Tag: Norway

Lavrov attacks Norway, says relations on Svalbard should be better

Foreign ministers’ meeting in Arkhangelsk. Photo: Atle Staalesen

The Russian foreign minister accuses Norway of encroaching on Russian rights on the Arctic archipelago.

The setting was Barents Cooperation and cross-border interaction, but it was Arctic militarization and Norwegian policy at Svalbard which became the key issues in today’s press conference following the Barents Euro-Arctic Council meeting.

In what appeared as a well-prepared answer, the Russian foreign minister lashed out against his Norwegian counterpart.

Relations in Spitsbergen could clearly have been much more constructive, he underlined. Russian legitimate rights in the area are periodically being restricted, he added.

“The Russian MFA last year submitted two diplomatic notes about Svalbard to the Norwegian side, but no response has been made,” Lavrov complained.

“We have on several occasions called for dialogue over these issues, but the Norwegians do not respond. I believe this does not correspond with good neighbourly relations”, he underlined.

The statements come after newspaper Kommersant recently published a report shedding light on strategic document from the Russian Ministry of Defense allegedly highlighting the archipelago as a potential conflict area.

Barents foreign ministers. Photo: Atle Staalesen

Disagreement over Svalbard Treaty

According to Lavrov, Norway is illegitimately restricting Russian company Arktikugol and its flying with helicopters in the archipelago, and also the development of Russian research and tourism activities in the area.

He also complained about the local Norwegian tax regime, which reportedly does not allow the local Russians to spend collected taxes for their own purposes in Barentsburg, the Russian-dominated local settlement.

“We are talking about very concrete issues, about Russians in the area engaging in activities permitted by the Svalbard Treaty.”

The treaty from 1920 gives Norway full sovereignty over the archipelago, but signatory states are allowed to engage in economic activities. The Russians have since the early 1930s operated coal mines in the area and is currently in the process of building up local research and tourism facilities.

Norwegian sovereignty

“Norway is complying to every comma in the Svalbard Treaty,” Børge Brende responded. “This is a part of Norway and that should not be questioned,” he underlined.

Geographical location of Svalbard (dark green)

“But we are taking great effort to make Svalbard the best managed Arctic archipelago in the world, and that concerns also environment.”

Beyond that, the Norwegian foreign minister said he was not much interested in using the press conference to discuss Svalbard. The issue is highly sensitive. And it was Brende’s last day as foreign minister. After four years in the post, he now leaves Norway to become president in the World Economic Forum

Enhanced military presence in Finnmark

The Russian critical words against Norway did not stop with Svalbard. According to the Russian foreign minister, there are worries in Moscow also about Norway’s stronger military emphasis on Finnmark, the country’s northernmost region.

“Yes, we are of course concerned about the buildup of troops and the stronger role of Nato in the region,” Lavrov said.

“We see this as part of a carefully planned strategy directed against Russia.”

“Considering the fact that we are neighbours, we would have expected otherwise,” he underlined.

However, at the same time, earlier the same day, Lavrov praise the regional government of Finnmark for its friendly and cooperative approach to neighbouring Russia. Finnmark this week took over the chair of the Barents Regional Council, a cooperation body including the northern territories of Norway, Russia, Finland and Sweden.


German submarine U35 damages X-rudder off Norway

The German Navy’s fifth Type 212A submarine ‘U35’ has damaged one of the blades on her X-shaped rudder during deepwater tests off the coast of Norway.

The U35 is now at the TyssenKrupp Marine Systems (TKMS) shipyard in Kiel where it is being assessed for damages.

According to the German Navy, the accident happened on October 15 while the U35 was conducting tests in the challenging waters off the coast of Kristiansand.

With the U35 out of the water for assessments, the German Navy now has no fully operational submarines at its disposal. Four out of six submarines in the fleet are at the Kiel shipyard for various repairs and overhauls.

The German Navy expects to have three to four operational submarines from mid-2018.

The limited availability of submarines was caused by a lack of spare parts due to budget constraints, the navy said.

The U35 was commissioned into the navy on March 23, 2015, as the first improved Type 212A submarine specifically optimized for deployments around the world. The boat has a bigger reservoir, improved air-conditioning and a new combat system.


Trans-Arctic data cable up for discussion in Moscow

Port of Kirkenes on Norway’s Barents Sea coast. Photo: Thomas Nilsen

Telecommunication highway along the north coast of Siberia will link Finland with Asia via Kirkenes on Norway’s Barents Sea coast.

