Yes, that’s a Royal Norwegian Air Force plane that’s been parked at Svalbard Airport since Sunday and, yes, the police are taking a serious interest in the matter – but not because it’s not violating the Svalbard Treaty, according to the governor’s office.
The plane is being used to transport dogs that are receiving police training to and from Svalbard, said Police Chief Lt. Trond Olsen. He said there’s nothing illegal or particularly unusual about the use of the plane.
“A few years ago they came four times a year,” he said.
Article 9 of the Svalbard Treaty, according to a summary at the governor’s website, states “Norway is required to make sure that no fortresses or naval bases are established. Svalbard may not be used for martial purposes. Norwegian military presence in Svalbard is very slight, consisting mainly of coast guard surveillance. Foreign military presence is unwelcome.”
Controversy arose last spring when Russian-trained Chechen paratroopers landed at the airport after completing exercises at the Barneo ice camp at 89 degrees latitude north – and taunting photos declaring them “our heroes” were posted on Instagram by Chechen Republic President Ramzan Kadyrov. Norway ultimately chose not to formally investigate the matter.
It was the second straight year of controversy involving military activities at the ice camp, as Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin visited Svalbard in April of 2015 despite being banned from Norway as part of the sanctions imposed by the Ukraine crisis. The treaty’s more lax entry requirements meant his stay was legal despite Norway’s objections.
With work on this year ice camp expected to begin later this month, another year of controversy may be in store.
Russia, which last year threatened to move its Barneo logistics operations from Longyearbyen to Franz Josef Land, apparently plans to keep its operations here at least one more year. But it is seeking reassurances new regulations – including submit detailed lists of passengers and cargo 48 hours in advance – will not be imposed in a manner that caused numerous flight and expedition cancellations last year.
Recent news reports have noted Russia is making its biggest Arctic military push since the fall of the Soviet Union.