ROAR: Medvedev reaches maritime border agreement with Norway’s leadership

Moscow and Oslo have reached an agreement on the demarcation of maritime borders after almost 40 years of talks.

The demarcation concerns maritime borders in the Barents Sea and the Arctic Ocean, Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said on Tuesday after the meeting with President Dmitry Medvedev.

The Russian president, who is on a state visit to Norway, said that the two countries’ officials will conduct technical work to prepare the agreement for the final signing. “A joint statement will be issued at the end of the visit where chief principal approaches are fixed,” Medvedev said.

Analysts believe the dispute over the demarcation was the key issue in the bilateral relations. Russia and Norway had many issues to discuss, Rossiyskaya Gazeta daily wrote, adding that demarcating maritime borders in the Barents Sea and the Arctic Ocean was the most important one. The talks on the issue have been ongoing since 1970.

Prior to the visit, the two sides have managed “to narrow the region in the southern part of the Barents Sea over which disagreements remained,” the paper added, citing presidential aide Sergey Prikhodko. Medvedev had said he was absolutely certain the issue of demarcation may be solved.

“The second important problem is Spitsbergen,” the daily said. “Russia does not recognize the 200-miles zone introduced by Norway, and the agreement on temporary rules of fishing expires on July 1,” the paper said.

Trud daily also describes the argument over maritime borders as the main problem in the two countries’ relations. Russia and Norway had to divide the most attractive piece of shelf which has the most natural recourses, Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the State Duma Committee on Foreign Affairs, told the paper. The interests of the sides intersect there more than elsewhere.

Medvedev’s visit was expected to push the talks forward to find a compromise, Kosachev said.

Although Russia and Norway may be competitors on the European gas market, they have managed so far to share the spheres of influence, believes Valery Khomyakov, director general of the National Strategy Council.

As for Spitsbergen, Moscow is concerned that Russian companies are forced out by Norwegian ones, the paper said. However, Khomyakov noted that “Russian businessmen may work badly and do not meet competition.”

The Norwegian side now has “an absolute freedom of choice,” believes Aleksey Mukhin, director general of the Center for Political Information. On the other hand, the Russian leadership “is going through a period of romantic, fairly good relations with NATO,” Mukhin told Komsomolskaya Pravda radio. However, it would not be easy to solve all the problems with Norway soon, he added.

Solving the demarcation problem may step up economic cooperation between the two countries, Dmitry Abzalov of the Center for Political Conjuncture told Actualcomment.ru website.

Moscow and Oslo are already involved in several projects, the analyst noted. The most important one is developing the Shtokman gas field situated at the center of continental shelf area of the Barents Sea.

Russia will also have to share fish recourses with Norway, observers say. The issue also concerned the demarcation dispute because some areas of the Barents Sea were under “different legal regimes.”

After signing the agreement, Russia may increase its defined area of water, Andrey Krainy, the head of Russian federal fishing agency, told Business FM radio.

Moscow is interested in developing cooperation with the countries of Northern Europe taking into account the interests of security and developing the Arctic resources, Nezavisimaya Gazeta said.

“It is important that the territorial dispute does not hinder the development of promising Russian-Norwegian cooperation in the Arctic,” Konstantin Voronov of the Institute of World Economy and International Relations told the paper.

“The elite of Norway have understood the prospects and strategic importance of the cooperation with Moscow,” Voronov said. “And for us Norway is important as a country that has the advanced experience and technologies to develop the Arctic continental shelf.”

Observers note that the relations between the two countries are being strengthened now. During the Cold War, Oslo occupied “a clearly pro-American position,” the paper said. Now this country itself calls on its partners in the Arctic region – the US, Canada and Denmark – to step up their relations with Moscow, it added.

Medvedev and Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg also visited a forum of the two countries’ businessmen in Oslo. The Russian president explained that the talks with the prime minister “will be based just on what is being discussed at the forum,” the daily said.

The Russian government should “minimize” the problems for businessmen, Medvedev said. He made it clear that he understands these problems well because he had worked in business before politics.

Medvedev also invited Norwegian businessmen to take part in developing the innovation center in Skolkovo, noting that Russia is not only oil, gas, diamonds, and gold, but also a source of serious intellectual potential.

Medvedev devoted part of his visit to the past, visiting together with King Harald V of Norway and Queen Sonja the Falstad Memorial and Human Rights Center that identifies names of Soviet prisoners buried in Norway. More than 4,000 Soviet soldiers died during the liberation of northern Norway.

Awarding 16 Norwegian veterans with the Russian 65th Anniversary of Victory medals, Medvedev warned against rewriting history, “otherwise there is a chance that all of us, in Europe and the whole world, will once again find ourselves in a very serious predicament.”

Sergey Borisov,
Russian Opinion and Analysis Review