Главная Status of the Spitsbergen archipelago and the surrounding waters
Status of the Spitsbergen archipelago and the surrounding waters Печать E-mail

Kvitsinsky Y. A.

The Spitsbergen archipelago, the Bear Island and the surrounding waters have traditionally been the areas of peculiar industrial, political and strategic interest for Russia and Norway, the main continental coastal states in the region.

This results not only in the enhanced cooperation and in the desire to safeguard the region from excessive interference of the third countries, but also in some disputes and competition between Russia and Norway.

The most important event of the recent years is the joint declaration of the Russian President and the Norwegian Prime Minister dated 12 November 2002 which provides that "the Norwegian Party welcomes the continuation of Russian economic activities on Spitsbergen as a natural and important part of the joint activities on the archipelago, as well as new types of such activities". This obligation expressed by Norway is of primary importance for the maintenance and development of Russian presence on the archipelago on the basis of mutual understanding and cooperation with Norway.

As known, Norway pursues a policy of extending its sphere of influence in the Arctic regions. Norwegian policy concerning Spitsbergen is a good example of that. The Paris Treaty of 9.02.1920 established Norwegian sovereignty over Spitsbergen, but only on the condition that all vessels and nationals of the Contracting Parties (now 39 nations) can conduct economic, transport, scientific and other activities on the archipelago on a footing of absolute equality, will have equal liberty of access and entry to Spitsbergen for any reason or object, and the archipelago will never be used for military purposes. However, Norway is persistent in the desire to make its conditioned sovereignty unconditioned.

The archipelago is virtually closed for any industrial, scientific and other activities of the Contracting Parties to the Paris Treaty. 60 % of the territory have long had the status of nature reserves. In 2001, according to the new Nature Protection Law, the remaining part of the archipelago was virtually closed.

This raised concern of the Russian party that the new law aimed at stopping the economic and other development of Russian possessions on Spitsbergen. Russia suggested that bilateral consultations should be held for securing of legal persons' rights on Spitsbergen. On receiving a refusal from Oslo Russia announced that it reserved its right not to follow some provisions of the Spitsbergen Nature Protection Law.

For many years there has been a dispute about unilateral actions of Norway aiming to expand its authority to marine areas surrounding the archipelago. Norway can not appropriate these open sea areas by internal legislative acts. On the contrary, it should make legal regime of these areas compatible with that established by the Paris Treaty.

However, our actions under the circumstances should take into account not only the necessity to maintain purity of legal principles, but also our joint interests in the conservation and rational management of biological resources of the Barents and Norwegian Seas, as it was stipulated by the Russian- Norwegian fisheries treaties of 1975 and 1976. Opening of the mentioned marine area according to the Paris Treaty"would mean an unlimited access of the third countries, which does not meet either Russian or Norwegian interests. This was the reason behind the Soviet- Norwegian agreement of 16 March 1978 (communique Ishkov-Evensen). However, its implementation now leaves much to be desired.

The recent example is the notorious incident with trawler "Elektron". The Russian captain conducted illegal fishery and should have been brought to justice in a Russian court.

But the Norwegian authorities should also bear responsibility for illegal attempts to seize the Russian vessel.

The dispute can be aggravated by the attempts to establish an exclusive Norwegian control over the continental shelf of Spitsbergen. A serious concern was raised by the statement of Store, the Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs, made before the meeting of Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, and Iceland held in 2006 on Spitsbergen. Russia did not participate in the meeting. "In case oil is found in the Spitsbergen area, only Norway will have the right to determine who, when and on what conditions will extract it", Store said.

The outcome of the oil and gas conflict around Spitsbergen can be not in favour of Norway. As far as this issue is concerned, Norway would have to fight against "heavy weight" competitors the victory over which will not be easily achieved by usual juridical and other tricks.



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