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Tuesday, November 9th, 2004, 10:51 PM
Norway and Russia -- Arctic neighbours

After the Russian revolution in 1917 and the civil war that followed, the Norwegian-Russian frontier was closed to all intents and purposes for seventy years. It was not until Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in 1985 that attempts were gradually made to renew former contacts between Norwegians and Russians in the far north. The establishment of the "Barents Region" or the "Euro-Arctic Region" in 1993 has created a framework for intensifying these contacts in a modern form.

By Jens Petter Nielsen

The cornerstone of Norwegian-Russian relations in former times was the Pomor trade, which reached its peak in the 1800s. (The word Pomor is derived from the Russian word pomorje, meaning "coastland".) The economic significance of this trade for Finnmark and other areas of North Norway can hardly be exaggerated. However, the contact between Norwegians and Russians during this period took a wide variety of forms, and naturally gave rise to a number of conflicts, particularly in connection with competition for fisheries resources.

It is commonly assumed in works on this subject that the Pomor trade sprang from the Russian fishing activities off the coast of Finnmark, which were first reported around 1740. The extent of these activities increased significantly in subsequent years, and towards the end of the eighteenth century the Russians were fishing as far to the west as Sørøya in West Finnmark. It is thought that the Russians began to sell some of the provisions they had brought with them to the Sea Sami and the Norwegians living along the coast of Finnmark. The local population was particularly interested in Russian rye flour, and the Russians found this trade so profitable that they gradually channelled their energies in this direction and instead started to buy fish from the fishermen of Finnmark. Although it is not unlikely that the Pomor trade originated in this way, there is some uncertainty as regards the dates. Some experts believe that the Pomor trade began before 1740. In East Finnmark the population was already trading with Russians at the end of the 17th century, and by the early 1700s Russian ships were calling at ports in West Finnmark too.

Strictly speaking, it was illegal to trade with the Russians, because the merchants of Bergen had a monopoly on all such activity in this region. In the 18th century merchants from Copenhagen took over trading activities in Finnmark, but were unable to make a profit. Finnmark was beset with stagnation and recession throughout most of the 18th century, and the authorities closed their eyes to the trade with the Russians because the Pomors were instrumental in solving a vital supply problem, i.e. providing the population of Finnmark with sufficient grain. Another advantage for Norway, the trade took place in the summertime when there were no other customers for Norwegian fish. In the heat of the summer fish could not be hung on drying racks, as it would soon be crawling with maggots. But the Russians bought it fresh and salted it on board their ships. In this way the North-Norwegian fishermen were able to find a market for their fish even during the "maggot season" (the period from mid-July to mid-August).

Restrictions lifted on trading in Finnmark

The authorities in Copenhagen realized eventually that their mercantile trade policy was unsuccessful, and in 1787 they decided to abolish the restrictions on trading in Finnmark. Thus, for the first time, Pomor trading was legalized. Trading stations were established in Hammerfest and Vardø, and the Pomors were given the right to deal with merchants in the towns and shopkeepers at rural trading posts in the inner reaches of the fjords. As of 1796 the Pomors were allowed to trade directly with the general population, without the intervention of merchants, but only during the maggot season. However, this brief period of trading was gradually extended far beyond the actual maggot season, as the Pomor trade underwent a natural expansion in response to the needs of the region. It was far more logical for the inhabitants of North Norway to be supplied with flour products from North Russia than from Copenhagen. Furthermore, the Russians could supply Finnmark -- where trees were scarce -- with timber for building, sawn planks and birch bark. Other products included hemp and cordage, canvas, sailcloth and hardware.

In north and northeastern Russia, on the other hand, there was a great demand for fish products, not because of any lack of fish in the seas off the Kola Peninsula, but because the Russian fishery industry was poorly developed. There was no permanent settlement on the north coast of the Kola Peninsula, and for centuries Pomors from the White Sea had crossed the Peninsula to the Murmansk coast each spring in time for the fishing season. But such long journeys could only be made at considerable expense, and the fishing season off the Murmansk coast was far shorter than in North Norway. In the 1800s more and more Pomors abandoned their fishing activities and instead travelled to Finnmark to buy fish, which they imported to Russia duty-free and sold at a great profit on the market in Arkhangelsk. The fish was then transported up the Russian rivers and sold to the population in the interior, where fish was in great demand, particularly during religious fasts.

