On Tuesday, Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg visited Russian President Dmitri Medvedev at his residence outside Moscow. The two leaders discussed cooperation in the Arctic, mainly regarding the issue of gas. Medvedev said, “The development of the region as a whole depends on how we form a coordinated position on exploring the gas fields on the Arctic shelf. I think this is one of the most important areas of our cooperation.” The Russian president was chair of Gazprom’s board of directors until just a little over a year ago.
Stoltenberg also visited Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Together, they discussed Russia’s presence in Svalbard and the gas field at Shtokman, which Putin noted was a “big bilateral project between our two countries.”
At the Shtokman Field, which lies 600 kilometers off the coast of the Kola Peninsula in the Barents Sea, Gazprom is working with Norwegian company StatoilHydro and French company Total in order to obtain much-needed technical assistance and investments. Though the conditions are extremely challenging, these two companies have familiarity working in such environments – and the capital to afford to do so. According to Rosneft, it will cost $2.6 trillion to develop offshore oil and gas.
Norwegian involvement in Shtokman also gives it some leverage with Russia, for whom offshore oil development is vital to maintain current levels of production in the future. This leverage could possibly be used to turn a lawsuit regarding the possible confiscation of Norwegian state-owned company Telenor’s 29.9% stake in Russian telecommunications company VimpelCom in Norway’s favor.
Another issue discussed – but far from resolved – between Russia and Norway was the status of the “grey zone” in the Barents Sea, where both countries’ territorial claims overlap over a resource-rich area of 175,000 square kilometers. The United Nations ruled earlier this month that since both countries have legitimate claims to the area, the dispute would have to be resolved bilaterally. Norway wants the territory to be divided based on a dividing line drawn through the middle of the area, while Russia wants the division to be based on the “principal of justice,” which would entail drawing borders in respect to the western coasts of Soviet Arctic territories.
Aside from these sticky disputes, Norwegian-Russia relations are generally friendly. Last year, trade between the two countries increased 45%. Stoltenberg and Norwegian Defense Minister Jonas Gahr Støre have often commented that they are not worried by Russian military development in the Arctic, saying that it is only logical. While there have been a few minor spats over Russian jet exercises outside of Norwegian airspace, tensions have never reached the level of the Canadian-Russian relationship, for example.
“Medvedev gratulerte Stoltenberg med Grand Prix-seieren”, Aftenposten (in Norwegian)
“An offer you can’t refuse,” Moscow News
“Russie-Norvège: le partage de l’Arctique n’aura pas lieu,” Kommersant (Russian translated into French)