Russian legislators question Norwegian sovereignty over Svalbard

(Atle Staalesen/The Independent Barents Observer)

Norway is violating the Svalbard Treaty from 1920, says Deputy Speaker in the Russian Federation Council Konstantin Kosachev following the Nordic country’s unwillingness to facilitate transportation of Russian goods to the archipelago.

The Norwegian decision not to allow the transportation of food supplies destined Svalbard through its border-crossing point at Storskog has triggered anger in downtown Moscow.

The Russians could have shipped the goods from Murmansk to the archipelago themselves, but instead insist that the delivery is made by Norwegian ships from the port of Tromsø.

Two containers with 7 tons of supplies were first sent from Murmansk towards Storskog where they were halted. Like other European nations, Norway has closed its seaports and land border for Russian cargo traffic under the EU’s 5th package of sanctions.

Coal miners can’t get supplies, says Russia 

According to Konstantin Kosachev, Norwegian authorities are now deliberately trying to prevent Russian coal miners in Svalbard from getting food supplies. “It is immoral in its essence, and it violates human rights and the principles of humanism,” the legislator writes on his Telegram channel.

In addition, it is also a violation of the Svalbard Treaty, Kosachev argues, and explains that Russia and other signatory states recognise Norway’s sovereignty over the archipelago only on the condition that the country adheres to the conditions of the agreement.

According to the top Russian legislator, Norway is now violating Article 3 of the treaty. The article regulates issues of transportation.

Konstantin Kosachev has been high-profile legislator since the early 2000s. For almost 15 years he was in charge of foreign relations in the two chambers of the Russian parliament, first in the State Duma and then in the Federation Council. In 2021 he was appointed Deputy Speaker of the latter.

His comments on the Svalbard case come only few hours after he held talks with rebels from the so called Luhansk People’s Republic.

The Norwegian ban soon got the attention also of Andrei Klishas, Chair of the Committee on Constitutional Legislation.

According to Klishas, “the sovereignty of this country [Norway] over Spitsbergen is now under big question.”

On his Telegram channel, the top legislator underlines that “our citizens at Spitsbergen must be provided everything necessary, and their security must be fully guaranteed.”

Before his election to the Federation Council in 2012, Klishas had several top jobs in companies like Interros and Nornickel.

Svalbard Treaty does not apply at Storskog, says expert

It is far from the first time that Russian politicians and top officials raise their voices against Norway’s management of Svalbard. As the Nordic country in 2020 celebrated the 100-years anniversary of the Svalbard Treaty, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov sent a letter to his Norwegian counterpart where he underlined that Russia feels discriminated on the archipelago. He also called for “bilateral consultations” on local management issues.

According to Øystein Jensen, Research Professor at the Fridtjof Nansen Institute, the goods delivery issue at Storskog can in no way be connected with the Svalbard Treaty.

“The Svalbard Treaty does not apply at Storskog, and that issue can not even be taken seriously,” he underlines.

He also stresses that there can be no question about Norwegian sovereignty over Svalbard and that the recent statements from the Russian side could be seen as a political move implicating that Russia should for example pull out of the treaty.

“Norwegian sovereignty is the most important issue in the treaty, [and] the sovereignty applies also for states that are not part of the treaty because of customary law,” he explains.

The recent statements must be seen in the light of the current political situation, Jensen argues.

“I guess the comments fall in line with everything coming from Russia these days.”

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: Canada’s NORAD upgrades a ‘good move’ for northern security, says Nunavut MP, CBC News

Finland: US military refuelling plane flies over Finland day after NATO announcement, The Independent Barents Observer

Greenland: Denmark, Faroe Islands agree to establish air surveillance radar to bolster gaps in Arctic surveillance, Eye on the Arctic

Iceland: Arctic security discussed at Reykjavik Northern Group meeting, Eye on the Arctic

NorwayDefence minister says Norway must get stronger in the North, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Strengthen border to Nordic countries, says secretary of Russia’s Security Council, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden:  Finland will not go into NATO without Sweden, president says, says PM, Radio Sweden

United States: U.S. Army poised to revamp Alaska forces to prep for Arctic fight, The Associated Press

Atle Staalesen, The Independent Barents Observer

For more news from the Barents region visit The Independent Barents Observer.

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