Russian diplomat staged Navy Parade at Norway’s Svalbard archipelago

The world’s northernmost diplomat, GRU-affiliated Andrei Chemerilo, led the military-inspired small flotilla in the waters outside Barentsburg on Sunday.

By Thomas Nilsen, The Independent Barents Observer - August 1, 2023
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With both the Russian tricolor and the St. Andrew’s flag, the ensign of the Navy, officials in Barentsburg sailed Gønfjorden on July 30. Photo: Russian Consulate General at Svalbard

Five small boats participated as Russian officials honored the country’s navy on July 30.

All civilian watercraft in the town of Barentsburg were presented, the Consulate General writes on Telegram. The parade included the Consulate’s own boat, the self-propelled barge “Pyramiden”, the mining company Arktikugol’s boat “Barentsburg”, as well as two boats used by Russia’s Arctic Science Expedition currently at Svalbard.

Barentsburg is Russia’s mining settlement at Svalbard. Although there is a minimum of coal left to be dug out from the tunnels deep inside the permafrost under the town, Moscow keeps activities going to maintain a foothold on the strategically important archipelago.

No Norwegian courtesy flags were visible. Russian flags, however, were in plenty. Arktikugol’s boat, nowadays repainted to the tricolor after sailing with Ukrainian colors for years, carried no less than five Russian flags. In addition to a Soviet-era Navy flag on top of the mast.

Most Ukrainian miners left Barentsburg after Russia launched the all-out war in February last year.

Simultaneously as the Russians at 78 degrees North praised their country’s military strength at sea, official Navy Day parades took place in major fleet cities, like Kaliningrad, Severomorsk, Vladivostok, Sevastopol, and Novorossiysk.

Although a strong geopolitical symbolic statement, the navy parade at Svalbard was small compared to the one in St. Petersburg where Vladimir Putin together with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu praised the Russian fleet in front of 45 warships.

“Our sailors give all their strength, show true heroism, fight valiantly,” Putin said to the servicemen. A video recording of the speech is posted on the portal of the Kremlin. He did not mention the war in Ukraine or any of the hundreds of marines from the Northern Fleet brigades on the Kola Peninsula killed on the battlefields in Ukraine.

A proud Andrei Chemerilo (yellow-black outfit) led the navy parade. Photo: Russian Consulate General in Barentsburg

Andrei Chemerilo was appointed Consul General of Russia to Svalbard in July last year, a few months after Putin sent tens of thousands of soldiers into Ukraine.

Chemerilo graduated from the Irkutsk Higher Military Aviation Engineering School in 1995, the Foreign Ministry in Moscow informs.

According to Norwegian public broadcaster NRK and the Dossier Center, the diplomat is affiliated with Russia’s military intelligence service, the GRU. Chemerilo denies any such connections, but the journalists could tell that they found his former address in Moscow to be with the GRU Conservatory by the Military Academy under the Ministry of Defense.

The Russian diplomat writes on Telegram that the naval parade in Barentsburg is a “tradition”.

That tradition, however, is limited to the period Chemerilo has represented war-time Russia at Svalbard. The First time the Russian Navy flag was raised on boats in Grønfjorden was last July, shortly after Andrei Chemerilo was appointed to be Putin’s diplomat in the Norwegian Arctic.

 

“Barentsburg welcomes you” reads the big sign in the hillside above the port. Photo: Thomas Nilsen