The Spitsbergen Archipelago is the most amazing group of islands in the Arctic. Although it’s inside the Polar Circle, its climate is soft and it is rich in natural resources. The archipelago is under Norway’s sovereignty but any one can use the resources, and moreover, it’s a visa-free territory.
The archipelago was for the first time marked on a map with specific coordinates after an expedition led by Willem Barents. He named the new land Spitsbergen owing to its peaked mountains. However, Barents was not the first discoverer of the Archipelago, says expert at the Arctic and Antarctic Scientific Research Institute, Lev Savatyugin.
“Officially, Spitsbergen was discovered by a Dutch voyager Willem Barents on the 17th of June 1596 who gave an account of the western part of the Archipelago but neither he nor his crew landed there. But almost a century before that, in June 1493, a message by a scientist Muntzer from Nuremburg to the Portuguese king says that Russians discovered Grumant, but Europeans have no route to arrive there. In short, it was known that Russians were on the Archipelago one hundred years before it was discovered by Barents. Moreover, in 1557, Austrian Sigismund von Herberstein wrote in his “Notes on Moscow” that pomory and divinyane, tribes living on the North West cost of Russia, were travelling to Grumant to sell grain," Lev Savatyugin said.
Moreover, there is evidence that in the 16th century, this territory was part of the Moscow principality. Archeologists discovered that more than 60 settlements of pomories on the Archipelago. Moreover, among the discovered items are wooden casings used to keep wax seals which were affixed on certificates allowing people to hunt and fish on the Russian territory.
However, before early 20th century, Spitsbergen was considered “no-man’s land”. In 1872, the archipelago was removed from the sphere of state sovereignty and fixed as a territory of common use after the exchange of notes between Russia and Sweden.
In 1920, when Russia was waging a civil war, the Paris Peace Conference was held, and the Svalbard Treaty was signed granting full sovereignty over the archipelago to Norway. However, all signatory countries were granted non-discriminatory rights to fishing, hunting and mineral resources.
Russia, at the time the Soviet Union, was not invited to the conference. But in 1925 it joined the treaty. The Soviet government even did not think of rejecting the right for the unique territory to carry out research and produce natural resources, says Dr. Igor Davidenko.
“There are coal deposits on Spitsbergen. In the coal using era, ships started sailing to the islands for coal. This led to the exploration of the islands in the Archipelago. But there is nothing except coal and pure water in the glaciers and lakes on Spitsbergen,” Igor Davidenko said.
Russians are the second largest community after Norwegians on Spitsbergen. Basically, they live in the Barentsburg settlement. They catch fish and produce coal and do scientific research. Judging by all, the settlement will grow in the near future, and life there will be more interesting and comfortable. Late last year, the Russian government approved a strategy of Russian Presence on Spitsbergen project. This provides for building a fish processing factory, a division of the Polar Institute of Marine Fishing and a satellite communication centre. The strategy should assure an improvement in living standards, social protection and security of Russian citizens on Spitsbergen.