Who closed the border between Finland and Russia? A reply to The Independent Barents Observer

The saga about the Northern migrant route for asylum seekers wishing to reach a European country recently got a new turn: Since April 2016 the Russian-Finnish border in Lapland is closed for third-country citizens. The international staff of researchers at the Arctic Centre in Rovaniemi including me personally (a Swiss-Italian citizen) are deeply concerned by the new agreement between Finland and Russia about these new border-crossing limitations between Russia and Finland. It limits our possibilities to act as researchers in Russia, as well as it undermines the Euro-Arctic Barents Cooperation in general. For example, I do research among the Russian Sami people, and it has been essential in the past years to cross the border to reach the Murmansk Region for doing my research.

Many people seem to wonder: Why? How could it be that such a deal could happen?


I have been talking a lot with other people both in Finland and in Russia, and also read some materials about it. The most visible English language source of information on the topic is The Independent Barents Observer. In their article “Russia insisted on closing Lapland borders for third country citizens” they basically give this explanation: “Russia wanted to split Finland from the EU”, and this also seems to be a mainstream opinion in Rovaniemi, where I live. However, in my opinion, this explanation inadequately reflects the true situation behind the current border closure for third-country citizens. I would like to elaborate on this.

It has been conveyed also by the Finnish mainstream press (which I am going to criticise below) that the closure of the border was Finland’s initiative, and that Finland asked to include the EU/EEA+Switzerland countries into the list of allowed countries. However, what is not conveyed by any of the mentioned sources is the principle of reciprocity which is a basic principle of any bilateral negotiations (I worked myself in diplomacy before joining the Arctic Centre as a researcher).

In this case, reciprocity means an approximate balance in the amount of countries exempted by the agreed border restrictions. According to oral information by a Finnish border guard, during the negotiations Russia asked also to include several countries which it is on good terms with, exactly as Finland did. That are countries like Kazakhstan, Kryrgyzstan and some other countries, which are not producing refugees (although for some Western populists and their followers countries with a name ending on “-stan” may by default evoke such fears). In simple words: If Finland asked to include its friends, then Russia also wanted to include its friends. By all standards, it is highly unlikely that an unequal deal FIN+30 countries vs. RUS+1 country is possible, and in the end the Finns evidently opted for a deal only FIN+RUS/Belarus. As it is a common practice in international diplomacy to make agreements on equal terms, this sounds to me as a much more rational explanation than the simplistic explanation mode “it’s Putin, stupid!”. It must be said clearly: It was the Finns who rejected an equal deal with a higher number of included countries on both sides and thus heavily undermined Barents cooperation and European cooperation in general.

Instead of giving a balanced analysis explaining the reasonable arguments of all involved parties, both the Finnish tabloid Iltalehti and The Independent Barents Observer (which is even more disappointing given its declared “devotion for cross-border cooperation, dialogue and mutual understanding“) adhere to a way of reasoning which long since has become a standard explanation for almost everything which goes wrong in relations between Russia and the West. This shallowness of reasoning is highly regrettable. Their statement that Russia insisted on such a deal because it wanted to tear apart Finland from the EU is not just shallow. By presuming that Finland would have had no other choice than agree with Russia’s demands it also wrongly presumes a limited sovereignty of this country. However, Finland is a fully sovereign country, and it could have simply withdrawn its initiative on closing the border if it did not agree with Russia’s legitimate demand for signing an agreement on equal terms. Unfortunately, it opted for the isolationist way.

Arctic Professorship, Finland, for an anthropologist?

Dear readers,

belown seems to be a really promising job opening. For our community of Arctic Anthropologists, of course we would be most interested in getting as many good anthropologists among the applicants as possible. Because if one of ‘our’ people gets the post, we increase our anthropology professors’ ‘headcount’ in the Finnish North by 33%! :), and we strenghthen anthropological expertise in the North. Here is the job ad:

The University of Oulu invites applications for a full professorship position in  Arctic research combined with the post of Vice President of Research of the University of the Arctic.

The professorship as such is a new one at the university, the UArctic Vice President of Research position has been at the University since 2014. The Professor of Arctic Research will have half of the position at one of the University’s faculties (at the most relevant one depending on his/her expertise) and the other half at the Thule Institute, where he/she will be leading the UArctic Thematic Networks and the Research Liaison offices.

More information about the position and the application and selection procedures at the University of Oulu’s Saima recruitment system.

