June 3, 2009 (the date of publication in Russian)

Alexei Chichkin


Who profiteer from the independence of Greenland and "wide autonomy" of Spitsbergen?


Political party Inuit Ataqatigiit, proponents of absolute independence of Greenland from Denmark have just won the elections to the autonomous parliament of the island. They have already promised that they would immediately start the negotiations with Copenhagen, which should end in acquisition of the international sovereignty. It is interesting, that earlier Greenland has gained the right to independently deal with the minerals of the island and the sea economic zone adjoining it. But it seems, that it wasn't enough for the 50,000 of Eskimos (Inuits), inhabiting the island. Now Greenland can put a claim for the same part of the Arctic Ocean, which Denmark has already "has an eye on". And is no less than 40% of the Arctic ocean. And this is also the area, where large deposits of oil and especially gas are concentrated (RPMonitor has already reported on this – see also ARGUMENT OVER THE LOMONOSOV RIDGE [Russian language version only Editor]) and PLAYING WITH FIRE IN THE ARCTIC).

By the way, since the last year leadership of Greenland was trying itself in a role of international negotiator. The result of the negotiations between Russia and Greenland were the Russian-Greenland (not the Russian-Danish) treaties signed on October 8 in Arkhangelsk. These treaties regulated the Russian access to the fisheries of turbot and bass in the sea areas of Greenland.

How do the Russian territorial rights and Greenland possible claims relate to each other? Let me remind you that in the middle of 1920s Soviet Union have drawn the two lines in the map of the Arctic going from the North Pole to Murmansk and Chukchi Peninsula. Area inside of these two borders was declared Soviet territory. Though, Soviet Union never raised the official claims for the North Pole, offering the demilitarization of it and declaring its international status. By that period large deposits of oil and gas in the Arctic (in the Soviet part of it as well) have been already explored. But unlike the post-Soviet time, they were not included into the list of high priority issues. That's why Soviet Union wasn't pretending to declare the North Pole as its property and didn't specified its Arctic borders with the neighboring countries. But after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia continues to prove that this shelf, rich with the oil and gas, belongs to it. The shelf, stretching to the North Pole, is a natural continuation of the continental (Siberian) platform.

But along with the process of global warming, the ease of access to these enormous Arctic oil and gas deposits also increased. Thus neighbors of Russia are taking measures, aiming at the "internationalization" of the resources, located in the Russian sector of the Arctic and its seashore transit routes. In particular, we are speaking about the emergence of new legal entities, claiming their rights to the part of the Arctic (or more exactly part of the basin of the Arctic Ocean) that belongs to Russia. And above all of them, it is obviously Greenland.

Who might profiteer from the independence of Greenland? In order to answer this question it is worth to mention, that about 35% of Danish territorial claims in the Arctic coincide with the ones of Canada. There have already been the clashes between the Danish and Canadian frontier guards. Though Denmark and Greenland have recently won an argument with Canada on the matter of Hansen Island, which is located to the north-west of Greenland. Thus, it's logical to assume that Greenland would be offered less part of the Arctic, than Denmark can promise it. But the part of "Danish" claims, concerning Greenland, would become (or probably are already becoming) Canadian in exchange for their help in acquisition of the independence of Greenland. Also separation of the Greenland is profitable for the Iceland, which was "deprived" of the Arctic territories because of the Danish appetites. And thus Iceland becomes the ally of Canada (and therefore the U.S.) in the Arctic matters.

In a situation like that remains a possibility of the separation of autonomous Faeroe Islands (in the Norwegian Sea), which have large reserves of oil and gas near them, from Denmark. Also in perspective, there is the same option, concerning Spitsbergen, which has the same resources plus the big deposits of coal. And such attempts have already been made, for example, in November-December of 1941, after the Nazi occupation of Norway. Great Britain and the USA were planning the joint operation at the archipelago without any possibility of participation of the Norwegian guerrillas in it.


Recently Spitsbergen officials expressed their displeasure with the too small size of financial aid from Oslo (according to the local and Norwegian media) and also their dissatisfaction with insufficient protection of the environmental and other interests of Spitsbergen. In the case of independent Spitsbergen, Russia would have to argue about many areas of Barents Sea basin both with Norway and Spitsbergen. It was Spitsbergen which helped Norway to pretend for the Russian Franz-Josef archipelago few years ago, as well as in the 1920s. In the second half of 1920s, they even organized an expedition there, but it was fastened in the ice. They thought that Norwegian economic zone to the west of Spitsbergen should include the Russian archipelago or, at least, stretch to its western border. In the beginning and in the middle of the 1990s both Norwegian government and the leadership of Spitsbergen were raising the same question.

Nevertheless, analysts do not exclude the option, when Spitsbergen as new legal entity would resume its territorial claims for the Franz-Josef Land, and, correspondingly, to the vast deposits of oil and especially gas, lying between these archipelagos. Greenland in the same time will more actively pretend for the whole territory between the northern coast of this island and the Northern Pole. Copenhagen and Godthaab believe it to be the natural continuation of the Lomonosov Ridge, beginning in the north of Greenland.

Frankly speaking, claims of Spitsbergen and Greenland would be deliberately moved to the east and north-east i.e. into the Russian sector of the Arctic Ocean. Territories to the west and north-west of these countries would go to Canada then. As a proof of probability of this scenario we may cite Jonas Gahr Støre, Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs. At the end of April, 2009 he said, that the shelf adjoining the Norway still has some areas in the east, which haven't been demarcated because of the disputes with Russia. Another subject of this dispute is how to define the region around Arctic Norwegian archipelago Spitsbergen.

We also have to emphasize that at the end of April Norway officially renounced its claims for the North Pole, which was commented by Mr. Støre. Thus Norway "played into the hand" of the Danish-Greenland claims, promoting further worsening of the dispute between Russia and DenmarkGreenland. Not long before this, Norway came up to the agreement with Iceland and Greenland about the precise demarcation of the economic zones and territorial waters. It rules out any future Arctic disputes between these northern countries. We can't strike off the possibility that they are rallying against Russian interests in the Arctic Ocean.


However, there are other examples of infringement of Russian interests in the Arctic, except the above-mentioned ones. For example, the unpaid seizure of more than 60% of Bering Strait, adjacent to the Arctic Ocean. In the 1990 Americans did this thanks to the well-known agreement between Eduard Shevardnadze and the American state Alaska (Agreement of demarcation of the Bering Strait and Bering Sea). That induced most part of the northern countries to contest the Russian interests across the Arctic. Americans soon ratified this agreement, and though our side did not, we didn't as well denounce it…

Norwegian, Danish and mostly Canadian-American projects of transformation of the Northern Sea Route into the international commercial transit route have the same purpose. They want to make something like Tangier international zone the one, that existed in the north-west of Morocco in the beginning of the 20th century out of it. Canada and the USA dispute the obligatory steering of all the ships in this route by Russian pilots and icebreakers. They even oppose the Russian right to regulate the navigation in some parts of it.

Meanwhile, at the modern Norwegian maps more than 70% of Bering Strait water area is marked as the territorial waters of Norway or its potential territories. The eastern border of this "Bering part of Norway", according to these maps, practically adjoins the Russian archipelago Franz-Josef Land i.e. it invades into the northern sea areas of Kara Sea. By the way, despite the Paris international "Treaty of equal conditions of management of resources of Spitsbergen and the sea areas around it for the signatories of the agreement" (1920), Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr. Støre announced in 2007, that if oil or anything like that would be discovered in the Spitsbergen area, nobody but Norway would have the right to decide who and on which conditions will produce it.

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