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Norway Not Breaching Treaty by Blocking Russian Cargo to Svalbard, Minister Says

Norway Not Breaching Treaty by Blocking Russian Cargo to Svalbard, Minister Says

Thursday, 30 June, 2022 - 08:15
FILE PHOTO: An aerial view shows snow-covered mountains in Svalbard, August 3, 2019. REUTERS/Hannah McKay/File Photo

Norway is not breaching a century-old treaty covering the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard by blocking Russian cargo to the islands, the country's foreign minister said Wednesday after Moscow threatened retaliatory measures.


"Norway does not violate the Svalbard Treaty," foreign minister Anniken Huitfeldt told AFP.


"Norway does not try to put obstacles in the way of supplies" to a Russian coal mining settlement in the area, she said, after Russia's foreign ministry said it had summoned Norway's charge d'affaires over the issue.


Moscow accused Norway of disrupting the work of the Russian consulate general on Spitsbergen, the largest island of the Svalbard archipelago.


Norway has sovereignty over Svalbard but allows citizens of more than 40 countries to exploit the islands' potentially vast resources on an equal footing.


Moscow has long wanted a bigger say in the archipelago -- which it insists on calling Spitsbergen rather than the Norwegian Svalbard -- which has been a haunt of its hunters, whalers and fishermen since the 16th century.


The Svalbard Treaty handing sovereignty to Norway was signed in 1920.


Huitfeldt argued the shipment that was stopped at the Norwegian-Russian border "has been stopped on the basis of the sanctions that prohibit Russian road transport companies from transporting goods on Norwegian territory".


Goods transport "does not have to go via mainland Norway by Russian truck", she said, suggesting other solutions could be found to supply the mining community.


Svalbard was exempt from a ban on port calls by Russian-flagged vessels, "and we have clearly signaled our willingness to consider a dispensation from the flight ban", the minister said.


The situation in the town of Barentsburg, home to the Russian miners, was "normal", she said.


"Residents have access to food and medicine," Huitfeldt said.


"It is not Norwegian policy to try to force Russian companies or citizens away from Svalbard, or to put obstacles in the way of the business that takes place in accordance with Norwegian laws and regulations.


"At the same time, Norway's necessary reaction to Russia's war in Ukraine may also have practical consequences for Russian companies on Svalbard, as in Norway in general," Huitfeldt said.


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