Norwegian sources indicate that some 300 to 350 Pomor vessels came to Finnmark and Troms each year around 1840, while Russian sources estimate that in 1870 the Pomor fleet consisted of approximately 400 ships of various sizes. Both in Norway and in Russia, the authorities took a favourable view of the Pomor trade, which generated profits and revenues for a sizable portion of the population in the Archangel area. It was emphasized that the Pomor ships constituted Russia's only entirely national fleet, and that it had developed without the benefit of support or subsidies from the State. Thus, it is primarily the positive aspects of the Pomor trade and relations between Norwegians and Russians in the north that are reflected in the folklore and literature of both countries.

Mutual distrust

Undeniably, however, there was also considerable mutual distrust between Norwegians and Russians during the Pomor era. The security-policy risk inherent in the extensive contact between the populations in the north was assessed at regular intervals by senior government officials. The Norwegians and Swedes asked themselves whether the Russian authorities would take advantage of the Pomor trading activities to increase their influence in North Norway and, in time, lay claim to territories in the region. It was generally believed that Russia, originally an inland power, had powerful motives for expanding towards the oceans, and North Norway's ice-free ports would have provided the superpower in the east with direct access to the Atlantic Ocean.

However, a government will normally attempt to consolidate its own border areas before it considers itself ready to make new conquests. The strongest argument against the allegation that Russia wished to appropriate Norwegian territory is naturally the fact that it already had access to ice-free ports on its own territory in the north, i.e. on the north coast of the Kola Peninsula -- the Murmansk coast -- which in the west borders on East Finnmark in Norway. Thus, if the Russian authorities wished to build a naval base in the north, it was totally unnecessary to incur the additional cost of capturing foreign territory.

In actual fact, "the Russian threat" to North Norway can scarcely be said to have existed. However, taking the opposite view, one might maintain that it was Norway that represented a threat to North-Russia. There is considerable evidence, in fact, that the Russian authorities only began to show some concern for their own northern regions from the time they believed these territories to be threatened by Norwegian interests. In the years immediately following the Crimean War (1853-56), Russia's attitude towards Norway was overwhelmingly positive. The outcome of the war had made the Russians painfully aware of their country's backwardness, and the population of North-Russia considered that they had a great deal to learn from the Norwegians. As from 1840 Finnmark underwent a period of intensive development, during which roads were built, regular steamship and telegraph services were established, and so on, and it was easy to see that North Norway had made considerably greater progress towards prosperity and development than North Russia.

When the Russian consul general in Christiania visited the northern waters in 1858, he was struck by the contrast between East Finnmark, which virtually seethed with life and activity, and the Murmansk coast, which lay deserted and abandoned. No more than some 30 years had elapsed since a permanent national frontier had been established, dividing the former joint Norwegian-Russian territory (1826), and it was amazing to see how the mere determination of a national border could transform what was previously common territory into two totally foreign worlds. According to Mekhelin, the disparity could only be ascribed to the difference in the efforts made by the two governments concerned. He suggested that a permanent colony of enterprising Russians be founded on the Russian side of the border with a view to creating communities as well-organized and as flourishing as those on the Norwegian side.

Norwegian immigration

However, the governor of Arkhangelsk had his doubts as to whether the Pomors would settle on the Murmansk coast of their own volition. His advice was therefore to allow Norwegians to settle there as well, so that they could set a good example to the Russians. The governor displayed considerable foresight in this respect: the first people to apply to the Russian authorities for permission to settle on the Murmansk coast were in fact some Norwegian families in 1859. Their request was granted on condition that they became Russian nationals. Thus, Norwegians not only served as an example, they also played a very active role in developing the Murmansk coast.

