Russia’s next move: Svalbard

Abandoned Russian mining town on Svalbard
By Bjoertvedt – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

We will continue to watch Russia divide up Ukraine into pieces until it is essentially Russian territory, and as I previously noted, don’t be surprised when Russia moves into Central Asia. But for anyone that thinks Russia will hesitate against a NATO ally, I say, look to Norway. Because it is here that Russia is beginning its information drumbeat to take territory.

Norwegian Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Soreide and Justic Minister Monica Maeland wrote an op-ed in VG titled “Svalbard Treaty 100 Years.” The discussion focused on a resource discussion, because while the treaty gave Svalbard to Norway, it allowed treaty signatories rights to fishing, hunting, and mineral resources. At the time, the Soviet Union continued to call the island Spitsbergen and kept repeating the claim they had discovered it first.

Flash forward, and Russia responded to the op-ed on the news site E24. First they claimed that Norway was ignoring their concerns over Spitsbergen. They also point out that Svalbard “is not originally Norwegian territory,” and that only Russia and Norway have commercial interests on the island. Russia operates a defunct coal mine on the island, which loses money every year, simply to maintain this claim.

If this sounds like Ukraine and Georgia, you’re catching on. While we might be a bit far away from a Russia land-grab on Svalbard, we are in the setup phase. I see Russia first making claims that Svalbard is a Russia-Norway issue. They don’t want NATO involved, and since the treaty was made before NATO, they’ll use that as a wedge to keep other countries out. Then we’ll start seeing stories about Norwegian “atrocities” against the approximately 400 Russians that live on the island. As a side bonus, we might see Russia make claims that the tourism is causing negative climate change, so only someone that cares about the environment like Russia should be in charge.

While not on the same level as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, Russia has found an opening in Norway, and it will settle in for a long fight to take away territory and chip at the NATO alliance.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.

Norway: stuck in the middle

Norway is stuck in the middle. Russia has been pushing more aggressively past Norway. Recently Russia canceled a polar Norwegian Cruise Line entry into Russian waters, forcing the cruise company to reimburse passengers only two weeks before the cruise. Russia also surged naval forces off the Norwegian coast in its “Ocean Shield” exercise, causing a lot of consternation among the Norwegian populace.

But simply saddling up to the US isn’t in the cards, at least for some. Norwegian media is enthralled with President Trump, and not in a nice way. Norwegian media, namely Dagbladet and Klassekampen, regularly blast the US and President Trump in particular, and call for Norway to keep its distance from the US.

Norway is quickly entering into a forced choice. It’s military understands that NATO, and specifically the US, are critical to keeping it independent of Russia in any future conflict. The US is doubling down not just on NATO funding, but also on support for the Straits of Hormuz patrols. Iran’s foreign minister recently visited Norway, was met with significant protests, and told Norway to not support the patrols.

So now Norway, always content to play the middle, gets to choose between two forces. On one side, a resurging Russia and Iran, who are willing to use their muscle in critical maritime geography, and a US, which is using its forces to support the agreed-upon UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Choices have consequences, and the middle choice will likely become untenable before much longer.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.