Making the Russians Keep Their Word
by Dave Essel
Russia honors most treaties more in the breach than in the observance. Though unlikely to surprise readers of LR, the non-withdrawal of its forces from Georgia is nothing more than international banditry. Russia behaves the same way with contracts (ask TNK-BP and a host of others!). I really don’t know why governments and businesses bother to conclude any such things with Russia.
Just as Basmanny Sud (Court) is now a byword for ‘telephone justice” under which the judge gets a phone call from above with instructions on what verdict to bring in, we do not have to look far for a byword for dishonourableness – “Russian treaty observance” provides the necessary oxymoron.
I have written recently about looking for ways to provoke and infuriate Russia in response to its recent outrages. Thinking about this brought to mind a very vague and distant recollection from the 1st Cold War of a European city council (Brussels) supporting a dissident (Solzhenitsyn) by renaming the street in which the Soviet Embassy was located to that dissident’s name and then officially advising the Soviet Embassy that incorrectly addressed mail would be returned to sender. I can imagine the vicious fury of the Soviet bureaucrats at this treatment.
It occurs to me that neo-fascist Russia could be introduced to a bit of European fun and be given a lesson in rule of law in a part of the world where it is quite likely even now preparing trouble behind the scenes but where we have a little bit more control. This is Spitsbergen, the Norwegian island in the Arctic Ocean. Regarding preparations for trouble, see Russia leads scramble for Arctic, Daily Telegraph, 16 August.
By the terms of the Svalbard Treaty of 1925, citizens of any of the signatory countries may settle in the archipelago. Currently, only Norway and Russia make use of this right. So we find on Spitsbergen two towns, Longyearbyen (Norwegian) and Barentsburg (Russian). The island was one of the great weird outposts of the 1st Cold War. According to the article in the Daily Telegraph, the Russian town of Barentsburg possesses a “fortified Russian consulate, built principally as a KGB Arctic watchpost in 1983.”!
Here is a picture of the industrial area of Norwegian Longyearbyen:
And here is a picture of what Russian industry has done to its bit:
From the pictures, it is clear that the Russians behave in the town with the usual Russian disregard for industrial cleanliness, health and safety, etc.
The same applies to the housing.
What a wonderful view to spoil with a Soviet apartment block and the second northernmost in the world statue of the evil troll!
Now as it happens, Article 3 of the Treaty states (emphasis mine): “all the High Contracting Parties shall have equal liberty of access and entry for any reason or object whatever to the waters, fjords and ports of the territories specified in Article 1; subject to the observance of local laws and regulations, they may carry on there without impediment all maritime, industrial, mining and commercial operations on a footing of absolute equality”.
I therefore think it’s high time the Norwegian authorities made a full inspection of Barentsburg to verify that local laws and regulations regarding industrial pollution, health and safety at work, and observance of building regulations (electrical wiring safety etc etc) are being met.
Obviously, in the event that breaches are found, industrial activities will have to stop forthwith until matters are put right and past pollution cleared while housing will have to be vacated if it fails to meet regulations.