After forty years of deadlock, Russian and Norway have finally come to an agreement on the delimitation of the maritime border in the Barents Sea. Russian President Dmitri Medvedev had traveled to Oslo with the goal of discussing energy, economic cooperation, and cross-border cooperation. Both countries tried to keep the potential Barents Sea agreement out of the limelight until the deal was finalized at the last minute on Tuesday. Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg declared,
“This is one of the most important days ever in Norwegian-Russian relations.”
Stoltenberg also emphasized the drive for cooperation rather than conflict in the Arctic, observing,
“This is a confirmation that Norway and Russia, two large polar nations, do not have a policy about racing, but a policy about cooperation.”
In this image, “Sektorlinje” represents how the sea would have been divided following the sector principle, which Russia had supported for the past four decades. The sector line simply extends the westernmost border of Russia north. Norway, however, had desired a division based on the median line principle (the “Midtlinje” in the map). Such a division would have split the disputed Barents Sea region according to UNCLOS Article 15 of Part II, which states that a line equidistant from the coasts of the two countries should bisect any disputed territorial seas. This median line would have been halfway between the Svalbard Islands, which belong to Norway, and Russia’s Novaya Zemlaya, the archipelago which is visible to the east of the median line. Even though Russia is party to UNCLOS, it originally opposed the application of this rule to the Barents Sea dispute because of “special circumstances,” in which case the treaty states that the median line need not apply. Those special circumstances included the 1926 Soviet declaration that its western border stretched from its land border with Finland all the way up to the North Pole, and the fact that Russia’s territory near the Barents Sea has a greater population and economic resources than Norway’s territory.
Tuesday’s agreement between Norway and Russia divides the 175,000 square kilometer disputed region mostly in half. It still must be ratified by the two countries’ legislatures, yet already, leaders are talking about oil and gas exploration in the area. Previously, many potential oil fields straddled the line, causing the industry to stay out. Now, however, Norway and Russia are actually considering joint projects and economic cooperation.
“Russia and Norway Reach Accord on Barents Sea,” The New York Times
“The Dispute over the Barents Sea” (backgrounder), Randi Laegrid