‘Inexplicable and absurd’ – Russia blasts Norway’s overreaction on official Svalbard visit

 Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, foreground right, in the town of Barentsburg on the Svalbard archipelago. (RIA Novosti/Sergey Mamontov)
Russia’s Foreign Ministry has said the recent visit to Svalbard by deputy PM Dmitry Rogozin was fully within the norms of international law and the spirit of Arctic partnership that Norway has consistently demonstrated so far.

The use of the [Svalbard] archipelago in the North Pole-2015 expedition was motivated by purely logistical reasons and the air traffic safety demands in high altitudes. These circumstances appear to be natural and we thought we could count on its understanding by the Norwegian side in the spirit of partnership in the Arctic that Norway has always demonstrated,” the ministry’s spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich announced on Monday.

The comment came soon after Norway summoned the Russian ambassador in Oslo to express frustration over Rogozin’s visit to Svalbard. This Arctic archipelago belongs to Norway, but also houses a relatively large community of Russian miners and is not part of the Schengen Zone making visa-free visits possible. Despite this fact, the Norwegian side voiced concern over Rogozin’s visit as this Russian official is on a sanctions list introduced by western nations in 2014 over Russia’s reunification with the Republic of Crimea.

Norwegian diplomats also complained that they had learned about Rogozin’s presence on Svalbard only from press and promised to tighten visa regimes with Russia, possibly with new restrictions concerning Svalbard visits.

Dmitry Rogozin is Russian deputy PM in charge of the defense industry and in this capacity he heads several important government commissions, including the State Commission for Arctic Development. The weekend visit to Svalbard was a part of the launch of the North Pole-2015 - a new scientific drifting station designed to maintain months-long presence of Russian researchers in the Arctic Ocean.

Rogozin made several tweets from the visit, one of which mentioned himself taking a dive into the Arctic Ocean close to the North Pole. He also reacted to Norway’s latest actions with several tweet posts. One said: “One should not throw punches after the fight is over” and another suggested, “They are simply jealous because we were swimming on the North Pole.”

The Arctic is Russian Mecca,” the official wrote as a caption to a group photo made on the North Pole.

Russia has repeatedly emphasized the priority of the Arctic in its latest economic and defense programs. Major projects include the development of energy resources on the Arctic shelf and works on the Northern Sea Route, which is gradually becoming an alternative to traditional transport corridors between Europe and Asia.

In April 2014, President Vladimir Putin announced Russia was creating a new united fleet of new generation combat ships and submarines permanently deployed to the Arctic.

In late 2013, Russia began extracting oil on the Arctic shelf. The country claims about two-thirds of large oil and gas deposits in the Arctic shelf zone, but plans to claim more territory through the so-called Lomonosov Ridge. Russian authorities have promised to lodge the documents with this claim to the United Nations in 2015.