In a report on the news platform Rossiyskaya Gazeta, the general director of the Arktikugol Trust, Ildar Neverov, stated that there are plans to launch charter flights from Moscow and Murmansk to Spitsbergen by autumn 2023, which would give Russian tourists the opportunity to visit the archipelago without a visa.
Russia is known to have the right to mine the archipelago’s resources, mainly coal, according to the Spitsbergen Treaty ratified by the then Soviet Union in 1935. On the archipelago, three Russian settlements were established in the late 1920s and 1930s: Grumant, Pyramiden, and Barentsburg. Today, however, the once large Russian coal mining operations in Pyramiden have ceased, while they are still ongoing in Barentsburg. But there, too, business is dropping off, and the settlement is dwindling.
The Svalbard Treaty not only stipulates that Spitsbergen is a demilitarized zone. It also ensures that Russians do not need a visa when traveling directly from Russia to Svalbard… technically.
Currently, however, only flights from Tromsø or Oslo to Svalbard are available and Russian citizens need a Schengen visa for the trip. Because of the sanctions imposed after the invasion of Ukraine, this route is bascially impossible for Russian citizens.
Spitsbergen without visa
For a direct flight from Russia to Svalbard, the visa requirement could be lifted this fall. Representatives of the Russian Federation are already dealing with this issue. The mission with a smaller aircraft requires a stopover in Murmansk. With large aircraft, even a direct flight from Moscow would be possible.
Speaking to the state news agency Ria Novosti, Ildar Neverov said that a total investment of 10 billion rubles (110 million euros) was planned. For example, for hotels, ski lifts, restaurants and museums in Barentsburg and Pyramiden.
Norway’s Foreign Ministry, on the other hand, points out that Russian airlines are not allowed to use Norwegian airspace, which includes Svalbard, according to information from Oslo. Although there are exceptions, Arktikugol has not applied for any so far, the Ministry further states.
Since the airport is located in Longyearbyen, there are not only diplomatic issues but also logistical ones concerning the onward transport of passengers to Barentsburg and Pyramiden. In the past, Arktikugol has flown charter flights to the airport for its workers, who are then transported to Barentsburg by ship or helicopter. But the logistical infrastructure at neither of the two Russian-administered sites is suitable for larger groups. An expansion of this would also have to be agreed with Norway, especially in the area of environmental impact.
It sound like an exciting story and we haven’t seen the end of it, yet. We stay tuned.
Heiner Kubny, PolarJournal
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