Russian flags flap in the stiff polar breeze, a bust of Lenin looms out of the snow and a vast slogan declares, “Communism is our goal!”
No, this is not some time warp Soviet settlement lost in the Arctic wastes, but a corner of Norway where Moscow can — theoretically at least — mine, build, drill and fish what it likes.
Welcome to Spitsbergen, the largest island of the Svalbard archipelago and “NATO’s Achilles heel in the Arctic”.
These spectacular islands of glaciers and mountain peaks halfway between Norway and the North Pole are a strategic and economic bridgehead not just for Moscow but also for Beijing.
All because of one of the most bizarre and little-understood international treaties ever concluded, which gives Norway sovereignty but allows the citizens of 46 countries to exploit the islands’ potentially vast resources on an equal footing.
Which is why 370 Russians and Ukrainian miners from the Donbass work in Barentsburg, a cut-off corner of Spitsbergen where the Soviets dug coal for decades and where it is pitch dark for nearly three months of the year.
“Spitsbergen has been covered with Russian sweat and blood for centuries,” Moscow’s consul Sergey Gushchin said.
“I’m not arguing that it’s not Norwegian territory but it’s part of Russian history,” he added.