29th Mar 2020

Russia-Norway pact defuses Arctic tension

  • Russian fishing boats in a Norwegian Arctic harbour (Photo: Leigh Phillips)

After some 40 years of negotiations, Norway and Russia have reached agreement over their undersea borders in the high north.

The two sides announced they had reached an accord late on Tuesday (27 April) as the leaders of Norway and the Russian Federation signed a joint declaration bringing an end to the struggle over the extent of their Arctic territory.

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"This is an historic day. We have reached a breakthrough in the most important outstanding issue between Norway and the Russian Federation," said Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg.

The frontiers at the bottom of the Barents Sea and the Arctic Ocean have long been a source of contention between Moscow and Oslo.

In 2007, a Russian submarine famously planted a flag on the Arctic sea floor underneath the North Pole, while the Norwegian coast guard has regularly detained Russian fishing boats.

The flag stunt, mounted by State Duma deputy and polar explorer Artur Chilingarov, at the time seemed to herald a "race for the Arctic."

The EU for its part in 2008 published a security analysis highlighting the boundary disputes at the pole, arguing that the bloc should boost its civil and military capacities to respond to "serious security risks" resulting from catastrophic climate change.

"I believe this will open the way for many joint projects, especially in the area of energy," Russian President Dmitri Medvedev told reporters.

The agreement will see a maritime delimitation line that divides a disputed area of some 175,000 square kilometres of the Arctic shelf in two parts of roughly the same size. The document also provides for fisheries and oil and gas co-operation, with language on work together to manage marine life.

Crucially, there are a series of detailed rules and procedures governing how oil and gas deposits that cross the border should be apportioned.

Negotiations have completed, but some further technical work must still be done before a final treaty is signed, at which point, this will have to be approved by the two nations' parliaments.

"Agreement on the maritime delimitation line opens up new prospects for cooperation in the north on resources, trade and industry, employment opportunities and people-to-people co-operation across our common border," said Mr Stoltenberg.

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