Russia and Italy: Joint Past, Present and Future in the Arctic


In 2021, several analysts and experts in the field of Arctic development called the behavior of European countries towards Russia on most of the main issues in the Arctic Council an "Italian strike". The current situation is only more tense. Yet, despite all political disagreements, experts from all countries still cooperate in the development of the Arctic to continue joint scientific work on its study. Among such European countries is Italy, which geographically does not belong to the Arctic zone.

In 2013, the honor of becoming the sixth observer country in the Arctic Council without the right to vote in strategic decision-making was given to the Italians for a number of historical reasons. The fact is that the first Italian expeditions to the Arctic were organized by Luigi Amedeo (Prince Luigi Amedeo, Duke of the Abruzzi) at the end of the late nineteenth century.

Prince Luigi Amedeo, Duke of the Abruzzi

First, in 1899, the Italians went to conquer the Arctic Circle on the steam whaling ship Stella Polare. The start of the expedition was given in Arkhangelsk. Almost 30 years later, in 1926-1928, the explorer Umberto Nobile paved his route to the Arctic.

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Umberto Nobile and Italia (airship) in Ny-Ålesund

Italy also participated in polar exploration in the 20th century. This time Italy took part in the exploration of both poles of the Earth. Politician, anthropologist and researcher Silvio Zavatti believed that geographical location did not play a key role. Thanks to his efforts, the end of the Second World War in Italy was marked not only by the complete defeat of the country and the fascist formations but also by the founding of the Institute of Polar Research in Fermo in 1944 (Instituto Geografico Polare "Silvio Zavatti"). Until now, it is the only institution in Italy engaged in polar research. In 1969, the first and only Polar Museum in Italy was opened on the basis of the Institute. The Polar Museum presents exhibits collected during Italian expeditions. In 2016, the museum in Fermo was severely damaged by the devastating earthquake in Italy. Only three years later, shortly before the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, it was fully restored and resumed its work. Until now, the main aim of the Institute and the Museum remains to popularize and spread knowledge about the Arctic and Antarctic both in Italy and around the world. The Il Polo scientific journal, published by the Institute since 1945, is very popular in the country. It publishes information on the progress of polar research. The Institute's Library houses a documentation center and a collection of periodicals from around the world on polar issues.

Italy also cooperates with business representatives of its country in the Arctic. Thus, it seeks to strengthen and expand contacts with other participating countries in the region. To achieve this goal, under the auspices of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Italy conducts such permanent events as the " Arctic Table" (Tavolo Artico) for the exchange of views, as well as the conferences "Arctic Circle" and "Arctic Frontiers". Representatives of regional informal organizations also participate in these conferences.

As an observer of the Arctic Council, Italy does not possess the right to vote on Arctic issues, and, therefore, any opportunity to realize its political ambitions in the region. However, this country seeks to strengthen its position in the Arctic through economic and scientific cooperation. Italy considers Russia and Norway as its main allies in this direction.

In the late 1990s, the Italians founded the Italian National Research Council (Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche, CNR) in Norway. There is also a center for interdisciplinary research "Dirigibile Italia" on the Norwegian territory of the Svalbard archipelago. The center is named after the Nobile expedition and opened in 1997. It carries out most of Italy's scientific research in the Arctic. The station is operated by the Italian CNR and coordinated by the Environment Department of CNR (POLARNET).

At the end of 2022, Vaar Energi, a subsidiary of Italy's Eni, made the largest discovery of the entire 2022 year on the Norwegian continental shelf. The 7122/9-1 T2 Lupa well, drilled 27 km from the Goliat platform operating in the Barents Sea in the Arctic, discovered a field with reserves of 9-21 billion cubic meters of recoverable gas or 57-132 million barrels of oil equivalent. In this connection, Eni announced plans to tie in a future gas field in the Barents Sea to the oil platform and existing infrastructure at the Goliat field. "This is the largest discovery on the shelf this year and comes as a Christmas gift. We have a long-term growth strategy for the Barents Sea and will continue to chase new opportunities for value creation," Var Energi said.

But Russia remains by far the country's most significant partner in Arctic affairs. The economic interests of the two countries are mainly concentrated in the field of energy and transportation. And despite the overall tense political situation in the world, which resulted in the "freezing" of a number of joint projects and cooperation in several areas in the field of energy, the countries are determined to continue cooperation, bearing in mind its historical experience. After all, not only Amedeo's expedition started from Arkhangelsk (Russia), but also the Soviet icebreaker Krasin participated in the mission to rescue Nobile's team in 1928. Umberto Nobile himself moved to the USSR in 1931 and lived in its territory for four years. He was involved in working on the Soviet Union's airship construction program. The explorer also contributed to the creation of Aeroflot (Russian Airlines).

in the Arctic
2017 marked the 100th anniversary of the most famous icebreaker in the world - the legendary ship Krasin, a symbol of Arctic exploration and Russia's maritime heritage. Now, as a veteran, the icebreaker is recognized as an object of cultural heritage. The icebreaker became a floating monument. Now it is a branch of the Museum of the World Ocean in St. Petersburg.

Nowadays, Italian and Russian experts in the field of polar research still highly appreciate the prospects of international cooperation between the two countries in the Arctic and express their hope for the soonest stabilization of the political situation.

Based on open-source materials.

Photo: Prince Luigi Amedeo, Duke of the Abruzzi

Photo: Umberto Nobile and Italia (airship) in Ny-Ålesund

Photo: The icebreaker Krasin

The editorial board of The Arctic Century