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Russian Perceptions of and Policy-Making Regarding Svalbard

This study looks at Russian perceptions and interests on the Svalbard archipelago and in the Svalbard Fishery Protection Zone. Starting with perestroika, the Soviet and later Russian settlements were suffering a reduction of activity and partly dismantled. By the end of the 1990s, however, Russia once again started to allocate federal investments to the archipelago and is currently making efforts to open a new coal mine. At the same time, the Russians have been increasingly concerned about the Norwegian management of Svalbard and the Fishery Protection Zone. In April 2001, Norway for the first time ever took arrest in a Russian trawler in the Protection Zone. Russia claimed that Norway had no right to arrest foreign citizens in a zone not recognised internationally as being under Norwegian jurisdiction. A few months later, the Norwegian Parliament adopted the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act, putting the Russian (and Norwegian) coal mining under question. Unsurprisingly, the Russian reactions were severe.

The study asks what interests Russia has on Svalbard, and how the Russian perceptions come about. Arguably, while the fishery activities in the waters around Svalbard are important for the fish industry in Northwest Russia, there is hardly any economic reason to continue the mining activity in Barentsburg. Neither should security issues play a significant role any longer. Norway, by 'domesticating' Svalbard, has given broad responsibilities to the sector ministries. The co-ordination of Svalbard politics under the control of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has loosened, the result of which is less attention to foreign actors. In Russia, which already is highly sceptical towards its rich, western neighbours, a realist discourse of 'us' against 'them' is central. The Norwegian management of Svalbard and the Protection Zone has thus been seen by the Russian administration as indirect means to pressure Russia out of the area.

At the same time, various bureaucratic structures in Russia pursue their own interests in Svalbard affairs. In a rather effective way, they have managed to use the general discourse in their efforts to present any unresolved issue on Svalbard as a zero-sum game between nations.

Project staff:
Geir Hønneland (project leader)
Jørgen Holten Jørgensen

Project period: 2002-2004


Jørgensen, Jørgen Holten, Russisk svalbardpolitikk: Svalbard sett fra den andre siden ('Russian Politics on Spitsbergen: Spitsbergen Seen from the Other Side'). Trondheim, Tapir Academic Press, 2010, 100 p. In Norwegian.

Jørgensen, Jørgen Holten, 'Svalbard: russiske persepsjoner og politikkutforming' ('Svalbard: Russian perceptions and policy-making'). Internasjonal politikk, No 2, 2004, pp. 177-197. In Norwegian.

Jørgensen, Jørgen Holten, 'Ønsker Norge å presse Russland bort fra Svalbard?' ('Does Norway want to pressure Russia away from Svalbard?'. Aftenposten, 4 Januar 2004. In Norwegian.

Jørgensen, Jørgen Holten, Svalbard og Fiskevernsonen: Russiske persepsjoner etter den kalde krigen. ('Svalbard and the Fishery Protection Zone: Russian Perceptions After the Cold War'). FNI report 13/2003. Lysaker, FNI, 2003, 79 p. In Norwegian.
 Related focal points of research:

   Arctic and Russian politics

Project funding:

   Norwegian Ministry of Defence

Related FNI document:

   Nordområdeforskning ved FNI ('FNI's Research on the High North'). Presentation brochure in Norwegian (PDF , 0.6 Mb)

Fridtjof Nansen Institute
P.O. Box 326, 1326 Lysaker, Norway. Tel: (+47) 67111900 / E-mail: post (