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19 Sep, 2010 04:41

Russia, Norway end long-lasting border dispute

Russia and Norway have made a final move in resolving their 40-year-old territorial dispute as President Medvedev met Norway's Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg for talks.

The two leaders signed a deal dividing up the waters in question in the northern Russian city of Murmansk on Wednesday.

“The aim of this treaty is to have a clear division of our interests to have a clear border between our territories. Otherwise we would always have some suspicions, blame each other, or a third party would use this situation to its advantage. So this is a very important historic document,” said President Medvedev.

A maritime area of 175,000 square kilometers in the Barents Sea – equal to half the size of Germany – has been a bone of contention between Norway and Russia for almost four decades after Norway single-handedly declared it as its territorial waters.

Just five years ago, a Russian fishing vessel fled from Norwegian coast guards after casting nets in disputed waters. Accused of illegal fishing in Norway, its captain was praised at home for reclaiming what many Russians believe was theirs.

The Russian leader is sure the new agreement will help smooth things out.

“Fishing is another important and sensitive issue as it affects many of our citizens. In this respect there will not be many new things that would seriously change the situation. But the treaty will generally improve the atmosphere and help us resolve some disputes.”

Despite Medvedev’s optimism, the fishing lobby still remains one of the most vocal opponents of the demarcation agreement. Industry representatives have even asked the president to hold the signing ceremony off.

While some fishermen don’t mind the murky legislation, big oil companies are all longing for clear sailing. The area in question is believed to hold massive oil and gas reserves.

Dmitry Medvedev noted that in this respect the signing of the treaty is a major step forward.

“The treaty is well-balanced, well-considered. It reflects the balance of our interests in every area. First and foremost in the energy area, because unless you have a clear demarcation of borders, you can’t develop major energy projects.”

The agreement affords an opportunity for joint scientific and technological projects in the area, Prime Minister Stoltenberg told a press conference following the signing of the deal.

"The Arctic is a very important area for future cooperation,” said Fyodor Lukyanov, editor-in chief of “Russia in Global Affairs” magazine. “We need to cooperate to explore the Arctic. In this regard, Russian and Norwegian authorities have removed a very important obstacle for energy projects and for some other projects in technology, which can [prompt] a new relationship between Russia and Norway.”

“I think one of the reasons why these talks have dragged for so long was Norway's membership in NATO,” said Lev Voronkov of the Moscow Institute of International Relations. “At the time of the Cold War, the Soviet Union wasn't very keen on the idea of the NATO border moving closer to its own military installations. The sole fact of signing this delimitation agreement speaks for the fact that times have changed.”

President Medvedev also made a comment on the involvement of NATO in the Arctic, saying “the Arctic doesn't need NATO.”

“It's a resource-rich area that doesn't have anything to do with military tasks. We can cope with the help of economic regulation and international agreements. But NATO is pursuing its own policy,” Medvedev added.

With the longest border in the world, Russia has no shortage of territory, or territorial disputes. Yet, over the past few years Moscow has made a concerted effort to set things straight, demarcating borders with China and preparing to sign a similar agreement with Ukraine.