Barneo is basically turning into a schoolyard playground this year, with two bullies beating up everyone except their opponent, as Russian-trained Chechen paratroopers landed at Longyearbyen’s airport on Thursday after completing exercises at the camp – a possible violation of the Svalbard Treaty, although Norway appears to be ignoring the taunt for now.
The landing is the latest of numerous disputes this month involving authorization of flights to and from the camp at 89 degrees latitude north, where both North Pole expeditions and military training is taking place. While Norway’s actions have been more substantial – including the denial of numerous passenger and cargo flights for what it calls legtimate regulatory reasons – the landing by the Chechens appears to be a political stunt aimed at provoking Norway.
“Preparing to triumphantly meet our heroes!” wrote Chechen Republic President Ramzan Kadyrov in an Instragram post Thursday featuring six photos of the paratroopers in transit at Svalbard Airport. The soldiers, he stated, “did a lot more than planned” and “proved that their potential is limitless.”
The landing – and plans for at least one other of military instructors previously announced – may violate a section of the Svalbard Treaty which, according to Norway, declares “all foreign military activity in Svalbard is prohibited and would entail a gross infringement of sovereignty.” But so far it’s a question being raised mostly by Norwegian media and analysts rather than political leaders – at least on the surface.
Ane Haavardsdatter Lunde, a spokesperson for Norway’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, stated in an e-mail interview, “as long as the applicable regulations are complied with, the Norwegian government has no objections with the flights via Svalbard,” although her statement didn’t specifically address whether the planned landings appear to be within regulations. There has been no reply yet to a follow-up inquiry and other Norwegian media are reporting similarly vague statements from the ministry.
The landings and social media posts resemble a controversial visit to Svalbard last year by Russian Deputy Prime Ministry Dmitry Rogozin, who was banned from Norway and numerous other Western countries due to his role in the Ukraine crisis. But the sanctions weren’t applicable to Svalbard due to the entry terms of the Svalbard Treaty, although Norway subsequently modified its entry requirements to prevent such visits.
Norway is also being accused of suspicious behavior for denying flights from Russia bound to Barneo via Svalbard, due largely to a new Norwegian requirement that the Russian An-74 flights must report passenger lists and cargo 48 hours before takeoff.
Barneo staff have struggled to build a stable ice runway since the beginning of April, resulting in a huge backlog of expeditions. A useable runway finally completed early this week, but most of the initial passenger and cargo flights were temporarily cancelled, resulting in a deluge of furious blog and social media posts from expeditioners and Bareno staff.