It is Finland’s Minister of Transport and Communications, Anne Berner, who brought up the possible Arctic data link when visiting Moscow on Tuesday.

Meeting Russia’s Minister of Communication, Nikolai Nikiforov, the Finnish Minister discussed how both countries could benefit from such fiber-optic data cable across the top of the world, the Finnish Government reports.

“Our aim in Finland is to provide the best possible operating environment for the development of digital services and business opportunities and to actively engage in international cooperation. One example of this is cooperation between Finland and Russia in intelligent transport systems and services,” says Minister Anne Berner.

The discussion is a follow up of data cable talks between the two prime ministers, Dmitri Medvedev and Juha Sipilä in Oulu, northern Finland, last December.

A report (pdf.) written by Finland’s former President Paavo Lipponen says key countries in the project is Finland, Norway, Russia, Japan and China.

“The submarine section of the cable would be a connection of around 10,500 km from Japan and China to Kirkenes in Norway and the Kola Peninsula in Russia,” the report reads. From Kirkenes, the fiber cable will cross into Finnish Lapland and further south to central Europe.



Foreign Ministers line up for Barents talks in Arkhangelsk

Foreign Ministers of Finland, Sweden and Norway. From left Timo Soini, Margot Wallström and Børge Brende. Photo: Thomas Nilsen

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov invites for Barents Council meeting where cross-border, low tension cooperation tops the agenda.

“High north – Low tension” is the slogan for Norway’s Børge Brende when he on Wednesday travels to Arkhangelsk for the 16th Barents Foreign Minister’s Session. The tour, Brende’s third to Russia this year, will also be the last before he leaves office.

The Barents cooperation, involving the northernmost regions of Russia, Sweden, Finland and Norway was initiated in 1993, aimed at tearing down barriers that hampered contact and economic ties after the breakup of the Soviet Union.

Formally, the Barents Council Session takes place Thursday morning, but Russia’s Foreign Minister has already announced he will have bi-lateral meetings with the three Nordic Foreign Ministers starting with a dinner on Wednesday.

“Wider Arctic cooperation”

Lavrov’s spokeswomen Maria Zakharov told reporters at the weekly briefing in Moscow last Friday that development of cross-border economic ties, the forest sector, health, rights of indigenous peoples, education, youth exchange and joint responses to emergency situations are topics for discussions.

Russia has chaired the Barents Council for the last two years and will now hand over the chairmanship to Sweden’s Foreign Minister Margot Wallström for the period 2017-2019.

Next year, the Barents cooperation marks its 25th anniversary.

Finland’s Foreign Minister, Timo Soini, stresses in a press release before travelling to Arkhangelsk that the Barents cooperation “is part of a wider Arctic cooperation.” Soini is currently the chair of the Arctic Council.

Arctic Exclusive Economic Zones

Tematic working groups

Although the foreign ministers meet every second year, the Barents cooperation on the daily basis includes a wide-range of working groups, from transport, tourism and economic cooperation to environment, health and indigenous peoples. The groups include experts from all the four Barents countries. In total, there are 14 such working groups with members from regional and state levels.

An international Barents Secretariat coordinates the work with employees from all four member countries.

Arkhangelsk Oblast regional government-building is the venue for the Barents Council Session. Photo: Thomas Nilsen


Norway downselects Vard for coast guard vessel construction negotiations

Norwegian Navy photo of a Nordkapp-class vessel.

The Norwegian government announced it has selected Vard to continue talks for the construction of three new vessels for the Norwegian Coast Guard.

After the government announced their intent to acquire the three vessels in September 2016, three shipbuilders submitted their proposals.

The government has now chosen Vard over shipbuilders Kleven and Westcon Yards to continue negotiations. Should negotiations with Vard be unsuccessful, however, the government said it would continue talks with either Kleven or Westcon Yards.

If the negotiations are successful, according to the government’s timetable, the project should be tabled for approval by the Norwegian Parliament in 2018. Delivery of the first vessel would be in 2022.

The three new vessels to be built will replace the service’s aging Nordkapp-class offshore patrol vessels built in the 1980s.

Earlier this year, Vard received a four-year contract the maintenance of five Norwegian Coast Guard Nornen-class vessels.


Kommersant: Russia lists Norway’s Svalbard policy as potential risk of war

Details from a Defense Ministry report show that Moscow is not happy with Norway’s attempt to establish absolute national jurisdiction over Svalbard and its shelf.

It is the newspaper Kommersant that refers to the report after speaking to several sources in the Russian Defense Ministry. The report summarizes Russia’s 2016 national security assessment in the field of maritime activities.

