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Thinking about business as usual

Prime Minister Erna Solberg (H). FOTO: Norwegian Government

Thinking about business as usual

There is no reason the conflict with Russia should affect Svalbard, says Prime Minister Erna Solberg (H), who is coming to Longyearbyen to preview a large-scale emergency exercise.

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Together with Health and Care Services Minster Bent Høye (H) and Justice and Public Security Minister Anders Anundsen (FRP), Solberg will visit Longyearbyen on Sunday and Monday in advance of one of the largest-ever civilian exercises in Svalbard. While Anundsen has become a common sight on Spitsbergen, Solberg is making her debut as prime minister at 78 degrees latitude north.

"This government invests in safety and emergency preparedness, and it is helpful to watch the operations with our own eyes and meet the people who are doing important work for us," she wrote in an e-mail via her press office.

Down before the exercise day
Several hundred people will be involved in Øvelse Svalbard, which is designed to test the preparedness of Svalbard and the mainland. The remoteness and limited local resources means that in an actual emergency support from the mainland is necessary. During the two and a half days leading up until Nov. 5 this response will be tested to the limit, but Solberg will not be watching. On Monday they depart back to the mainland, but she stated this is so she does not distract from the focus on the exercise.

"The important thing for me is to get a briefing about the exercise because I am interested in it," she noted. "But I do not want to interfere with the conducting of the exercise."

'No impact'
Meanwhile, the political climate between Norway and Russia is chilly after the Russian annexation of the Crimea peninsula in March. The conflict between the two countries also affected the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Finnmark during World War II. It also was a factor when Nordic and Baltic prime ministers met this week, and one Russian expert recently told NRK the sale of gas from the Snøhvit oil field to Lithuania that became known recently may worsen the relationship.

A meeting between Solberg and the Governor of Svalbard will also focus on Svalbard politics, but the prime minister said the relationship between the two countries will not affect what Norway does in Svalbard.

"There is no reason that the challenges in the relationship between Norway and Russia because of the conflict in Ukraine should have any impact on Svalbard," she replied. "Norway advances a consistent and predictable Svalbard policy based on the relevant Norwegian legislation, which is fully in line with the Svalbard Treaty."

Many 'injured'
The influx of people who will participate as markers during the exercise has been considerable after a request earlier this fall for "injured" victims.

"We are where we should be," said Fred Skancke Hansen, one of the organizers at The University Centre in Svalbard, which is responsible for health and safety during the exercise.

He said equipment is in place and the KV Svalbard support vessel is scheduled to arrive in Longyearbyen on Monday. Now he is most anxious about the weather that is coming.
"The public will notice that there is a lot of activity by both helicopter and airplane, and that they will probably be using premises throughout the city," he said. "In addition, the hospital will be heavily loaded for periods."

The public will probably also notice when the prime minister is in town. On Monday, she visits Longyearbyen Hospital to hear about the exercise before she goes on a tour of the governor's new Polarsyssel service ship. In addition, she will go on a demonstration flight aboard the new rescue helicopter in Svalbard.

She is scheduled to start her Svalbard tour Sunday afternoon by meeting with officials with the governor's office, Longyearbyen Community Council, UNIS and SvalSat.


Translation: Mark Sabbatini

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