Approximately $70 million will be earmarked for coal mining projects from Russia on the archipelago over the course of the next three years. Russia is currently taking much less coal than it could due to Norway’s stringent ecological requirements, Voice of Russia reports.
Spitsbergen, known for its picturesque locations, glaciers, polar bears and Arctic reindeer, is rich in phosphorites and coal. While a 1920 treaty gives sovereignty of the archipelago to Norway, other signatories to the treaty have equal rights to exploit Spitsbergen’s natural resources. Norway and Russia are exercising the rights spelled out in the treaty.
“Russia owns a large number of land plots on Spitsbergen and rents a whole range of others,” Alexander Yevdokimov, a professor familiar with the situation, said, according to Voice of Russia. “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.”
Norway is concerned that Russian resource exploitation could cause environmental damage to the archipelago. To comply with agreements with Norway, Russia will have to establish environmental monitoring, build new ports and make major investments in the infrastructure of the surrounding villages. Russia has developed the Strategy for the Expansion of Russian Presence on Spitsbergen that will regulate research and development projects on the archipelago until 2020.