Applications, including attachments, should be submitted using the electronic application form by September 2, 2016.

For further information about the application and selection procedures, please contact

Vice Rector Research Taina Pihlajaniemi

University of Oulu

Tel. +358 294 48 5800

email: taina.pihlajaniemi(at)oulu.fi
President Lars Kullerud

The University of the Arctic

tel: +47 9087 0099

email: lars.kullerud(at)uarctic.org

(see http://www.uarctic.org/news/2016/5/professorship-in-arctic-research-combined-with-the-post-of-vice-president-of-research-of-the-university-of-the-arctic/)

resource development versus other community sustainability options’?

This is the general topic of the next course in our PhD programme by the Uarctic Thematic Network “Arctic Extractive Industries. It’s going to take place this time again in the wonderful town of St John’s Newfoundland, Canada.

Offshore oil (see the servicing ships docking in the background) or other development options? St John’s and Newfoundland

PhD students who have an interest in participating (this time self-funded, I hope you find funds to come!!!), can write a 200 words abstract to one of the organisers. Spaces are limited, especially because of the limited presentation slots that we have at the conference, in conjunction to which we will hold this. Preference will be given to those who

1) already participated in an earlier course in our programme and want to complete the entire Uarctic certificate;
2) PhD students willing to commit to completing the program and to presenting at Petrocultures; and
3) Master’s students interesting in participating more or less as observers.

For European students: Uarctic TN partner students can use this course for 10 credits ECTS towards their PhD studies, if approved by their supervisor and completed fully with submitted paper. The Ulapland course code is TUKO 1217.

Here is a course abstract:

An interdisciplinary exploration of resource development versus other community sustainability options’

St. John’s Newfoundland; Aug 29 to Sun Sept 04, 2016.

We will be offering an intensive one-week PhD course comingled with the Petrocultures conference in St. John’s beginning on Monday aug 29, 2016. The theme of this course is ‘An interdisciplinary exploration of resource development versus other community sustainability options’. In brief, there are many reasons why resource development in remote regions can be damaging in social, environmental and economic terms. Yet, alternatives that can lead to sustainable economic security for remote peoples are often elusive, while resource development promises opportunities for local residents.

Our group, the Uarctic Thematic Network in Extractive Industries, has offered semi-annual PhD courses of this nature since 2012. This course will differ from some of the previous one in format: the first two days will consist of three seminars of roughly 2.5 hours’ duration. Each of those six seminars will be co-presented by one faculty member and one or several PhD students. The purpose of these co-presented seminars is to maximize student involvement, and to facilitate an exploration of ideas and implications, and relevant academic readings and theories, across sessions. This will be an interactive course in which students will be expected to join in discussions within each seminar. This format will facilitate even more intensive academic interaction between PhD students and professors.

On the final three days, students in our course will attend the Petrocultures conference, and will present their research within specially designated sessions. There will also be specified conference sessions to attend as part of the course, and a final mandatory discussion session for registered students at the conclusion of the conference, late on September 03, to reflect on the overall themes emerging from the course and conference.

Enquiries: Prof Arn Keeling <akeeling(at)mun.ca>, Prof Gordon Cooke <gcooke(at)mun.ca> (cc to Thematic Network coordinator Florian Stammler <fstammle(at)ulapland.fi>)

Historical Decision as to Mining in Sweden

A – what I would like to call a historical – decision was taken by the Supreme Administrative Court in Sweden at the end of February this year (source: The Supreme Administrative Court (SAC), case 2047-14). It is a decision made in a mining case concerning extraction of minerals in mid-Sweden, and since the decision was made in a Supreme Court will it have effects on the mining industry in all of Sweden.

The Norra Kärr – North Swamp – case

The case concerns the Canadian mining company Tasman Metals Ltd. that wanted to prospect for rare Regeringen öppnar gruvaminerals close to the big (inland) lake Vättern in mid-Sweden at an area called Norra Kärr. Tasman Metals is prospecting for rare earth element and zirconium mineralization, that are primarily used in mobilephones. The mining company present the area as “mixed farming and forestry land, well serviced by power, roads and water allowing all year round access, plus the benefit of a skilled and well equipped community”. The Mining Inspectorate of Sweden  – Bergsstaten – had granted Tasman Metals a concession license. That decision was appealed by different interests, and was therefore sent over to the Parliament. The (now running) Social Democratic Government decided that Tasman Metals should have the concession license that the company had been granted by The Mining Inspectorate of Sweden. A short summery of this process can be read in the  newspaper article “The Government Opens For Mine” in Jönköpingsposten 6th of March 2015 (also see picture above). A concession license gives a mining or prospecting company the right to run mine(s) or hold permission to open mine(s) according to valid license(s).

