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Norway wants Moscow's explanations after Russian vice-premier's visit to Spitsbergen

Norway's Foreign Ministry has requested the Russian embassy in the Nordic country to provide explanations after Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin visited the Spitsbergen archipelago, Norwegian Foreign Ministry spokesman Frode Andersen said on Sunday.

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 and the entry restrictions also apply to Norway's territory.

"We requested explanations from the Russian authorities. This fact is not a breach of the Norwegian legislation but we nonetheless clearly informed the Russian embassy in Oslo before than we would not want to see the persons from the list on the Svalbard [Spitsbergen] archipelago," Andersen told the Norwegian Telegraph Bureau.

"Therefore, the fact that Rogozin visited Svalbard causes regret," the spokesman said.

Spitsbergen, which Norwegians call Svalbard, 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 arrived in Spitsbergen on Saturday to launch the North Pole expedition. He 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.

[Source: Itar Tass, Oslo, 19Apr15]

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