Russia Resumes Naval Activity in Disputed Arctic Waters

Marshal Ustinov cruiser.  Source: navy.ruIn the latest display of Russia’s military revival, the country has resumed naval patrols in the Arctic Ocean. As the RIA Novosti news agency reports, an anti-submarine destroyer is already in place, and will be joined by a cruiser starting on July 17th.

The ships will spend time around the Svalbard archipelago, entering waters that Norway claims are its own. Russia does not recognize a 200-mile fisheries territory around the islands that was defined by Norway in 1977. Russian fishermen have continued to frequent the area, and have periodically encountered the Norwegian navy, which claims they are fishing illegally. The resurgence of Russian patrols comes after requests from the State Fisheries Agency to support its fleet.

The archipelago, known as Spitsbergen in Russia, has a special international status. Although a Norwegian territory, a long-standing treaty allows Russia full access to all land-based mineral resources. The archipelago has two official languages, Norwegian and Russian, and Russian nationals may work on the islands without a visa. A Russian settlement, Barentsburg is in place on the largest island, Spitsbergen. Workers are primarily involved in coal extraction.

The naval press-service tried to make clear that its actions were justified, explaining that “all activities of Russia’s battleships are implemented in strict compliance with international law, including the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea of 1982.”

Kuril Islands.  Source: uniqplants.ruOn a different front, another territorial dispute was bubbling to the surface. As the Associated Press reported on July 14th, a new Japanese educational manual describes a set of contested islands in the Russian far east as “Japanese territory, illegally occupied by Russia.” The manual, which will be used to teach junior high schools starting in 2012, also names a group of islands controlled by South Korea as its sovereign territory. Seoul has already withdrawn its envoy to Tokyo in protest.