Friday, April 30, 2010

New Chapter in Russia-Norway Relations

A new chapter has been added in the relations between Russia and Norway. A 40-year-old negotiation saga has been concluded. But the book is not closed -- there will be more writing in it.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev emphasizes the point by banging lightly on the table। The page has been turned, he says। A beaming satisfied Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg has released the news -- there is agreement on where the border will be drawn between Norway and Russia in the Barents Sea and the Arctic Sea; 175,000 sq km of sea floor and ocean area have been divided in two equal parts। It has only taken 40 years. 'A sensation,' the Russian president calls the news. He is not exaggerating.
Beginning of Historic Step
So from here on we must, unfortunately, use the well-worn cliches about what happened in Oslo and, as told by reliable sources, actually took place roughly when the clock had passed midnight, in a negotiating room। That is when the 'boundary line for the continental shelf and the ocean area in the Barents Sea and Arctic Sea' was settled.

It was a historic day। It really marks a new era, even if it is now up to governments as well as business sectors and others to use the potential and possibilities triggered by a clear border agreement. That will be the challenge. The first step is, naturally, to get all the technical details in place. This means, among other things, that the maps must be drawn and checked and stamped by the respective authorities -- which in Russia is the Russian Navy. An extensive body of regulations on, among other things, the exploitation of oil and gas resources that cross the line has been drawn up in both Norwegian and Russian. But it must also be approved in all its details. And, finally, it remains to get the agreement signed and ratified by the Storting in Norway and the Duma in Russia.

International Negotiations
So why did the agreement come now? Something was in the works, which can be seen afterward from the positive statements President Medvedev before the visit। He talked about a 'sensible compromise,' and he said that Russia has considerably more difficult territorial problems with other nations than with Norway. Those would be clear enough signals. 'Compromise' has not always been the most prominent word in the Russian vocabulary. Land areas are difficult to divide; that applies not only to Russia. Then, it is easier, after all, to draw a line on a continental shelf where there are neither reefs nor islands.

But anyone who has participated in or followed complicated international negotiations knows that there are many technical and political reefs in the sea। It is easy to run aground at the last moment. So keeping it secret, as President Medvedev admitted with a smile that Russia has deep traditions for, was necessary because no one was quite sure before it was possible to be quite sure.

It helped that the negotiators agreed that everything they had agreed to over the course of 40 years should remain। No new or unexpected demands or wishes or interpretations appeared at the last moment.

Developing Personal Relationships
But most crucial of all must have been that now there is a Russian leader who thought the time was ripe to resolve a long-standing problem with a neighboring country। A lengthy buildup of trust probably also contributed. So did the well-developed personal relationships between Russian and Norwegian leaders. Stoltenberg and Medvedev have had many meetings, and so have Foreign Ministers Jonas Gahr Store and Sergey Lavrov.

In addition, the lack of a boundary has prevented the development of the energy resources, and that has made it more complicated to administer the stock of cod and other types of fish that literally swim in both the Norwegian and Russian zones। With a border it becomes simpler: On the Norwegian side Norwegian authorities do the checking, on the Russian side Russian authorities monitor.

The temporary gray zone from 1977, which was to regulate fisheries in that part of the region, was not particularly favorable to Norway; it goes very far west। But now that the boundary is in place, for the two countries' economic zones as well, the temporary agreement can be left to the history books, along with the role played by then Undersecretary Arne Trehold behind the scenes.

Positive Political Effects
For Russia and President Medvedev the compromise is probably a diplomatic feather in the cap, after several diplomatic successes recently। For Stoltenberg and Jonas Gahr Store as well. Russia has rid itself of a problem in the relationship with a small and friendly neighbor, who is well anchored in North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and in a Western community. That could generate positive political effects. Medvedev did not exaggerate when he pointed out that the agreement will also have significance for European security.

One result of the agreement, connected with the development in the gas market, might be that energy from the Barents Sea could be conducted to the continent via an extension of the pipeline grid on the Norwegian continental shelf. In that case it means less investment for Norway and Russia, now that shale gas has made liquefied gas, Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG), from the north less attractive in the United States and internationally in general.

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