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MOSCOW, April 20. /TASS/. The agreement on Spitsbergen stipulates free access to the archipelago for citizens from the signatory states and Oslo’s claims to Russian Vice-Premier Dmitry Rogozin’s visit to the Arctic Island cause bewilderment, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said on Monday.
"Such a reaction causes bewilderment. It is unexplainable and absurd from the standpoint of international law. Article 3 of the Treaty on Spitsbergen of 1920 stipulates free access to the archipelago for citizens from the signatory states. The one-sided sanctions [from Norway] do not in any way cancel this provision of the Treaty and are irrelevant in this case," the Russian diplomat said.
"Therefore, there are no grounds under international law to present any claims to the Russian side," the Russian Foreign Ministry’s website quoted Lukashevich as saying.
Moreover, the Russian vice-premier’s visit to Spitsbergen did not violate Norway’s legislation either, which is acknowledged by the Norwegian side, Lukashevich said.
Vice-Premier Rogozin has been on the European Union’s blacklist of Russian politicians and businessmen barred from entering the EU since March 2014. The ban is part of Europe’s sectoral and individual sanctions imposed against Moscow over its stance on developments in neighboring Ukraine.
While Norway is not an EU member, the Nordic country has consistently joined all the rounds of the EU’s sanctions against Russia, including its initiative to apply entry restrictions to its territory.
The Russian Foreign Ministry’s spokesman expressed regret over "Norway’s initiative to join the EU’s anti-Russian sanctions."
According to the spokesman, "this results in negative consequences for Russian-Norwegian relations and, as we see, leads to the distorted perception of realities by our Norwegian neighbors."
Spitsbergen, called Svalbard by Norwegians, is located between the 76th and 80th parallels in the Arctic Ocean. The archipelago was placed under Norway’s sovereignty after World War One on condition that it kept a special international status.
The Spitsbergen Treaty signed in 1920 sealed Norway’s sovereignty over the archipelago. At the same time, the Treaty’s signatory states comprising over 50 countries have equal rights to the development of the archipelago’s natural resources.
Despite this, only Norway and Russia maintain their economic presence on the archipelago. Russians have a possibility to visit Spitsbergen without any visas, if they go to the archipelago directly from Russia.
However, if their route crosses continental Norway, they need to be issued transit Schengen visas.
The Russian vice-premier opened on Sunday the North Pole-2015 Arctic drifting station. During his stay on Spitsbergen, Rogozin visited the Barentsburg community center in the archipelago’s Russian part where he inspected a local coalmine, an airport and a museum. The Russian state coal company Arktikugol operates an area of 251 square kilometers on Spitsbergen.