The Polar Retrospective – Surprises in the Arctic | Polarjournal
Iceland’s Prime Minister Katrín Jakóbsdottir surprised her country and the world by announcing that she would no longer be running for the office she has held since 2017. Instead, she is aiming for the politically less influential but highly symbolic presidency of the country. Photo: Arctic Circle Assembly

The polar retrospective takes up events from the past week that are related to the Arctic and Antarctic and focuses on one or more aspects. The new issue focuses on Iceland, Svalbard and Russia, where some surprises made the headlines .

In recent weeks and months, Iceland has mainly made headlines with volcanic eruptions, but at least the last few times they came with announcements. So hardly anything surprising from the island just below the Arctic Circle, one would think. But the news that Prime Minister Katrín Jakóbsdottir will be resigning from office and will not be standing for re-election on June 1 is likely to have come as a surprise to pretty much everyone and is also close to a volcanic eruption. After all, there were no signs of an imminent resignation and the announcement came out of nowhere. The governing coalition of left-green, liberals and center-right is stable, the country is facing major economic and ( due to the volcanic eruption) infrastructural challenges and will have to tackle some “hot” issues. However, the prime minister and her government still enjoy great support among the population, even though the left-green party fell behind in the last election while the other coalition partners gained momentum.

Katrín Jakóbsdottir will not retire, however, and has announced that she will run for the presidency, which is currently held by Guðni Thorlacius Jóhannesson. He had already announced earlier that he would not be available for a further term of office. “I had already decided some time ago not to stand for re-election in the next parliamentary elections. At the same time, I still have a burning desire to continue to provide my services to Icelandic society,” the Prime Minister explained in a video.

Russia’s outpost on Svalbard was at the center of another surprising announcement, namely to boost tourism by bringing guests by vessel from Murmansk to Barentsburg. (Photo: Michael Wenger)

An announcement from Svalbard, northeast of Iceland, was also surprising, but less explosive. From April this year, tourists will be able to travel by ship from Murmansk to Barentsburg in order to boost local tourism. This announcement was made at a seminar in Moscow by Ildar Neverov, head of the state-owned operating company Arktikugol, which is based in Barentsburg. According to his plans, the aging ship Klavdija Yelanskaya, an ice-strengthened sister ship of the well-known Ocean Adventurer, will carry out the approximately two-day voyage until a new passenger vessel currently under construction is completed in 2026. After that, up to 200 passengers per trip will be transported to Barentsburg.

Although Neverov has high hopes for this new service, experts are skeptical about demand. Firstly, the trips are likely to be too expensive if they are to be economically viable. However, it can be argued against this that the Russian government has often undertaken economically unprofitable projects in the past and that maintaining coal mining in Barentsburg is one of them. Secondly, the destination is not very attractive and cooperation with Longyearbyen is hardly likely. After all, there has been a dispute with the main town and authorities in Norway since the Russian attack on Ukraine. Charter flights have been rejected and visas for Svalbard and Norway are rarely issued. In addition, a neon sign erected without permission on the “Russki Dom” in Longyearbyen and accusations of illegal behavior during helicopter flights are on the table. It can therefore be assumed that such trips from Murmansk will not gain the hoped-for momentum, at least for the time being.

Andrey Chibis has been governor of Murmansk Oblast since 2019. At the end of last week, he was seriously injured in a knife attack in the Russian town of Apatity. The perpetrator, a 42-year-old railroad worker, was arrested. Photo: Archive

Russian and international news portals reported surprising news from Murmansk towards the end of the week. The governor of Murmansk Oblast, Andrey Chibis, was injured in a knife attack. The perpetrator, a 42-year-old railroad worker from the Apatity region where the attack took place, had ambushed the governor as he was leaving a public auditorium after a performance and stabbed him in the stomach with a knife. The perpetrator was then caught and Chibis was taken to hospital. According to the information provided, the injuries are not life-threatening, but they are serious.

Andrey Chibis has been governor of Murmansk since 2019 and is also the regional chairman of the ruling party “United Russia”. He strongly supports the war against Ukraine and also advocates Russia’s rearmament in the Arctic. Several environmental scandals, such as the massive diesel leak at a refinery in Norilsk, occurred during his time in office. In addition, his economic policy is heavily criticized as being primarily positive for an illustrious circle of oligarchs. It is not known whether any of these points are connected to the perpetrator’s motive. In any case, the attack on Chibis is a surprise even for Russia, as high-ranking government representatives rarely fall victim to such attacks. The last similar incident was 15 years ago.

Dr. Michael Wenger, Polar Journal AG

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