The military part of the report describes existing foreign policy problems, like U.S. and their allies attempt to limit Russia’s geopolitical influence. Listing reasons for potential military conflicts with NATO, the report singles out a separate threat from Norway, because of the country’s plans for unilateral revision of international agreements.

The report stresses that Norwegian authorities are seeking to establish absolute national jurisdiction over the Spitsbergen [Svalbard] archipelago and the adjacent 200 nautical miles maritime boundary around, Kommersant writes.

Map of mainland Norway and the Svalbard archipelago, directly north in the Arctic Ocean. photo credit: Svalbard map

The report gets wide coverage also in other Russian media on Tuesday.

In addition to Svalbard, the report lists the Kuril islands and the Azov- and Black Sea region around Crimea as potential war areas for the navy.

High North – Low Tension

Norway argues the Arctic is an area of cooperation rather than conflict.

A long-standing Norwegian slogan is «High North – Low Tension». Speaking at the Arctic Frontiers conference in January, Foreign Minister Børge Brende told the audience that Law of the Sea and International Law «is the Constitution of the Arctic.

A dispute between Norway and other signature countries to the Svalbard Treaty, however, is whether the Treaty applies to the shelf around Svalbard or if Svalbard does not have its own shelf but being a part of mainland Norway’s continental shelf.

Rogozin’s surprise visit

Russia has several times the last few years stressed its disagreement with Oslo over Svalbard. In 2015, Norway’s Foreign Ministry summoned Russia’s ambassador to Oslo over Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin’s surprise visit to Longyearbyen airport and the Russian settlement Barentsburg. Rogozin is on Norway and the European Union’s list of sanctioned people not allowed to enter the territory of Norway due to their active participation in the annexation of Crimea.

Rogozin’s visit to Svalbard was first reported by the Barents Observer. 

Russia’s Defense Ministry report was late in September sent out to members of Government’s Maritime Board led by Dmitry Rogozin, Kommersant writes on Wednesday.

NATO politicians

This spring, Russia’s Foreign Ministry also expressed strong protest when a delegation from NATO’s Parliamentary Assembly visited Longyearbyen to learn more about climate changes affect on the Arctic. «Unprecedented military preparations, Moscow said in a statement calling the visit «a provocation.

The NATO meeting triggered widespread coverage in Russian media.

Analysing the meeting, RIA Novosti commentator Aleksandr Khrolenko points to historic Russian population on Svalbard.  “These islands were populated by Russian Pomor settlers,” he writes in a text that in-between the lines questions Norway’s historic rights. Since the Russian settlers, according to a 1569 map, were on the archipelago, it “has been controlled by the Netherlands, the UK, Denmark, Sweden and finally, independent Norway.”

RIA Novosti is a news agency operating under the purview of the Russian Ministry of Communications and Mass Media.  Under a presidential decree signed by Putin in December 2013, the news agency became a part of Rossiya Segodnya. According to the decree, the mandate of Rossiya Segodnya is to “Provide information on Russian state policy and Russian life and society for audiences abroad.”

Sputnik News, another arm of Rossiya Segodnya, published an English version of the statements questioning Norway’s historic rights over Svalbard.

Frigate made port call

Last month, the Norwegian navy frigate made port call to Longyearbyen. Norway does not have any military installations on Svalbard, but in recent years, a navy vessel shows presence in Svalbard waters once a year.

HNoMS Helge Ingstad at Svalbard in September 2017. Photo Royal Norwegian Navy

Chechen special forces

In April 2016, Chechen special forces instructors landed at Longyearbyen airport on their way to Russia’s Barneo ice-base in the high Arctic.

Such use of Svalbard as part of preparation to military exercises could be in conflict with the Svalbard Treaty. Article 9 prohibits naval bases and fortifications and also the use of Svalbard for war-like purposes. The Norwegian Government in its White paper on Svalbard explains that “All foreign military activity in Svalbard is prohibited and would entail a gross infringement of sovereignty.”

Chechen special forces instructors landed on Svalbard | The Independent Barents Observer.

“Unless they involve innocent passage through territorial waters, foreign military and civilian government vessels wishing to enter Norwegian territorial waters around Svalbard must apply well in advance for diplomatic clearance. The same applies to calls at ports in Svalbard and landings at airports. […] The Norwegian authorities follow very restrictive practice with regard to granting such clearance.”

