FNI Report 13/2003. Lysaker, FNI, 2003, 79 p. In Norwegian.
This report looks at Russian perceptions and interests at the Svalbard archipelago and in the Fishery Protection Zone. Starting with perestroika, the Soviet and later Russian settlements suffered a reduction of activity and were partly dismantled. By the end of the 1990s, however, Russia 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. Although the trawler undoubtedly had committed serious violations of the fishing regulations, 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 applied 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 at 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 coordination 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 press 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 at Svalbard as a zero-sum game between nations.