State-owned company Grumant, the tourism-leg of Arktikugol, wants to make Barentsburg into a Russian hub for Arctic tours. Photo: Thomas Nilsen

Russia says it will start direct tourist voyages to Svalbard

Ildar Neverov, the leader of state-owned company Arktikugol, made the announcement about a direct sea route from mainland Russia to Svalbard at a seminar at the Humanitarian University in Moscow earlier this week.
April 03, 2024


“Voyages are expected to start in April this year,” Neverov said and added that it will “expand the possibilities of organising tourism to the archipelago.” 

Russia has long been struggling to find new businesses to maintain its presence at Svalbard as the old coal mine runs out of profitable resources.

Tourism could bring new hope for the Barentsburg settlement, but Moscow’s all out war on Ukraine made most Norwegian companies in Longyearbyen turn a cold shoulder to any cooperation with the Russian state-owned company.

Arktikugol leader Ildar Neverov. Photo: Thomas Nilsen

Last year’s application from Arktikugol to fly direct charter planes with both miners and tourists from Moscow to Svalbard was turned down by Oslo as Norway wants to limit other country’s aviation industry from boosting traffic to Longyearbyen.

Russian citizens are today required to fly via mainland Norway to reach Svalbard. That route is long and convoluted as there are no flights between Russia and Europe, and the travel via the last open land border for tourist visa holders goes via Kirkenes, with connections further to Tromsø and then to Longyearbyen. Also, a valid Norwegian Schengen-visa is needed for the leg that includes Oslo, Kirkenes or Tromsø. The Norwegian Embassy in Moscow and Consulate General in St. Petersburg are very restrictive on issuing visas for tourism purposes.

“If they travel directly from Murmansk to Svalbard with boat, no visas are required,” says Arild Moe, a Research Professor with the Fridtjof Nansen Institute in Oslo. Professor Moe is expert on Svalbard and Russia’s Arctic policies.

He says to the Barents Observer that the 1920 Svalbard Treaty gives citizens of signatory powers, like Russia, equal access to the archipelago.


“There should be nothing formal hindering Arktikugol in bringing tourists from Murmansk to Barentsburg by boat,” Moe says.

Limited potential 

Research professor Arild Moe is sceptical about Russia’s Arctic tourism potential at Svalbard. Here at a visit to Longyearbyen. Photo: Thomas Nilsen

Moe is sceptical about how big interest there will be among travelers to embark on such route.

“The sea journey is quite long. If it is made comfortable, it can be quite expensive,” he says.

“Without flight connections with Russia, and without cooperation with tour operators in Longyearbyen, the potential for tourism in Barentsburg is rather limited,” Arild Moe says.

Depending on weather, a voyage from Murmansk to Barentsburg will take about 40 hours. A bigger problem is Russia’s lack of passenger vessels that could sail the route. 

The only Arctic dedicated passenger ship today sailing out of Murmansk is the Klavdija Elanskya,  a 45-year old run-down ferry bringing locals around the coast of the Kola Peninsula to remote locations like Gremikha and Chavanga. 


Passenger vessel Klavdija Elanskya sailing the Kola Bay. Photo: Thomas Nilsen


Ildar Neverov with Arktikugol did not name which vessel is to sail to Barentsburg this April and on.

Today, bulk carriers sail with coal from Barentsburg to Murmansk one or two times a year, as Russian coal is banned from markets in Europe. Last year, a research expedition ship made port call to the Russian settlement with goods from Murmansk. 

New ship in making 

By 2026, however, Russia will get a brand new Arctic cargo- and passenger ship. On March 28, a solemn ceremony for building of Project PV27 took place at JSC Nefteflot’s yard in Samara.

The Arc4 ice-classed ship will have cabins for 200 passengers and is dedicated for operations in Russia’s Arctic waters, like the Northern Sea Route. The ship will also get possibilities to sail international voyages, the shipyard said in an announcement without mentioning Svalbard specifically.

Nefteflot states it is ready to “receive additional contracts” for vessels sailing Arctic waters.


Hidden in the fog: Barentsburg seen from the seaside. Photo: Thomas Nilsen




The Barents Observer Newsletter

After confirming you're a real person, you can write your email below and we include you to the subscription list.

Privacy policy