But the mine prospecting site at Norra Kärr is close to the big lake Vättern that is a water supply for the inhabitants in the area, and also a place for rare birds, as well as close to a Nature 2000 area, that is a type of area that is under special laws and can be seen as one that is on the step before the level of being a national park. So another appeal was sent to the Supreme Administrative Court, by five local groups belonging to the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation – Naturskyddsföreningen – and Nature and Youth Sweden – Fältbiologerna –  plus Visingsörådet and several private persons (SAC, case 2047-14, p.3, 4).

The Supreme Administrative  Court decided that Tasman Metals had not presented any plan for land use for working plants – such as stone storage, sand magasins, clearing ponds and so on. The Supreme Administrative Court supported The County Administrative Board’s in Jönköping decision that the working plants will have a big effect on the surrounding environment at least 1 kilometer around the plants. And since Tasman Metals had not presented any survey about any milieu consequences caused by working plants what so ever, the Court decided to withdraw the company’s concession license  (SAC, case 2047-14, p. 10). This mean that, at this point, Tasman Metals can for now not prospect for minerals at Norra Kärr.

Norra Kärr Case In Relation to the Kallak case

This decision taken by the Supreme Administrative Court might mean that, for instance, the mining prospect in Kallak outside of Jokkmokk in the north of Sweden, on the grounds of Sámi villages Jåhkkågaska Tjiellde and Sirges in the very north of Sweden, can be inquired against the Tasman Metals case. This means that Jokkmokk Iron Mines AB (JIMAB) – and the headquarters Beowulf Mining in England – that has prospected for ore at Kallak, must present a plan for all the activities for a mine in full-scale at Kallak. This means that not only the mine – as the pit in the ground – must be part of an activity plan, but also all of the working plants must be presented such as ponds, stone storage and so on, as well as the consequences for both the mine and the working plants in relation to the milieu in the area. For a longer survey over the Kallak case, and extractive industries in Canada and impacts on reindeer herding and hunting, see a summary here at an earlier blog post of mine.

An observant reader has already detected that I wrote “might mean” in the first sentence in the former paragraph, and that is because it says in the verdict 2047-14 that land use for working plants within extractive industries such as mining, must be part of an application for exploitation concession. This means that if a company has a plan for both mine and working plants and their consequences for the surrounding environment at the stage for a concession license, this verdict can not be used.

In the Kallak case Beowulf Mining wants to send their application for exploit concession back to the Mining Inspectorate of Sweden.

beuwolf mining kallak
“Gruvdirektör vill börja om” [“Mining Manager Wants to Start Over”], Norrbottens-Kuriren, 19th of April, 2016.
An exploitation concession is often also called concession license, and it gives the holder permission to start a mine. But the Kallak case is now handled by the Parliament after appeal. Beowulf Mining also wants to co-operate with Luleå University in order to “build a sustainable mine” as the director in Sweden for Beowulf Mining, Kurt Bugde put it when being interviewed by a local newspaper (see picture to the right).

It will be a matter for the courts how the verdict can be used in practice by the courts, but the verdict also sets pressure on the agencies involved in the mining application process, as to what type of presented plans from prospecting and mining companies that can be accepted. And the verdict is very important seen in the light of bankrupt and abandoned mines in Sweden.

Nature Devastation Caused by Abandoned Open-Cast Mines

Despite some question marks raised here against what impact the decision in the Norra Kärr case taken by The Supreme Administrative Court really will have, is it still extremely important, seen in the light of the problems with environmental pollutions and problems – from ‘small’ to catastrophic dimensioned as to nature devastations. Problems with ‘smaller’ pollution hazards and negative environmental consequences have been detected at the bankrupt Tapuli mine in Kaunisvaara in the county of Pajala owned by Northland Resources, and environmental catastrophic-like problems have been caused by abandoned mines in the county of Västerbotten because ot the Blaiken Mine and the Svärtträsk Mine.

The Tapuli Mine in Kaunisvaara outside Pajala in Sweden

In 2012-2015 has the level of the groundwater changed dramatically in the area around the Tapuli mine in Kaunisvaara outside of Pajala.

karta kaunisvaara
Map over Kaunisvaara.

