“Latent Militarization”: What’s Happening in Svalbard?

“Latent Militarization”: What’s Happening in Svalbard?

Ilya Kharlamov
Russia has expressed concern about the military build-up and the hidden militarization of Svalbard. Along with other countries, she has the right to conduct economic and scientific activities on the island. And Norway cannot use it for military purposes.
Moscow’s reaction was prompted by a visit to Svalbard by one of the Norwegian warships. The Russian Foreign Ministry believes that Oslo includes the island “in the sphere of national military development.” And this contradicts the Treaty on Spitsbergen, concluded in 1920 between a number of countries, to which the USSR joined in 1935… The document determined the exclusively peaceful nature of the use of the archipelago, and its 9th paragraph directly states that Norway (extending its sovereignty to Svalbard) undertakes not to build and prevent the creation of naval bases or fortifications on the territory of the archipelago and not to use it for military purposes. Russia perceives the ship’s visit as a demonstration of military strength. In addition, the waters of Svalbard are patrolled by the Norwegian Coast Guard ships, and the ground satellite tracking station and the airport built on it can carry out military tasks. Moscow also draws attention to the fact that Oslo has restricted access to information about the seabed in the Spitsbergen area. However, the Norwegian military and their NATO partners can obtain such information.
The history of Svalbard itself can probably be omitted in this case. Although there is a lot of reason to believe that it was the Pomors (who lived on the territory of Russia) and Russian sailors who mastered the island. It is about the implementation of a legally significant document. And there are problems here. As in the whole in the Arctic region. It has the most important economic (resources), logistic and geostrategic significance. And it is in the Arctic that the competition of a number of countries, included and not included in the Arctic Council (Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Russia, USA, Finland, Canada and Sweden). And this is not only economic competition. Rivalry has a military dimension. Year after year, the activity of the joint efforts of the United States and Norway in the Arctic is growing. So, some time ago in Norway, a large-scale exercise “United Trident” was held, in which more than 45 thousand soldiers, hundreds of ships and aircraft, and thousands of pieces of military equipment took part. In general, NATO maneuvers in the extreme climate of the Arctic, close to the conditions of the Murmansk region, are regular.
They are held twice a year and are aimed at practicing military operations in areas with difficult terrain and low temperatures.
By the way, in Washington’s Arctic strategy, Moscow is seen as a competitor and rival in the region. Claims it says London and even Kiev. In addition, modern Chinese icebreakers enter the Arctic.

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