Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is positive both about the delineation of the Norwegian-Russian disputed zone in the Barents Sea and the development of the Shtokman gas field. On Monday morning, the president arrives in Oslo for a two-day state visit.
The High North has always been the core in Norwegian-Russian relations. For centuries, the two countries were engaged in flourishing trade and human contacts along the Barents Sea coast. Today, Norway and Russia cooperate closely on several arenas, among them within the Barents Euro-Arctic Cooperation.
Norway is the last of the Nordic countries which Medvedev visits, with the exception of Iceland.
The two neighbors and European energy giants both have major interests in the Arctic, and this region is likely to be at the forefront in the talks in Oslo. The issue of delimitating the 175,000 square km disputed zone remains unsettled after about 40 years of negotiations. Still, there is movement in the talks, and both parts confirm that a settlement is within reach.
In an interview with Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten, President Medvedev confirms that he has been thoroughly briefed on the issue and says that “it is absolutely possible to solve it”. “It is necessary to find a solution which makes it possible to determine both zones. Not only the shelf needs to be divided, but also the exclusive economic zone”, the president says, adding that the solution must be based on a compromise which fits both countries.
“This means that it must be a pragmatic solution which later will not be disputed by any of the parts, nor by representatives of businesses in the countries”, Medvedev underlines.
Mevedev also expresses firm support to the development of the Shtokman field, arguing that it is “an important project”.
“Our position has not changed, we are interested in starting to implement this project with participation of our partners […] The question here is to find the right date for the start of projecting and of the construction”, Mevedev, once the board chairman of Gazprom, told the newspaper.
Although a deal on the disputed waters in the Barents Sea seems unlikely to be announced during Medvedev’s visit to Oslo, the issue could well get a solution in the near future. One of the elements which might help bring the parts to a quick agreement, is the current international energy situation. The rapid shifts in gas market with new suppliers and new sources, has put pressure on the Russian gas industry and cast shadows over the fate of the Shtokman field.
However, with a solution on the disputed zone opens huge areas believed to be highly rich on hydrocarbons. With access to also these resources and with the possibility to harmonize infrastructure with the Shtokman project, the partners will see their investments justified. Shtokman partners Gazprom, Total and Statoil in February postponed their final investment decision to 2011 and the project production launch to 2016. That leaves the Kremlin and the Norwegian government negotiators with little time left.