Northland Resources was, after a survey made by the County Administrative Board (CAB), already in February 2015 forced to deal with the problem of decreasing water levels and the drainage of the swamp Kokkovuoma that holds highly important environmental values. CAB suggested that Northland Resources should put down screens in the ground around the mine pit in order to limit the water leakage from the pit (Source: CAB, injunction, 2015-06-30, case number 555-2932-15 2521 116, p. 1,3).

If was also detected on a photo taken from an airplane that Northland Resources had dugged a 1,5 kilometer long drain outside the very mining area – that is, on ground that the company was not allowed to use. It was also storage waste from the the 1,5 kilometer long drain packed by the clearing pond, and outside the area of the very mine (Source: CAB, injunction, 2015-06-30, case number 555-8018-15 2521 116, p. 2).

Northland Resources was charged for several crimes in connection to these issues, but the attorney Aino Alhem dismissed the cases, arguing that no one could show that Northland Resources was NOT allowed to build a clearing pond outside the mining area. Alhem also dismissed the case because the period of limitation for the 1,5 long trench had passed. Finally Alhem meant that she must proof that the increase in the level in the groundwater had occurred after Northland Resources had been notified of the lowering water level, and that she could not (NSD, “Fler åtal mot Northland konkursbo läggs ned” [“Several Charges Against Northland’s Bankruptcy Estate are Dismissed”], 16th of March 2016 (in Swedish)). Within two years – from summer of 2014 till summer of 2016 – had the water level increased 16 meters. Northland Resources had estimated a few decimeters decrease. Still Alhem dismissed the charge against Northland Resources even though the mining company was obliged by CAB in February 2015 to deal with the problems with sinking levels of the groundwater.

In this messy process did even the county governor of the county of Norrbotten, Sven-Erik Österberg, step in and decided that every decision concerning the Tapuli mine should go through him, and not the County Administrative Board as the normal way of procedure is. Österberg argued that he had taken that decision in order to make a quick handling of the case easier (NSD, “Misstänkta miljöbrott i gruvan anmäldes inte” [“Suspected Environmental Crimes in the Mine was Not Reported”], 13th of March 2015).

Besides this there are now issues with the clearing pond at the Tapuli mine. The County Administrative Board is worried that the pond is too small for the amount of water it holds, and that it might start to leak water into the Muonio river (source: Norrbottens-Kuriren, “Konkursboet vill ta av miljonerna på banken” [The Bankruptcy Estate Wants to Take From the Millions in the Bank”], 11th of April 2016, see picture below).

Kuriren om Northland Resources konkursbo
Norrbottens-Kuriren, “Konkursboet vill ta av miljonerna på banken”, 11th of April 2016.

In all such ponds heavy particles sink to the very bottom. But much of such heavy particles are heavy metals since the water that has been pumped up of the mines contains of heavy metal. Because when extracting minerals or stone from the ground, many other metals and minerals follow along. If the pond at the Tapuli mine starts to leak heavy metal, that will go directly into the Muonio River. The mine has permission to let some water – so called process, mine and drain water – from the pond seep over to the Muoino River (source: CAB, injunction 2015-06-30, case number 555-8022-15 2521 116, p. 1). But the hazard lies in, as just mentioned, that the mine starts to leak heavy metal that probably is part of the heavy sediment on the bottom of the pond – and then that leakage will most certainly go directly into the Muonio river. And the Muonio river runs into the Torne river that runs out into the Gulf of Botnia. The Kanuisvaara village has a their water catchment in Kanuisvaara.

What can be the consequences of a mine leaking heavy metal can be seen in the hazardous environmental consequences of Blaiken mine and Svärtträsk mine in Sweden.

Riksrevisionen – Swedish National Audit Office (NAO) – also tried to force the Swedish gruvavfall ska granskasParliament to straighten up the legislation around mine waste as in a suggestion that mining companies from the very start should in their financial plans include costs for waste management. NAO did that with references to the Tapuli mine in Kaunisvaara outside Pajala, as well as Blaiken mine and Svärtträsk mine in the county of Västerbotten. The Parliament said no. This was revealed in the small article “Gruvavfall ska inte granskas” – “Mine Waste Shall Not be Examined” – in the newspaper Norrbottens-Kuriren on the 16th of April this year (see picture to the right). The Parliament’s reluctance to straighten up the legislation shows, according to me, that the Parliament is more prone to support the mining business in Sweden rather than thinking in long terms of the environment. The life length of a mine can be 15 years. A sustainable environment is a long term work, longer than 15 years. But the Parliament gave The Swedish Environmental Protection Agency – Naturvårdsverket – the assignment together with The Mining Inspectorate of Sweden to mold together a long term strategy for management of mine waste and to examine the Swedish State’s and the mining companies costs within mining industry and to evaluate the after-treatment of closed mines. But still no law paragraph that puts the responsibility for after-treatment of mine waste on the mining companies has been discussed. The Swedish National Audit Office, NAO, monitors the environment in Sweden.