The number of Norwegian immigrants swelled with each passing year, in addition to which there was a strong influx of new settlers from the Grand Duchy of Finland. The authorities' liberal immigration policy was unquestionably founded on a genuine interest in developing the region's economic resources. However, the immigration of Norwegians and Finns to an otherwise uninhabited border area was viewed with widespread alarm and scepticism. It was feared, quite simply, that the Murmansk coast would become an extension of Norway. Equally disturbing was the fact that in the 1860s Norwegian fishing boats began to operate off the Murmansk coast, and North Norwegian sealers sailed as far east as the White Sea and Novaya Zemlya in search of seals and walruses. The Pomors, who had hunted in these waters for centuries, resented what they viewed as Norwegian efforts to displace them.

The Norwegian fishermen in the Arctic had a clear advantage over the Pomors inasmuch as they could start the season earlier. Norwegian vessels navigated the ice-free channel along the Murmansk coast, usually reaching the fishing grounds in late April or early May, while the Russians were forced to wait for the ice to break up in the White Sea. This meant that they could not reach Novaya Zemlya until the beginning of June or late May at the very earliest. By that time the Norwegians had occupied all the best fishing places and were well under way. According to information provided by the Swedish-Norwegian consulate in Archangel, 80-90 Norwegian boats took part in the fishing off Novaya Zemlya in 1871, as opposed to no more than 8 Russian boats; it is no exaggeration to say that in subsequent years Norwegian fishermen reigned virtually supreme in the Eastern Arctic. In addition to their primary occupation, they also engaged in cartography. It caused a small sensation when Tromsø captain Edvard Johannesen was the first person in modern history to succeed in sailing round the northern tip of Novaya Zemlya. Nonetheless, the authorities in St. Petersburg were prepared to proceed with caution in dealing with the Norwegians, in order to avoid provoking countermeasures which might affect the rights enjoyed by the Pomors in Finnmark.

Towards the end of the 19th century, however, there was a strong upsurge of international interest in the Arctic, and other nations, such as Sweden, England and Germany, began to engage in economic and scientific activity in Russian waters. A more active Russian policy became necessary as a result of clashes and rivalry with these countries concerning the international legal status of Svalbard, Bjørnøya and Novaya Zemlya. The Russian government was forced to decide whether it really wished to keep what were in fact considered to be Russian possessions. Its change of attitude was manifested, for instance, in a keener interest in exploring the Arctic and developing the Murmansk coast, and in the founding of a new administrative city, Aleksandrovsk (today Polyevny) on the Kola Fjord in 1899. On the other hand, the governor of Arkhangelsk was engaged in systematic efforts to colonize Novaya Zemlya, first with Nenets (Samoyeds), and later with Russians, who were to attempt to spend the entire winter on the island to underscore Russia's sovereignty over the territory. To counter the threat posed by Norwegian fishermen and sealers, the first Russian naval vessel was stationed on the coast of Murmansk. It patrolled the coastline during the summer half of the year, but spent the winter in Archangel or St. Petersburg.

Wholehearted support to Norway

In later years, Russia made an effort to improve its relations with its neighbour in the north by giving Norway its wholehearted support during the dissolution of Norway's union with Sweden in 1905. Russia was the first major power to recognize Norway as an independent state, and played an active role in the negotiations that culminated in the "Integrity Agreement" of 1907, under which the European powers agreed to guarantee Norway's integrity as an independent state. In so doing, the Russians took the wind out of the sails of various Swedish press reports which claimed that Russia planned to take advantage of Norway's separation from Sweden to demand adjustments to the border in the north.

From the Russians' viewpoint, border relations were a subsidiary question: it was far more important that Norway had now seceded from "pro-German" Sweden, and that England should be prevented from assuming a preferential position as a guarantor of Norway's integrity. The events of 1905 show that the objective of Russia's policy as regards Norway was primarily defensive. Russian newspapers reported on the signing of the Integrity Agreement in 1907 as follows: the fact that Norway was now a neutral state whose independence was guaranteed by the great powers eliminated the possibility of a third party occupying one of the North Norwegian ports on the Arctic Ocean. Friendly relations with Norway were the best means of protection against undesirable neighbours in the vicinity of Russia's vulnerable northern territories.