Geir Ulfstein, Law Professor at the Department of Public and International Law at the University of Oslo told the Barents Observer after the Chechen special forces’ visit that an interesting question concerning the kind of use of Svalbard that we now are witnessing, is how far Article 9 of the Treaty reaches when it comes to prohibition of the use of Svalbard ‘for war-like purposes’. “But in this connection it is central that Norway has the sovereignty over Svalbard. Norway can prohibit paratroopers on Svalbard in the same way as on the mainland, unless other countries can claim concrete rights as a consequence of the Svalbard Treaty. It is hard to see how Russia could find any such rights in the Treaty,” Ulfstein said.

Controversies over oil

In March 2015, Russia’s Embassy to Norway wrote a sharp diplomatic note to the Norwegian Foreign Ministry, stating that the opening of three blocks for oil drilling in the Barents Sea near Svalbard is in defiance with the Svalbard Treaty, the newspaper VG reported.

Russia believes the blocks that where announced in the 23rd licensing round belong to the Svalbard continental shelf and that production of oil and gas there should be regulated by the Svalbard Treaty.

In the Svalbard Treaty Norway and 39 other countries have the same rights to operate in the archipelago, provided that they comply with Norwegian law.

The main difference between Norwegian and Russian views on the areas around Svalbard, is that while Russian claims that Svalbard has a shelf of its own that should be covered by the Svalbard Treaty, Norway argues that the continental shelf is a part of mainland Norway’s continental shelf and should be governed by the 1958 Continental Shelf Convention.



Norway beefs up military presence in Finnmark

Mobilization to Finnmark will give us more soldiers ready for combat on shorter notice, says Minister of Defense Ine Eriksen Søreide.

The Defense Minister on Friday announced the new structure of the army and the home guard. The plan pays special emphasis on northern Norway.

In Finnmark, Norway’s northernmost region, gets a full cavalry battalion at Porsangermoen. That means 400 soldiers, including conscripts, and heavy arms.

Finnmark borders Russia to the east and the new structure of the Norwegian army comes in response to what the minister says is «a more demanding and less predictable» security situation.

«This shows will and ability to defend ourself in the north, and it is deterrent,» Ine Eriksen Søreide says.

Additional to a cavalry battalion, a new Ranger Company with 200 soldiers with light anti-arcraft and anti-armor weapons will be based with the Garrison of Sør-Varanger, directly on the border to Russia. That decision was taken last year. While Porsangermoen is some 200 kilometers west of the Russian border, the Garrison of Sør-Varanger is located next to Kirkenes airport some 5 kilometers from Norway’s border to Russia’s Kola Peninsula.

The Garrison of Sør-Varanger is today a border guard force. Here on the Pasvik, the border river forming the border between Norway and Russia. Photo: Thomas Nilsen

Ready for combat

Also the Home Guard will be strengthened in Finnmark, and Home Guard forces in other parts of Norway will be equipped and trained for fast transfer to Finnmark in case that should be needed. The Home Guard and the Army will be co-located with the army in Finnmark to ensure uniformed planning and management of land operations, the ministry informs.

The battalion at Skjold in Troms will be converted from a infantry battalion to a mechanised battalion, mainly consisting of personell from a new active reserve. The Defense Ministry says it will be have more exercises and training on mobilizing making this battalion ready for combat on short notice.

Hikes defense budget

Presented on Thursday, the government’s budget for 2018 gave a signifiant boost to Norway’s Armed Forces with a 3 billion kroner (€321 million) increase in spendings.

The budget proposal strengthens our armed forces. Together with our Allies we have pledged to increase defense spending in order to protect our mutual values, security and interests at home and abroad. Our aim is to ensure that the armed forces have the training, equipment and support necessary for their work. This budget provides for exactly that, states the minister of defence, Defense Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide says.

Coastal Rangers with the Norwegian Coastal Ranger Command conducting coastal operations alongside the Norwegian Royal Navy

Finnmark [ˈfinmɑrk] ( listen) (Northern Sami: Finnmárkku, Finnish: Ruija, Russian: Фи́ннмарк, Fínnmark) is a county (“fylke”) in the extreme northeastern part of Norway. By land, it borders Troms county to the west, Finland (Lapland region) to the south, and Russia (Murmansk Oblast) to the east, and by water, the Norwegian Sea (Atlantic Ocean) to the northwest, and the Barents Sea (Arctic Ocean) to the north and northeast.

The county was formerly known as Finmarkens amt or Vardøhus amt. Since 2002, it has had two official names: Finnmark (Norwegian) and Finnmárku (Northern Sami). It is part of the Sápmi region, which spans four countries, as well as the Barents Region, and is the largest and least populated county of Norway.

