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How Norway Lost Control of Its $500 Million Arctic Sub Base to the Russians


The Cold War-era facility now hosts Russian vessels linked to energy giant, Gazprom.

During the Cold War, Norway built a secret naval base, Olavsvern, that was carved into the mountain just outside the city of Tromsø, in the Arctic Circle. The base—comprised of a submarine hangar made of rock, direct sea access, nearly 150,000 sq ft of buildings and almost double that in bombproof interior space—took 30 years and cost NATO around $500 million to build to fight the threat of the Soviet Union.

So how come the base is now full of Russian research vessels?

In 2008, the Norwegian parliament decided to shut down the base amid a restructuring of the country’s navy. The way they decided to go about it was unusual, though. Norway put the base for sale in 2011 on a Norwegian online auction site (link in Norwegian), describing the site—fairly honestly—as “a unique property where ideas can be realized.”

The sale price was a pitiful 105 million krona, or $18 million at the time. But even that could not be achieved and the base was sold to a group of Norwegian oil drilling companies for just $5 million, or 1% of its building costs. The new owners then rented the site to Russian research vessels, including what AFP describes as “seismic survey ships reportedly linked to state-owned energy giant Gazprom.”


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