Russia protests drilling in Svalbard zone

View of a former coal mine train in the science base of Ny-Alesund on the Svalbard archipelago in the Norwegian Arctic. (Martin Bureau / AFP)
View of a former coal mine train in the science base of Ny-Alesund on the Svalbard archipelago in the Norwegian Arctic. (Martin Bureau / AFP)
Russia believes Norway is violating the Svalbard Treaty when the Norwegian government opens three blocks for oil drilling in the Barents Sea, close to the Arctic archipelago.

The Russian Embassy to Norway in ‘sharp diplomatic note’ to the Norwegian Foreign Ministry wrote that the announcement of the three blocks outside Svalbard is in defiance with the Svalbard Treaty, Norwegian paper VG reports.

The note was dated Mach 3rd, that is before Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin’s controversial visit to Svalbard.

Russia believes the blocks that where announced in the 23rd licensing round in January belong to the Svalbard continental shelf and that production of oil and gas there should be regulated by the Svalbard Treaty.

In the Svalbard Treaty Norway and 39 other countries have the same rights to operate in the archipelago, provided that they comply with Norwegian law.

The main difference between Norwegian and Russian views on the areas around Svalbard, is that while Russian claims that Svalbard has a shelf of its own that should be covered by the Svalbard Treaty, Norway argues that the continental shelf is a part of mainland Norway’s continental shelf and should be governed by the 1958 Continental Shelf Convention.

Russia wants agreement

Russia is now for the second time asking Norway to enter negotiations to make an agreement on economic activity around Svalbard, within what the Russians call the “Svalbard Square”. An invitation sent to Norwegian authorities earlier this year remained unanswered, a representative from the embassy told Klassekampen.

Norway will probably also this time refuse to enter negotiations with Russia. “It is the Norwegian government alone which manages resources on the Norwegian continental shelf,” Foreign Minister Børge Brende says to VG. “For that reason it is not of interest to consult with other countries’ governments on the allocation of licenses on the Norwegian continental shelf. This is in line with the Law of the Sea and the attitude of all Norwegian governments since the announcement of licenses on the Norwegian continental shelf began 50 years ago,” Brende states.

According to Norway’s Foreign Minister, Russia acknowledges Norwegian sovereignty on Svalbard and respects Norwegian jurisdiction in the region. “We take into account that Russia will continue this line when it comes to Svalbard.”

With Russia’s diplomatic protest, the environmental movement has gained a powerful ally against drilling in the area.

“In order not to increase the tension between Norway and Russia, Norway should let the disputed blocks lie,” Frederic Hauge, Head of the environmental organization Bellona, says to VG.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada:  Canadian province of Quebec announces plan for northern development, Eye on the Arctic

Finland:  Does Nordea’s divesting of coal shares signal shift in Nordic market?, Yle News

Norway:  Norway summons Russian Ambassador, Barents Observer

Russia: “Norway has no right to stop anyone from visiting Svalbard:” Russia, Barents Observer

Sweden: Relocation of Arctic town underway in Sweden, Radio Sweden

United States:  Alaska – Judge temporarily halts EPA process on Pebble Mine, Alaska Dispatch


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