Russian and Norwegian Tensions over Svalbard/Spitsbergen: 6 Month Outlook (JULY 2022)


    Moscow has accused Norway of intentionally blocking the transit of vital supplies to its settlements on Svalbard [source]. The Russian consulate on the island subsequently demanded food security guarantees from Norway, threatening severe consequences [source], [source]. Russia will most likely respond by increasing its hybrid campaign against Norwegian civilian and political infrastructure.  

    KJ-1: It is highly unlikely that Russia will carry out a conventional military operation against Norway over the status of Svalbard in the next 6 months.

    • A Russian legislator, Konstantin Kosachev, raised aspersions over Norway’s sovereignty over Svalbard [source]. These comments are incendiary, but there is no indication that they reflect official Russian policy towards Norway.
    • Russia’s Consular representative on the island deviated from Kosachev’s comments and downplayed questions over Norway’s sovereignty over Svalbard [source]. 
    • Russia has other options for resupplying Svalbard’s population from Murmansk [source], [source]. 
    • Turkey is planning on acceding to the Svalbard Treaty in the coming year [source]. Consequently, Svalbard is the focus of international ambitions and central to China’s ‘Polar Silk Road’[source]. 

    KJ-2: It is likely that Russia will increase hybrid attacks against Norway over the Svalbard dispute in the next 6 months.

    • Russia views Norway as an adversarial neighbour, owing to its critical position in the European energy market and NATO [source]. 
    • Gas prices in Europe fell after the Norwegian government ended a strike by offshore oil workers, highlighting the vital role that Norway plays in the current energy crisis [source]
    • Norway was struck with cyber-attacks last week in the wake of the blockade. Several key government cyber services are struggling to come back online. Norway’s electronic banking identification system suffered the most pronounced attacks [source].
    • Last January, Russia severed critical fiberoptic cables [source]. The UK’s Chief of Defense Staff warned against Russia’s increased capabilities to disrupt undersea cables last January [source].
    • The Russian spy ship Yantar is capable of severing deep sea communications cables which are vital for secure communications [source]. Her sister ship, the Almaz, can be repurposed from its current configuration to carry two separate Konsul Class submersibles. These are capable of reaching the Arctic seabed [source]. 
    • The Yantar’s last known location was registered last year heading towards Murmansk [source]. The Almaz is currently docked in Murmansk as well [source]. 

    KJ-3: It is highly likely that Norway will respond to increased Russian hybrid attacks with commensurate mitigation measures in the next 6 months. 

    • Norwegian industry is becoming increasingly concerned about vulnerabilities of sensitive information. A recent report indicates that Norwegian private industry is now more willing to report and share information on hybrid operations with the Norwegian security services. The same report finds that Norwegian industry suffers from a perception of a weak security culture [source]. 
    • Last April, the Norwegian government announced plans to allocate substantial funds to strengthen the digital security of local municipalities concerned with disruptions to water supplies and the internet [source]. A government white paper in 2018, therefore, recommended increased civilian-government collaboration in mitigating Russian hybrid threats [source]. 
    • Norway likewise plans to bolster counter-espionage capabilities for the Norwegian Civil Security Clearance Authority [source]. 
    • Norwegian naval vessels will likely continue to shadow Russian warships as Russia continues to test fire Tsirkon missiles in the Barents Sea [source]. The delivery of its new P-8 maritime reconnaissance aircraft will enhance Norweigan monitoring and tracking capabilities in the next 6 months [source]. 

    Intelligence Cut-Off Date: July 19, 2022

    Alec Smith
    Alec Smith
    Alec Smith is a graduate of the MSC International Relations program of the University of Aberdeen and holds an LLB in Global Law from Tilburg University. He works in the private sector in field investigations and security.

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