Claiming it was “no longer possible to remain passive about the warfare in Ukraine,” the Svalbard Tourism Council voted this week to cut ties with one of its own members, the Russian state-owned firm Trust Arcticugol in the popular tourist destination of Barentsburg. The council on the Norwegian-run Arctic archipelago claimed it’s reacting to “related violations of international law and human rights.”
The exclusion of its long-time Russian partner marks more opposition to Russia’s war on Ukraine and came after several days of Russian attacks on Ukrainian cities and civilian targets. It will potentially have the most impact on Svalbard’s Russian enclave of Barentsburg, which has been promoted and marketed for years on the council’s “Visit Svalbard” website along with the Russian “ghost town” of Pyramiden.
“All products, travel, tours, services or other offers with any ties to the Russian state-owned companies on Svalbard will be removed from Visit Svalbard’s platforms,” read the Norwegian version of a press release from the council (Svalbard Reiselivsråd). That also applies to third-parties’ offers that were promoted on the tourism council’s platforms.
Local newspaper Svalbardposten reported that companies selling tours to Barentsburg or Pyramiden, for example by boat, will lose their right to promote or sell them on Visit Svalbard’s website. One offer of a snowmobile tour from Longyearbyen to Barentsburg was still showing on Thursday afternoon, but it may also be removed if it has any ties to Russian firms.
“We want to tell the outside world that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is not something we can passively sit and watch,” stated Ronny Stømnes, leader of the council’s board and Visit Svalbard. He thinks the local tourism industry has “taken a courageous and extremely important stand by doing this.”
Stømnes stressed that the exclusion is “a direct result of the warfare being committed by the Russian state.” He added that “it’s important for us to emphasize that we have no desire to harm the population of Barentsburg” but it’s “impossible for us to cooperate with representatives of the Putin regime. We hope that sometime in the future the situation will normalize and the cooperation can resume.”
Legal challenge looms
The move also means that Trust Arcticugol and the Russian state-owned travel firm Arctic Tourism Centre Grumant will also “lose access to joint planning processes” for Visit Svalbard in addition to losing visibility on its platforms. Visit Svalbard also held an extraordinary general meeting on Wednesday at which it decided to follow the tourism council’s request to “cease purchasing services from Russian state-owned companies” on Svalbard.
Svalbardposten reported that none of the Russian companies on Svalbard, which is under Norwegian sovereignty by administered by Norway, is on the Norwegian foreign ministry’s sanctions list. Newspaper Dagbladet reporte that the Russian companies were already planning legal challenges to the exclusion. Trust Arcticugol can also exercise a right to appeal.
The council’s board emphasized that Trust Arcticugol “is welcome to apply to re-join the organization when the circumstances justify this.”