More and more Russians are going on vacation to Spitsbergen, an island group north of Norway. The area is close to the North Pole and is considered an “exotic destination” by Norwegians and Russians. Nevertheless, this has now moved into a political issue.
Spitsbergen is not an illogical holiday destination for Russian tourist. For years Russia had an active settlement there. Pyramiden is an old coal mine the Russians used until 1998. The mine may be closed, but the surrounding Stalinist village is still there. And now Russia is trying to make that village interesting for tourists again.
Weird in a way, because for visiting the Arctic Russians have loads of alternatives. That’s why Norway is extra worried that large number of Russians flock to Svalbard all of a sudden. A few years ago, suddenly there were a lot of Russians in Crimea, and that area was eventually taken away from Ukraine. The Norwegians are afraid that Russia wants to do the same with Spitsbergen.
Russia has been more active in military and geopolitical business lately. It announced to conduct missile exercises in the same Northern European exercise area of NATO operations, Russian aircraft flew flew along the Norwegian coast days ago, and a month ago a Russian man was arrested at Oslo Airport for spying on the Norwegian parliament.
The Russian Deputy Prime Minister visited Spitsbergen last year, even remarking Svalbard is very much like the Crimea peninsula. “It is a beautiful area that we should actually be able to use, as Russians,” the statesman said
If Russia would eventually capture Spitsbergen, there is little that can be done. Officially it is a demilitarized zone that for the Norwegians will be difficult to defend in case of war. The Royal Norwegian Air Force cannot just fly a few fully armed F-16 combat jets 500 kilometres away without necessary support, something Norway doesn’t have on their own.
The Norwegian are trying to think of something, but the project that they’ve started to halt the Russianification of Svalbard is only seven people strong. They cannot stop tens of thousands of Russians.
Geopolitically, Spitsbergen is an important area. Oil can be found here and it is of great military importance. In addition, the World Seed Bank is also located at this outpost. Should anything ever go wrong with our world, that’s where our future lies.
>> Listen to my radio chat in Dutch in Nieuwe feiten on Belgian Radio 1, on 2 November 2018