Situated at the northernmost part of continental Europe, where the Norwegian coastline swings eastward, Finnmark has always been an area where East meets West, in culture as well as in nature and geography. Vardø, the easternmost municipality in Norway, is located farther east than the cities of St. Petersburg and Istanbul.

Increasing Russian military on the Finnmark border has prompted the Norwegian government to deploy military forces to the region to shore up the existing defences.



Lithuania’s anti-tank units kick off Hunter 2017 drills

Allies test anti-tank capabilities in Lithuania

VILNIUS, Oct 06, BNS – International firing exercise Hunter 2017 of anti-tank units is starting in Lithuania on Friday.

The exercise will involve more than 600 troops.

During the training, troops of the Lithuanian army’s Land Forces and German and Norwegian infantry of the international NATO battalion stationed in Lithuania “will conduct assault firing from anti-tank weapons, update and supplement know-how of anti-tank unit management and tactics, study the tactics of possible enemy mechanized and tank units, as well as share experiences,” the Defense Ministry said.

The Hunter exercises have been held in Lithuania annually since 2010.

Two officers from Ukraine will arrive in Lithuania to observe the training and share their experience with NATO troops.


Estonia to send observers to Zapad drills

TALLINN, Sep 12, BNS – Estonia is to send observers to the Belarusian-Russian joint exercise Zapad 2017, the daily Postimees writes.

Russia has decided to introduce the exercise at a training range in Luga on Sept. 17-18 to defense attaches who have been accredited in Moscow, spokesperson for the Estonian Ministry of Defense Andres Sang said.

Estonia’s defense attache will also participate in the event. Official Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) invitations for observation have not been issued.

Belarus has formally notified the OSCE that Zapad will be held in the territory of Belarus on Sept. 14-20. In addition Belarus has, under the principle of voluntariness of the Vienna document, invited two observers from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Ukraine and Sweden each to take part in a program lasting from Sept.16-20.

Estonia has accepted the invitation of Belarus and will send two people to participate in the program. The Ministry of Defense does not have information on the extent of the access that the participants will have to the drills.

Additionally, the Estonian defense attache will participate in a Zapad related program to be organized by the Belarus Ministry of Defense on Sept. 19-21.


UK says defense commitment in Nordic and Baltic states won’t waver after Brexit

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson outside number 10 Downing Street. (Steve Parsons/PA via AP)

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain will pledge on Monday that its commitment to security and defence in Nordic and Baltic nations will not change after Brexit, seeking to reassure states affected by what foreign minister Boris Johnson described as “Russian antagonism”.

The Foreign Office said Johnson would host a meeting of foreign ministers from eight countries, including Estonia, Sweden and Latvia, on Monday to discuss issues including Russia, NATO and defence co-operation after Britain’s EU exit.

“In an increasingly complex world, Britain remains a reassuring presence to its friends, especially those facing continued Russian antagonism in the north of Europe and the Baltic region,” he said in a statement ahead of the meeting.

He cited the deployment British troops in Estonia, which in March reached around 800 personnel, as a statement that Britain stands by its allies “in the face of outside aggression” and of its commitment to NATO.

“Britain wants a safe and secure world, and as we leave the European Union, we will continue to defend and promote our common interests, as we rise to any challenges we face together,” he said.



Operation Open Spirit: How NATO is Minesweeping The Baltic Sea

Lithuanian minesweeper Kuršis (M54) (former Royal Navy Hunt-class, HMS Dulverton), leads a flotilla in the Baltic Sea

British forces have taken part into Operation Open Spirit, an annual multinational operation to clear Explosive Remnants of War (ERW) in the Baltic Sea.

This year’s operation, led by the Latvian Naval Force, cleared a total of 20 square kilometres of the Baltic.

Expert teams from Latvia, Estonia, Norway and Canada and the UK identified 38 objects and destroyed two mines.

Commander JG Armands Ronis said:

“There are thousands of mines laid during those periods. Your job is to find the mine, to identify it, to put a charge and to blow it up.”

The Baltic Sea was heavily bombarded during the First and Second World Wars, both via air and submarine warfare. As a result, unexploded ordnance remains in some areas.

The operation aims not only to reduce the risk of mines for civilians, but also to foster relationships with defence partners in the region and exercise naval mine countermeasure operations in a challenging environment.

Open Spirit is part of the Partnership for Peace (PfP), a bilateral cooperation between individual Euro-Atlantic partner countries – such as Canada – and NATO.

The program was established in 1994 to enable its 21 partners to build an individual relationship with NATO, choosing their own priorities.