Brash landing: Russia’s plans to have military instructors land in Longyearbyen may violate Svalbard Treaty

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Russia is planning to have military instructors make a stopover in Longyearbyen as part of a large-scale paratrooper exercise near the North Pole this month, an action that may violate the Svalbard Treaty.

The stopover, first reported by The Independent Barents Observer, will involve Russian airborne forces, plus possibly troops from allied countries such as Belarus, Kazakhstan and Armenia. The airdrop onto the Barneo ice camp at 89 degrees north latitude will be followed by exercises in the area, similar to drills Russia has done in the region during the past two years.

“In Moscow they’ll assemble platforms for airdrop,” a post at the Russian Geographical Society’s Expedition Center’s Facebook page notes. “The next day these platforms will be transported to Murmansk and loaded with barrels of fuel. Our An-74 will also fly there with the rest of the equipment for the camp, so as not to make an extra technical flight from Longyearbyen to Barneo. In Murmansk the fuel and equipment will be made ready to be dropped over Barneo. The An-74 will bring to Longyearbyen instructors and dog sledges for the Airborne forces’ exercise.”

Using Svalbard to prepare for a military exercise may violate a section of the Svalbard Treaty that, according to the Norwegian government’s interpretation, states “All foreign military activity in Svalbard is prohibited and would entail a gross infringement of sovereignty.”

“Unless they involve innocent passage through territorial waters, foreign military and civilian government vessels wishing to enter Norwegian territorial waters around Svalbard must apply well in advance for diplomatic clearance. The same applies to calls at ports in Svalbard and landings at airports.”

Russia deliberately provoked Norway when Deputy Prime Dmitry Rogozin stopped in Longyearbyen and Barentsburg on his way to last year’s training exercise. Although he was on Norway’s list of banned persons, the restriction didn’t apply to Svalbard. Norway subsequently altered entry rules for the archipelago.