rain. In this respect, a decision was made that the president would spend the night here, in Nyagan, and will fly to Salekhard in the morning,' said spokesman Dmitry Peskov. 

The Siberian Arctic was already in the limelight this week after the arrest of 30 Greenpeace activists on piracy charges. The main theme of the forum is ecological security of the Arctic, along with the impact of climate change and economic exploitation. 

The activists from 18 countries face up to 15 years in jail on piracy charges after a Greenpeace ship, the Arctic Sunrise,  was seized last week by coastguards. Two activists tried to climb onto the Prirazlomnaya platform on Thursday last week, and others assisted from small inflatable boats. 

The campaigners said they were calling attention to the environmental risks of drilling for oil in Arctic waters.

'When a foreign vessel full of electronic technical equipment of unknown purpose and a group of people calling themselves members of an environmental rights organisation try nothing less than to take a drilling platform by storm, logical doubts arise about their intentions,' claimed Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin. 

The oil platform, the first offshore rig in the Arctic, was deployed to the vast Prirazlomnoye oil field in the Pechora Sea in 2011. Gazprom say it is due to start pumping oil this year. Greenpeace said under that under international law Russia had no right to board its ship and has no grounds to charge its activists with piracy.

'Peaceful activism is crucial when governments around the world have failed to respond to dire scientific warnings about the consequences of climate change in the Arctic and elsewhere,' said Greenpeace International executive director Kumi Naidoo. 

'We will not be intimidated or silenced by these absurd accusations and demand the immediate release of our activists'.

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