Norway’s attitude about Svalbard is among the top four geopolitical challenges – on par with NATO and the Baltic States – that puts Russia at risk of war, according to a Russian Defense Ministry report about national security threats.
The report declares Norwegian authorities are seeking to establish “absolute national jurisdiction over the Spitsbergen archipelago and the adjacent 200-nautical-mile maritime boundary.” The reference is to a dispute about the Svalbard Treaty that in essence questions Norway’s right to determine who has access to the zone – and thus potentially lucrative resources like oil and commercial fishing there.
The other prime concerns cited in the threat assessment are a war with NATO countries, the conflict with the Ukraine and other counties in the Azov-Black Sea region, and Japan’s territorial claims to two of the Kuril Islands now under Russian jurisdiction. The report was distributed to Russian government officials at the end of September and highlights were widely published by Russian media on Tuesday.
The assessment comes shortly after the latest of numerous military-related skirmishes in Svalbard between Russia and Norway in recent years, as the Norwegian navy’s KNM Helge Ingstad traveled to the archipelago last month. The ship itself was not a violation of the Svalbard Treaty, which bans war-like activities, but The Independent Barents Observer reported that Norway generally sent Coast Guard vessels to the area during the Cold War to avoid provoking the Soviet Union until recently.
“The Svalbard voyage is important for many reasons, first of all for us to get acquainted with the waters and the area,” Commanding Officer Preben Ottesen told the online newspaper. “Svalbard is a part of Norway and we should be able to defend all of Norway.”
The dispute about the continental shelf escalated into a full-blown legal battle with the European Union after the Norwegian Coast Guard detained a Latvian trawler accused of illegally catching snow crabs in the maritime zone. EU officials argue the trawler’s catch was authorized under the terms of the treaty and the case could end up going to an international court in The Hauge because the same provisions will apply to oil exploration rights.