* McCartney publishes letter seeking activists' release
* Urges Putin to secure release before Christmas
* Kremlin says not seen letter
(Adds Kremlin comment)
MOSCOW, Nov 14 Former Beatle Paul McCartney said
on Thursday he had written to President Vladimir Putin to enlist
his help in securing the release of a group of Greenpeace
activists detained in Russia.
Twenty-eight activists and two journalists face up to seven
years in jail over a protest against offshore drilling in the
Arctic in which some members of the environmental group tried to
scale a Russian oil rig.
"It would be great if this misunderstanding could be
resolved and the protesters can be home with their families in
time for Christmas. We live in hope," McCartney wrote on his
He said Putin, whom he met when he first performed in Moscow
in 2003, had not replied to the Oct. 14 letter, although he said
Russia's ambassador to London responded by saying the group's
plight was not properly represented by the media.
"Vladimir, millions of people in dozens of countries would
be hugely grateful if you were to intervene to bring about an
end to this affair," McCartney wrote in the letter.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he only heard of the
letter from media reports but had not received it, according to
the state-run Itar-Tass news agency.
The Prirazlomnaya oil rig which the Greenpeace activists
tried to scale on Sept. 18 is owned by state energy giant
Gazprom and is at the heart of a Kremlin drive to tap
the Arctic's natural resources and expand Russia's economy.
Quoting from the Beatles' song "Back in the USSR", which he
composed 45 years ago, McCartney wrote: "That song had one of my
favourite Beatles lines in it: 'Been away so long I hardly knew
the place, gee it's good to be back home'."
"Could you make that come true for the Greenpeace
prisoners?" he asked.
Investigators charged the 30 with hooliganism, to replace
original charges of piracy, which carry a 15-year jail term.
Greenpeace says piracy charges have not been formally dropped
and that the 30 are now effectively charged with both.
The Netherlands, where Greenpeace has its main headquarters,
has asked an international tribunal to order the release of the
group from pre-trial detention.
McCartney has previously expressed support for the Pussy
Riot protest group which performed a "punk prayer" in a Moscow
cathedral last year against Putin's ties with the Russian
Appeals for leniency failed to help them escape a two-year
Critics accuse Putin of using the courts to persecute his
opponents, a charge the Kremlin denies.
(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Alison Williams)