Monday, May 3, 2010

Russia-Norway Sign Breakthrough Agreement

Russian President Dmitriy Medvedev has recently paid a state visit to Norway। The Russian president's visit was marked by signing of the Joint Declaration on Issues in the Demarcation of Maritime Spaces and Cooperation in the Barents Sea and Arctic Ocean by Medvedev and Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg. Heralding the end of a dispute that has lasted over 30 years, the deal, which remains to be ratified by the Russian and Norwegian parliaments, opens the way for both countries to exploit the oil, gas, and fish resources in an area of some 175,000 sq. km. It could also have broader strategic significance.

Maritime Border Dispute
Russia and Norway have settled their dispute over their maritime border, which has prevented cooperation between the two countries for over 30 years। This could mean that the Norwegians' former tactic of having a common position with North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries in talks with Russia has changed.

The parties have divided the disputed section, rich in fish, oil, and natural gas, 'in half,' although exactly how is as yet unknown।

During a visit to Oslo, Dmitriy Medvedev and Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg signed a "Joint Declaration on Issues in the Demarcation of Maritime Spaces and Cooperation in the Barents Sea and Arctic Ocean।" This declaration defines the principles of the settlement of a dispute that has clouded relations between the two countries since 1976.

Changeable International Law
Up until now, Norway and Russia have defined their borders in the Barents Sea differently। Back in 1926 Russia (or rather, the Soviet Union) drew a straight line from the end of its land border on the Kola Peninsula to the North Pole. This is the so-called sectoral principle because the borders define the Russian sector in the Arctic.

No one has either recognized or disputed the Russian border। Only in 1976, on the basis of new norms of international law, Norway drew an uneven center line across the sea equidistant from the largest islands: Norway's Spitsbergen and Russia's Novaya Zemlya. The result was a disputed area of 175,000 sq km full of promising oil and gas deposits.

Oil Prices Helped Reach Pact
For decades Norway and Russia were unable to reach agreement on a new maritime border। This prevented starting full-scale development of the disputed deposits on the shelf. The growing demand for oil and gas, as well as high fuel prices, encouraged the politicians to hurry up and reopen the new oil and gas province, whose reserves could near billions of metric tons. True, these are merely preliminary estimates. No one has drilled a single well here.

Late last century, once-poor Norway was transformed into one of the world's most prosperous states thanks to the discovery of oil and gas on the North Sea shelf. However, these deposits are close to being tapped out, therefore, the country needs a speedy start to work in the 'disputed' section. The United States and countries of Western Europe, the largest importers of energy, also have an interest in the speedy settlement of the dispute between Norway and Russia, since this would help reduce their dependence on Russian supplies.

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