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Russia expands presence on Spitsbergen
by Staff Writers
Moscow (Voice of Russia) May 24, 2012

Russia, Norway end Pomor-2012 naval drills
Russia and Norway have ended their joint naval drills Pomor-2012 by the two countries' vessels calling at Norway's Budo seaport. Yesterday, Russia's Admiral Chabanenko large anti-sub ship and Norway's Fritiof Nansen frigate were engaged in drilling interaction in bad weather conditions.

During the drills, the ships covered a total of some 800 nautical miles and carried out more than 20 combat exercises, including battle firing. It is the fourth time that Russia and Norway have held the Pomor war games seeking to ensure interoperability in the Arctic region.

Russia is expanding its presence on Spitsbergen. About 2 billion rubles, or $70mn, will be earmarked for Russia's coal mining projects on the archipelago over the next three years. At present, Russia is taking far less coal than it could be because of tough ecological requirements from Norway.

Russia's presence on the archipelago will be expanded in accordance with international agreements and the country's national interests.

Spitsbergen which is situated in the Arctic Ocean is deemed to be one of the world's most picturesque locations. The island has many glaciers, mountains and fjords whose scenic banks are studded with dwarf birch trees and mosses. It is home to the polar bear and the Arctic reindeer and its soil and air are known for the lowest levels of dust and vermin.

Spitsbergen is rich in coal and phosphorites and its coastal waters teem with fish and edible seaweed. Scientists believe that the archipelago also abounds in diamonds, gold, oil and gas.

Under the 1920 Treaty the sovereignty of the archipelago belongs to Norway. However, other signatories to the treaty have equal rights to exploit the resources of Spitsbergen and its territorial waters. At present, Norway and Russia are exercising these rights. Coal mining began on Spitsbergen at the beginning of last century.

After the coal mines developed by the Russian Arktikugol ran out of coal in the 1990s, the development of the coal deposits has been run by the Norwegian company Store Norske. As a result, the Russian coal mining villages Barentsburg, Piramida and Grumant are financed mostly from the federal budget, and to a lesser extent, through their own economic activities.

At the same time, the explored reserves of the Grumant coal field are estimated to be millions of tons. Professor Alexander Yevdokimov comments.

"Russia owns a large number of land plots on Spitsbergen and rents a whole range of others. The law on Spitsbergen allows for obtaining new land plots for the development of natural resources. Russia is interested in tapping the island's resources. Apart from economic gains, there are political gains as well.

Spitsbergen is Russia's national treasure. Russia bought land on Spitsbergen many years ago, before the Second World War. Developing coal-rich fields is the main condition for the exploitation of these land plots, as stipulated by the 1920 Treaty."

Meanwhile, Spitsbergen's Norwegian governor has demanded that Russia pull down the structures built in Barentsburg for a satellite data receiving station which would maintain contact with the mainland.

The governor insists that Russia should comply with the overall land exploitation plan under which the given area is designated for recreational purposes and its exploitation may damage the environment.

Norway keeps referring to environmental threat thereby hampering the work of Russian fishermen in the archipelago's water areas and operations by the Arktikugol Company, which was banned from using a helicopter.

Along with a tough competition for Spitsbergen's resources, the conflict has been caused by Norway's concern over the untouched nature of the island.

The nature protection law which has been in effect on the island since 1932 forbids inflicting damage on its vegetation, bans picking flowers and regulates fishing and hunting.

Visitors are forbidden to bring dogs. They are allowed to carry only stun guns should they need to shoo a bear and are barred from making noise near geese colonies.

Russia will have to make huge injections in the villages' infrastructure, build new ports and communication facilities, attract more experts and establish environmental monitoring for the effective resumption of coal mining and other economic activities. But the gains are worth the efforts.

The Strategy for the Expansion of Russian Presence on Spitsbergen which was adopted by the Russian government for the period until 2020 provides for a large number of research and development projects.

As part of the project to expand its lawful presence on the mineral and resource rich territory, Russia hopes to use the Barentsburg port to service the Northern Sea Route, which it expects to become one of the key world transit routes in the foreseeable future.


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Perth, Australia (UPI) May 22, 2012
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