Thus, relations between Norway and Russia in the north were not entirely harmonious during the period dealt with in this article. But the clashes of interest were such as could be resolved without a major conflict -- in fact, resolved in a way that reinforced the concept of a great, inviolable friendship. One explanation for this may have been the lack of symmetry in the perception each country had of the threat posed by the other . The "Russian threat" to North Norway was taken very seriously by the central Norwegian-Swedish authorities, although this threat was in fact virtually non-existent. While the "Norwegian threat" to North Russia was more concrete and visible, it was not ascribed much importance by the Russian central authorities, who evidently believed that Russia could afford to have an unprotected flank in the north. Thus, in spite of everything, this period was characterized by a climate of detente, which has formed the historical foundation for the policy of the Norwegian government as regards the northern regions since 1917.

The author of this article, Jens Petter Nielsen (b. 1949), is a professor in studies on the northern regions at the University of Tromsø. For many years his field of interest has been Russian/Soviet history and historiography, more recently also North Norwegian history. He is currently writing a book on Norwegian-Russian historical relations in the northern regions (c. 1855-1917).

Produced by Nytt fra Norge for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Nytt fra Norge is also responsible for the contents of the article.

Reproduction permitted. Printed in May 1996.

This page was last updated 13 June 1996 by the editors


Monday, July 16th, 2007, 11:54 AM
News, maps, pictures and webcams of Spitsbergen and Svalbard in Arctic Norway. In the selected areas, you can point on the maps to view the pictures.


Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008, 08:13 AM
By DAVID NOWAK, Asssociated Press Writer

MOSCOW - Russia announced Monday that it is sending warships to patrol Arctic waters for the first time since the breakup of the Soviet Union — the latest move to increase the country's global military presence.

Patrols by the Northern Fleet's Severomorsk submarine destroyer and Marshal Ustinov missile cruiser will begin Thursday, Navy spokesman Igor Dygalo said.

Russia began sending aircraft carriers to the Mediterranean Sea in December and resumed long-range bomber patrols in August.

"We have been talking for a long time about widening our activity in the Arctic," Dygalo said. "There is nothing aggressive in it — it is in the interests of security."

Former President Vladimir Putin expanded Russian military patrols and Dmitry Medvedev, who succeeded Putin in May, appears to be maintaining that course.

Moscow-based military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer said security was not Russia's primary motivation in sending the Navy ships to the Arctic.

"This is flag-waving and that's basically it," Felgenhauer said. "Sending a couple of patrol boats to the Arctic won't change anything."

Russia has also been moving to stake its claim to resources that are increasingly accessible as global warming melts Arctic ice.

Moscow recently sent an expedition to plant a Russian flag on the seabed under the North Pole and said research indicates a massive underwater mountain range in the area, which is believed to contain huge oil and gas reserves, is part of Russia's continental shelf.

And Russia hopes it can increase access for fishermen who are blocked from seas around the island of Spitsbergen, where Norway claims exclusive rights. Russia does not recognize the 200-mile economic zone delineated by a 1982 U.N. treaty.

Dygalo said protecting Russian fisherman was one of the aims of the new Arctic patrols.


Well we're known as the peace and loving nation and the Russian is harrasing us?

Crimson Guard
Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008, 08:54 PM
The Russians have been rebuilding and gearing up for years at the West's expense, same thing happened with Communist China. The West appeases too much, we lack spine and balls. It wouldnt surprise me one iota if Russia gets more offensive, they've been issuing military threats lately over the US backed missile bases in Poland and such.

*Have no idea why the Russian navy is in the Mediterranean Sea they have no territory there, they should be kept out, so much for Nato,lol.

Sunday, August 3rd, 2008, 02:14 AM
Attention TheAlthing Russophiles!

Here you can see, more aggression from Russia, More anti-Germanic imperialism from Russia.

It is hard to say how Russophiles will defend this.

