Russia threatens retaliation against Norway over access to Svalbard

Cargo intended for Russia's settlement on the Norwegian Arctic archipelago can still travel by ship, but has been stopped at Norway's land border.

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Husky dogs pull a rig and musher Audun Salte through the town of Longyearbyen in Svalbard, Norway on August 6, 2019. (Hannah McKay / Reuters File Photo)

Russia said on Wednesday that restrictions imposed by Norway were blocking goods for Russian-populated settlements on the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, and threatened unspecified “retaliatory measures” unless Oslo resolves the issue.

Svalbard, midway between Norway’s north coast and the North Pole, is part of Norway, but Russia has the right to exploit the archipelago’s natural resources under a treaty signed in 1920, and some settlements there are populated mainly by Russians.

Norway, which is not in the EU but applies EU sanctions against Russia, has said sanctions would not affect the transport of goods by ship to Svalbard. But much of the freight for the archipelago’s Russian settlements passes first through a checkpoint into mainland Norway, which is closed to sanctioned goods.

The Russian foreign ministry said it had summoned Norway’s chargĂ© d’affaires to protest against the restrictions, which it said have disrupted the delivery of critical supplies, including food and medical equipment.

Calling the situation “unacceptable”, it warned that “unfriendly” actions against Russia would lead to “retaliatory measures.”

The Norwegian foreign ministry was not immediately available to comment on the issue when contacted by Reuters.

Since invading Ukraine in February, Russia has been hit with sanctions restricting the transit of its goods through Europe. This month Lithuania began enforcing restrictions on some goods shipped by rail to Russia’s Baltic Sea exclave of Kaliningrad.

Russia says those restrictions amount to a “blockade,” and has promised unspecified retaliation.