The Norwegian government has summoned Russia’s ambassador to Norway to a meeting at the Foreign Ministry on Monday, after a high-ranking Russian government official not only defied sanctions by setting foot on Svalbard over the weekend but also reportedly declared that “we will make the Arctic our own.”
Russia’s deputy prime minister, Dmitry Rogozin, is a close colleague of Russian President Vladimir Putin and responsible for development in the Arctic. He is also said to be one of Russia’s most nationalistic and aggressive politicians, and on the sanctions list of unwanted Russians in the EU and Norway. He landed on the sanctions list because of his active support for Russia’s annexation of Crimea and intervention in Ukraine.
Rogozin nonetheless defied the sanctions by making a six-hour stopover on the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard where Norway has jurisdiction based on an international treaty dating back to 1920. Rogozin, on his way to the North Pole where Russia has a research station nearby, landed first in Longyearbyen on Saturday and then traveled on to the Russian settlement at Barentsburg, later bragging in both social and Russian media about his presence in territory where Norway has sovereignty.
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that Rogozin also ridiculed Norwegian authorities, who were unaware of who was on the aircraft that was allowed to land in Longyearbyen. Writing on Twitter, Rogozin used a Russian expression to state that it was then “too late” for the Norwegian authorities to do anything about his presence on Norwegian territory.
Neither the Norwegian Embassy in Moscow nor the Norwegian foreign ministry had been told of Rogozin’s stopover. The former Soviet Union was among the signatories to the Svalbard Treaty in the 1920s. Citizens of the countries that signed the Svalbard Treaty (including the US, Denmark, France, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Sweden, Great Britain and its dominions) can do business on the archipelago and normally don’t need to show their passports upon arrival.
Rogozin was undoubtedly aware that he was defying the sanctions against him, though, and Foreign Minister Børge Brende told NRK Sunday evening that he would demand an explanation from Russian Ambassador Vyacheslav Pavlovskiy. “The question is why he would do this,” Brende, clearly provoked by Rogozin’s stopover, said on NRK’s nightly national newscast Dagsrevyen.
“Norway is sending a strong and clear signal to Russia that it is unacceptable to send a deputy prime minister who’s on the sanctions list,” Brende told NRK: “He is not wanted in the EU or Norway.”
Asked what he thought Russia was trying to prove with Rogozin’s unwelcome visit, Brende said he was asking himself the same question. “Russia says they are a neighbour and want good relations with Norway, so I have questions about how this was handled by the Russians, and I will pose them to the Russian ambassador.”
Brende stressed that it was in “everyone’s” interests that the Arctic remain a peaceful area where various interests cooperate. “We of course see considerably greater military activity by Russia in the north, but we are prepared for them as a member of NATO.”
Rogozin himself was stressing the importance of increased Russian presence in the Arctic. “We have come to the Arctic forever, and we will make it our own,” he reportedly claimed in Russian media.
Russia already has been increasing its military presence in the Arctic and sabre-rattling between Russia and NATO has been going on for months. Some commentators said Rogozin’s stopover, during which he posed for photos that were posted on social media, was a means of marking Russia’s increased civilian and military presence in the Far North, even though Russia initiated an historic agreement with Norway just four years ago that defined territorial rights in the Arctic.