[Russophile:] "Russia has a right to all territory in the Arctic Sea and too all of Norwegian territorial water. Anyone who supports that bad little country Norway over Glorious Russia is a terrible person" :p

Sunday, August 3rd, 2008, 08:45 PM
It's all about oil/gas and control of it. So you can single out Russia V Norway but you could just as easily single out the USA V Iraq , or the USA V Iran , or the USA V Afghanistan........and soon no doubt.............the USA ( proxy Columbia ) V Venezuela.

But that is not encouraged and singling out Russia China etc is more acceptable maybe.

Tuesday, August 5th, 2008, 12:32 AM
It's all about oil/gas and control of it.Perhaps it is. So, who should control resources off the Norwegian coast- Russia, or Norway?

Wednesday, August 6th, 2008, 11:03 PM
Perhaps it is. So, who should control resources off the Norwegian coast- Russia, or Norway?

Norway , although there is some overlap between Russian and Norwegian waters.
It hasn't really mattered much up until now , I mean now that the mineral wealth is more accessible any grey areas will need to be clarified so that national claims on resources can be worked out.
The is also some overlap between US waters and Canadian ones which may well need to be clarified too in the near future .

Which leads me nicely into a question for you Jute.............

Who should have control over the mineral resources of Iraq , Iran , or the strategic land space of Afghanistan ?

If you wish to study superpower bullying for resource control/wealth there is a far more active hands on one you can currently observe......... but unfortunately ( for you ) it isn't Russia :shrug

Thursday, August 7th, 2008, 09:28 AM
It's all about oil/gas and control of it. So you can single out Russia V Norway but you could just as easily single out the USA V Iraq , or the USA V Iran , or the USA V Afghanistan........and soon no doubt.............the USA ( proxy Columbia ) V Venezuela.
In what sense are these examples equal or compatible from a Germanic point of view? Are US interests in Iran or Afghanistan in any sense threatening Germanic interests and access to resources, as Russian interests are vis-a-vis Norwegian/Danish interests in the High North?

Thursday, August 7th, 2008, 04:29 PM
In what sense are these examples equal or compatible from a Germanic point of view? Are US interests in Iran or Afghanistan in any sense threatening Germanic interests and access to resources, as Russian interests are vis-a-vis Norwegian/Danish interests in the High North?

Vingolf , have you ever thought of asking for a sub section especially for Slav bashing ? Just a thought..............

Well you are right they are not equal examples....................... as far as I am aware the Russians don't have large armies of occupation in other sovereign States whilst simultaineously looting their resources and killing their people.
While you are busy pointing fingers at the Russians there is a far far greater threat posed to most nations of the world by the maverick leadership of the US and its planned NWO.
That is a threat to the Germanic nations too ,imo . A very real threat to the political , economic and cultural independence of many Germanic nations in fact. That's why it's relevant.

You should learn to look both ways when crossing the road :D

It helps not hinders preservation.

Thursday, August 7th, 2008, 05:25 PM
Vingolf , have you ever thought of asking for a sub section especially for Slav bashing ? Just a thought..............
No, never crossed my mind. Have you ever thought of asking for a sub section especially for orgiastic anti-Germanic leftist activism and "whataboutism"?

Well you are right they are not equal examples
So why did you introduce these "whataboutistic" examples, then?

While you are busy pointing fingers at the Russians there is a far far greater threat posed to most nations of the world by the maverick leadership of the US and its planned NWO.
I know you're busy pointing fingers at the catalogue of sins the "evil Western civilization" and the "Empire", but this is not the subject of this thread.

That is a threat to the Germanic nations too ,imo . A very real threat to the political , economic and cultural independence of many Germanic nations in fact. That's why it's relevant.
Start a new thread and get the facts on the table, then.

Saturday, August 9th, 2008, 04:21 PM
Skyhawk, I am glad that you finally stated that, in your opinion, Norway has some rights to its own territory.

The other question is, when claims "overlap" [Russia will without doubt eventually claim that all of Norway's northern waters and far-northern islands "overlaps" with its own claims]. In that case, who should get control?

As for your question about Iraq and Afghanistan, I support whichever position is better for Germanics. This probably means U.S. withdrawl for various reasons.