Norway’s new border agreement with Russia in the Arctic was still drawing rave reviews on Wednesday, and being hailed as a major breakthrough. Some experts also think it may ease the pressure to open up the seas off scenic Lofoten to oil exploration, as oil firms may be more keen to search for oil and gas in the Barents instead.
That in turn would help solve the biggest conflict facing Labour Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg’s coalition government. His two fellow party leaders don’t want any oil drilling off Lofoten and Vesterålen at all.
They may not favour drilling in the Barents, but Stoltenberg’s historic pact with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (PicApp photo) was nonetheless a huge victory for his government. A unified opposition in Parliament was impressed and in a rare congratulatory mood after the news broke on Tuesday.
“This is very good, there’s no doubt this agreement has been sought after,” Erna Solberg of the Conservatives told newspaper Aftenposten, adding that it seemed like “a good and balanced solution.”
Even Siv Jensen of the Progress Party, who never misses an opportunity to criticize the government, praised Stoltenberg’s success in solving a 40-year-old conflict between Norway and Russia. The long-standing border dispute was widely viewed as the most difficult problem within Norway’s foreign relations.
Former Prime Ministers Gro Harlem Brundtland, Kjell Magne Bondevik and Odvar Nordli were also quick to congratulate Stoltenberg, Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre and all their colleagues who worked hard with their Russian counterparts to get a deal in place.
May relieve pressure on Lofoten
Einar Steensnæs, a former Oil and Energy Minister for Norway, told Aftenposten that he thinks the border deal, which stands to give Norway undisputed rights to another 88,000 square kilometers of territory in the Arctic, can also have important effects on domestic politics. Steensnæs said it can make it easier for Statoil and other oil companies to accept that Lofoten and Vesterålen be protected from oil and gas projects.
Steensnæs, from the Christian Democrats Party, opposes oil drilling off Lofoten and claims the eastern portion of the Barents isn’t as environmentally sensitive. Environmental groups don’t agree, and are likely to oppose oil and gas exploration in the Arctic as well.
But otherwise the reaction to Stoltenberg’s and Medvedev’s historic agreement was almost universally positive. “It’s a very good agreement for Norway and a major victory for Norwegian politics,” said Julie Wilhelmsen, a researcher at the Norwegian foreign policy institute NUPI in Oslo.
She told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) that the agreement was the result of intense and low-profile dialogue that stretched over many years. “Russia generally isn’t keen to make compromises,” she said, while others noted that splitting the disputed territory evenly in two was appropriate and fair. Wilhelmsen noted the deal also is a victory for Medvedev, who seems keen to cooperate on issues in the northern areas.
The deal is also promising for major Norwegian industrial firm Aker, in which the state has a stake and which can profit in various lines of its business — fishing, oil and gas. Aker’s Clean Carbon unit is also eager to help Russian authorities reduce emissions from its Norilsk Nickel smelter on the Kola Peninsula.