1

Russian policy in the far North 1897-1917

INTRODUCTION

Around the turn of the century knowledge of the Arctic increased rapidly. Countries like Norway, Sweden, Great Britain, the United States and Germany sent expeditions to the North which investigated the possibilities of fisheries in the Barents Sea, coal mining on Spitsbergen and a revival of whaling. Under these circumstances Russia was forced to a more aggressive northern policy. Like Norway, Russia believed certain Arctic areas to be hers by right from time immemorial. Foreign expeditions were thus seen as unlawful intruders. This perception of foreign exploration was reinforced by two factors. First, there were strategic considerations. A foreign power could use Spitsbergen to interdict the sea lanes to Northern Russia. Such a power could be Germany, which was also able to close the Baltic Sea. This made it unthinkable to St Petersburg that Spitsbergen should become part of a country like Norway, which would make it impossible to protect from foreign occupation in times of war (Vaultrin 1908:103). Russian concerns were therefore purely negative and aimed at avoiding foreign settlement. Sweden, for instance, was showing its interest by actively taking part in the exploitation of Spitsbergen. It was therefore suggested that Russia should follow Sweden's example. Indeed, at the turn of the century, Russia took that stand and began to involve itself more in Arctic exploration. In consequence, the first sea-going icebreaker in the world, the Yermak, visited Spitsbergen in 1899. At the same time Russia and Sweden began a joint exploration programme which lasted several years, from 1899 to 1901. In 1912 Russia's foreign ministry decided to take part in the coal mining on Spitsbergen in order to strengthen Russia's foothold. In 1912 a first expedition was sent out, but after that the plan was delayed by the First World War. Finally, in 1919 a Russian mine began to operate, but during the Revolution its ties with Russia were severed and it became a private enterprise (Pasetsky 1964b).

Thus, moved by strategic considerations, Russia became interested in the economic possibilities of the far North. This was also greatly encouraged by M.K. Sidorov, a Siberian financier, who used the wealth from his gold mines to further the development of his native country. He felt that the North was worth

-6-

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The Soviet Arctic
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page i
  • Contents ix
  • Acknowledgements xii
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Russian Policy in the Far North 1897-1917 6
  • 2 - Soviet Sovereignty in the Arctic and the Advent of Flying 1917-32 21
  • 3 - The Stalinization of Arctic Exploration 35
  • 4 - In Stalin's Time 1932-53 53
  • 5 - Arctic Policy During the Cold War 67
  • 6 - Historiography in the Cold War 84
  • 7 - The Age of the Nuclear Submarine 109
  • 8 - Arctic Shipping Since 1953 120
  • 9 - The Western Section: Winter Navigation 127
  • 10 - The Season of 1983 139
  • 11 - Arctic Studies Since 1953 152
  • Conclusion 170
  • Appendix 175
  • Glossary 179
  • Bibliography 181
  • Index 222
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