Newsletter: Behind the Idyllic Scenes from Svalbard on TV, Conflicts are Emerging

MS Spitsbergen is approaching Longyearbyen. Photo: Astrid Rommetveit/NRK 

Dear High North News reader! 

On Sunday, it will be exactly 100 years ago since the Svalbard Treaty was signed in Paris. And through the past week, you have been able to follow the voyage around the archipelago minute-by-minute on NRK and also at High North News. The broadcast continues through this weekend too.

The show reached a record-high audience last weekend and more than 1.5 million viewers popped by the voyage. “A love declaration to the archipelago”, a cheerful NRK Project Manager Thomas Hellum said.

But behind the idyllic scenes on TV, where MS Spitsbergen glides past sleepy polar bears and lazy walruses under the midnight sun, conflicts are emerging below the surface, conflicts about the archipelago over which Norway was granted sovereignty under the Svalbard Treaty.

Russia wants to discuss Svalbard

On Tuesday, High North news could break the news that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has sent an official letter to the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to request a meeting to discuss “Svalbard problems”. Russia is not happy with the limitations Norway has placed on Russian use of helicopter and opportunities for business activity on Svalbard.

This happens at a time when much attention surrounds the 100th anniversary of the Treaty.

Hardly coincidental, writes Arne O. Holm and argues that there is a much simpler and more efficient method for increasing Russian presence on Svalbard. It is called Hurtigruten.

But what is really the meaning of Russia’s objection to the expulsion procedure adopted solely for Russian citizens on Svalbard? Norway’s reaction to the visit of an EU-sanctioned deputy prime minister in Longyearbyen in 2015 may have given Moscow new arguments towards Norwegian Svalbard policy, experts argue. [Norwegian only]

Announcing peace for the Council

While knowledge, research and climate were among the most debated plenary session themes during last week’s massive Arctic meeting place, the Arctic Frontiers in Tromsø, the question of security politics lurked below the surface amongst many of the attending diplomats and politicians.

We are not looking to bring security politics into the Arctic Council”, said Evan Bloom, who has worked on ocean and polar-related issues at the American Foreign Ministry for more than two decades.

Denies military intentions

The Norwegian Defense this week announced that the Russian navy has announced test firing of missiles off the Norwegian coast. The areas are in international waters, though near the Aasta Hansteen oil production platform off the coast of Nordland County.

And only days after the American air force announced its current testing of the Norwegian island Jan Mayen as potential supply base for American military forces, Russia’s Arctic Ambassador Nikolay Kortshunov talks about what he characterizes as “internationalization of military activities” in the Arctic looks like from Moscow. He denies there being military intentions behind Russian investments in the Arctic and says: “Any military conflict or incident in this region undermines our investments.”

Export boom

Exports from Norway to Russia is once again on the rise and the sales of Norwegian fish farming technology to Russia is booming. In one year, exports have increased by 23 percent and currently amount to NOK 1.3 billion.

The Norwegian maritime industry can make good money from trading with Russia, says Fiskerstrand shipbuilders, located on the northwestern coast of Norway.

And with that, we wish you all the best for the weekend!

Siri Gulliksen Tømmerbakke
News Editor, High North News