By Claire Calzonetti and Mick Krever, CNN
The Russian detention of dozens of Greenpeace activists is about nothing more than a desire to drill for oil, the sister of one of those in jail told CNN’s Fred Pleitgen on Wednesday.
“They're trying to find some reason to detain them so that they can continue drilling in the Arctic, is what I make of it,” Lara Litvinov, sister of Dima Litvinov, who has been in detention in Russia since September.
It was a skirmish at sea that culminated in a crew on its knees, guns drawn, and communications equipment smashed, according to Greenpeace.
The Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise sailed to the Arctic Sea this September headed to its target: The Russian State-owned oil platform Prirazlomnaya.
In a protest against arctic drilling, activists scaled the platform, but were held back by workers there using high-pressure fire hoses.
Russian authorities then seized the ship and the activists were charged first with piracy – a charge that was later dropped – and then hooliganism, which could carry a sentence of seven years.
Authorities say that the activists were trying to take over the oil platform and endangered the lives of the company's employees and that their action could have led to an environmental disaster.
Greenpeace lawyers have expressed doubt as to whether the piracy charge will actually be abandoned.
“They had been there a year ago and done a very similar action with not this kind of response,” Litvinov said. “I don't think anybody expected this extremely disproportionate response to this action, to a peaceful action.”
The activists, and their towed ship, were taken to the port city of Murmansk, where they were all jailed. On Tuesday, they arrived in Saint Petersburg on a prison train, where they were brought to detention centers.
“Our understanding is that he is now in a prison named ‘Kresty,’” Litvinov said. “It's one of the oldest prisons in St. Petersburg and one of the most notorious ones.”
Litvinov’s family has a history of running into trouble with Russian authorities.
Her father, Pavel Litvinov, was a human rights activist sent to Siberia for protesting the Russian incursion into Czechozlovaki. Her grandfather, Lev Kopelev, was a Soviet dissident.
Litvinov said that her family came to the U.S. in 1974.
“My father has visited Russia … at least once or twice a year, and we have had no family or friends that have been detained or jailed since – for a very long time,” Litvinov said.
Litvinov told Pleitgen that her broth “worked in Greenpeace Russia in the '90s and he was actually very successful in a lot of his campaigns.”
“So we really had not expected anything like that to happen.”
All the families of the so-called Arctic 30 want, she said, is for their loved ones to come home.
“They were there to protect the climate and protect the Arctic and protect the Russian people,” Litvinov said. President Putin “should let them go because they are not hooligans and they are not pirates.”