Since NAO used Blaiken mine and Svärtträsk mine as examples in their suggestion to straighten up the legislation of responsibility for management of mine waste, let’s look what have happened in those two cases.

The Blaiken Mine and Svärtträsk Mine Cases in Sweden

A more disastrous example than Kallak – as it looks today – is the Blaiken mine, that in 2014 leaked heavy metal to a cost of 1 million SEK a month for clearing the toxic waste. See an earlier blog post by me on The Mining Situation in Sweden from an Environmental Perspective – a Few Examples. It was around that time estimated that 200 million SEK was needed to clean it up entirely – and the

The Blaiken mine today. Copyright: SVT.se.

Swedish tax payers are the ones that have to pay for that. ScanMining, that abandoned the Blaiken mine in 2007, had put aside only 3 million SEK for a clean-up of it. Lappland Goldminers bought Blaiken with the intention to turn it into a zinc mine, even though it was attended as a gold mine when it was started up. Lappland Goldminers’ attempt did not work out.

Last summer though, was a survey made by Environmental Sciences at University of Umeå presented – here summarized in an article from the Swedish State Television’s homepage – that estimated that Blaiken leaks led, copper and especially zinc – that is highly toxic – into the lake Storjuktan, to levels that have never been seen before in Sweden. 22 square kilometers of the bottom sediment of the lake is dead because of the heavy metal waste covering it. And now the costs for a clean-up of Blaiken has been estimated to 200 million SEK, according to The County Administrative Board in the county of Västerbotten , one of the two northernmost counties in Sweden.

Toxic leaking abandoned mines are also a known problem in North America, as the sad history of the giant mine shows, studied by our colleagues Arn Keeling and John Sandlos.


It is great that the historical decision in the Norra Kärr-case has been taken by the Supreme Administrative Court, since it will put a lot more pressure on mining companies that want to come and prospect as well as start mines in Sweden. Earlier was not full-scale milieu consequence descriptions a must for mining companies to present from the beginning. Instead such a plan could be presented much, much later in the prospecting process. But after Supreme Administrative Court’s decision in the Tasman Mental AB case such a description must be on the table from the very start.

New Forms of Law and Governance for and from the Arctic

This in an invitation to a seminar on adaptive law and governance in the Arctic.

Researcher Ivanova (left) studying native fisheries governance with the Lariny family in the Russian Far East, Kamchatka

On August 17-18, 2016, Arctic Centre of the University of Lapland (http://www.arcticcentre.org/EN) will organize a seminar, which will look at research approaches to explore the role of law and other institutions in governance of natural resources in the Arctic. We will also explore how institutions coping with Arctic challenges have evolved, how changes in Arctic law and governance influence Arctic residents’ life and Arctic societies as collectives, and whether these developments and Arctic governance experiences could provide lessons for other regions. A detailed background paper can be found here and on our “lectures and events, Rovaniemi” page.

Distinguished Prof. J.B. Ruhl from Vanderbilt University Law School, will be with us and share his experience on adaptive law and governance.  (http://law.vanderbilt.edu/bio/jb-ruhl)

We invite abstract proposals (max. 500 word) for presentations from interested scholars from all disciplines. After the seminar, papers based on selected presentations are aimed to be published together as a special issue in high-level international journal.

Expenses: Thanks to the support from Academy of Finland Strategic profiling funding, there are no seminar fees and the Center will pay for participant’s lunch, coffee and dinner in seminar days. Participants are responsible for travel expenses and accommodation.

Send submissions: Raija.Kivilahti(at)ulapland.fi:

Deadline: 1 June 2016

Notifications of acceptance: 15 June 2016

Registration is open until 17th June. To register, send an email to Raija’s email above.

Organising committee

Jukka Similä                                  Florian Stammler                               Soili Nysten-Haarala

Prof, Adaptive Law                      Prof, Anthropology                             Prof, Russian & treaty Law