The Russian Navy yesterday announced that it has sent one heavy Navy vessel to the waters around Spitsbergen, and that it later this week will send another. The fleet command also makes it clear that it from now on will have periodic Navy missions to the area, claimed by Norway.
According to a press note from the Navy press service, the heavy Northern Fleet vessel “Severomorsk” is already in the area of the far northern Spitsbergen archipelago, RIA Novosti reports. On 17 June the vessel will be joined by another ship, the missile cruiser “Marshal Ustinov”, the Navy command informs.
Furthermore, the powerful navy also confirms that it will step up its presence in Arctic waters, including in the area around Spitsbergen. “Periodic missions of the Northern Fleet’s battle vessels will be made to Arctic areas with the necessary regularity”.
The move is unpleasant news for Norwegian authorities, which claims sovereignty over a 200 mile zone around the archipelago. Russia and most other countries do not recognize the zone, declared by Norway in 1977, arguing that the Paris Treaty of 1920 gives Norway sovereignty only over the Svalbard islands, and not the surrounding waters.
Newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes that the Navy move shows that Russia is ready to protect its interest not only with diplomatic, but also with military means and that it all is directed against Norway.
The military and the Arctic
Russia has long opposed Norway’s position in the Spitsbergen issue, and relations in the area have from time to time been heated. Russian authorities have reacted with strong words every time the Norwegian Coast Guard has detained Russian trawlers suspected for illegal fishing. Earlier this year, Norway did not allow a Russian fishery patrol vessel to fuel fresh water in the area, arguing that the ship did not have the necessary permissions. The incident reportedly triggered hectic diplomatic talks between the two neighbours.
The increased Russian military presence in the High North does not come alone however. Norway is in a process of significantly modernizing its Navy and will in few years have one of Europe’s most modern fleets with several frigates. The vessels will all have the High North as their prime area, the Norwegian defence authorities say.