Norway tickles Russia's nerves with idea of sovereignty over Svalbard

Norway's latest act may force Russia to revise Svalbard sovereignty

Following Lithuania, Norway has joined the anti-Russian frenzy as well and declared a blockade against the Russian town of Barentsburg. However, Norway has not taken into account the fact that Svalbard is not its original territory.

Svalbard was ceded to Norway under the 1920 treaty

To begin with, the island of Svalbard did not belong to any state until 1920. On February 9, 1920, the Svalbard Treaty was signed in Paris. According to the document, the sovereignty of Norway was established on the archipelago.

At the same time, the parties to the treaty (50 countries) were granted equal rights to exploit its natural resources and territorial waters. Using the archipelago for military purposes was prohibited.

There are two settlements on Svalbard: Longyearbyen of Norway and Barentsburg of Russia. Norway and Russia mine coal there. There are several research stations on Svalbard too, including a Chinese one. 

Supply channels to Barentsburg go through the Norwegian port of Tromsø.

Norway pretends to maintain supplies for Barentsburg on its own

Over the weekend, Norway blocked as many as 20 tons of Russian goods at Storskog border station. The blocked goods allegedly fell under sanctions, E24 said.

Norway assured that there was nothing wrong with the fact that the cargo from Russia would not reach the Russian community in Svalbard as the Norwegian side ensured its supplies instead. 

"I can assure you that no one will be harmed in any direction as long as Norway has full and absolute control over the archipelago," Svalbard Governor Lars Fause told NRK.

"As long as" is the key word here.

Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt confirmed in late April that Norway would make an exception to the sanctions for the transport of goods destined for Barentsburg.

"We're making one exception, and that's for Svalbard, because we have the Svalbard Treaty there. Those who signed it will be treated the same," she told NRK.

It is not very clear what has changed for Norway in June.

Russia demands Norway should fulfil obligations

Arktikugol Company (Arctic Coal) and the Russian embassy in Norway sent a letter to the Norwegian Foreign Ministry explaining that cutting the Russian supply chain to Barentsburg would jeopardize its readiness for the winter season.

On Wednesday, Chargé d'Affaires of the Norwegian Embassy in Moscow, Solveig Rossebo, was summoned to the Russian Foreign Ministry, where she received a protest note, a message posted on the ministry's website said.

Russia demands the Norwegian side should solve the problem as soon as possible. The Foreign Ministry told Solveig Rossebo that unfriendly actions against Russia would inevitably lead to appropriate retaliatory measures.

Russian Consul General in Svalbard Sergei Gushchin told RIA Novosti that negotiations were underway.

“Of course, I don’t want to speculate on possible retaliatory measures on our part, but I want to say that we will give an adequate response to any violations of the Svalbard Treaty,” he said.

According to the head of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the Federation Council, Konstantin Kosachev, Norway violated one of the provisions of the treaty, according to which import, export or transit of goods shall not be subject to any fees or restrictions.

It appears that the Norwegians are currying favor with Brussels (Norway is not a member of the EU, but has joined the sanctions) or Washington. Oslo may also want to go with the flow and cause Moscow another problem. 

However, Svalbard is not a native Norwegian territory. The island has always been populated by Russian people. Therefore, Russia may pull out from the 1920 treaty with a view to claim sovereignty over the island.

Anatoly Kapustin, President of the Russian Association of International Law, told Pravda.Ru that sanctions did not apply to medicines and food. According to him, the Svalbard agreement provides for the right of admission of Russian ships directly to the island. Therefore, if they do not agree on lifting the blockade, one will have to change the delivery route.

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Author`s name Lyuba Lulko
Editor Dmitry Sudakov