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Franz Josef land was discovered and claimed by Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1873. Previously Norway discovered it, but they never reported the discovery.

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The Austro-Hungarian Empire dissoluted in 1918. Which country owned Franz Josef land until the 1926 annexation by USSR? I guess the trivial answer would be Austria or independence, I couldn't find definite answer.

UPDATE By some google search I managed to find a short sentence about Italian claims, but doesn't lead anywere since it is referring "late 20's", hereby you can read it

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    I don't think Austria actually claimed it originally. It seemed to have been considered terra nullius at the time of the Soviet annexation. – Semaphore Nov 17 '14 at 10:04
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    @Semaphore That was something similar to my thought too when I meant "independence", but didn't find any reference, probably it is a good guess. – CsBalazsHungary Nov 17 '14 at 10:06
  • I see quite a few references to that actually. My doubt is over whether it was terra nullius the whole time (i.e. never claimed by Austria) or became that way after 1918. My guts say the former, but I'm not certain. Anyway, here's a reference: "On 15 April 1926 Franz Josef Land was annexed by the Soviet Union.It had previously been considered Terra nullius (No man's land)." - Mills, William J. Exploring Polar Frontiers: a Historical Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. ABC-CLIO, 2003. – Semaphore Nov 17 '14 at 10:12
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Semaphore's hypothesis was right.

I found interesting resource which tells us that islands actually had been considered terra nullius till 1926.

Until the year 1926 the islands had been considered "Terra Nullius", or other words, "No Man's Land". However, following practices of Canada, the Soviet Union claimed that all land in the sector between the Soviet mainland and the North Pole was Soviet territory. This met with criticism from the Norwegians who refused to recognize the islands as being a part of Russia. but they were able to do little with their complaints against the much larger Soviet authority. (1)

However, that decision had little practical impact immediately, and even on the official Soviet maps issued in 1926,1928 and even 1929 (image below) Franz Josef Land was marked as being outside of the Soviet Union. (2)

Franz Josef islands on Soviet map, 1929.

Norwegian government officially protested in Moscow against this unilateral decree of annexation. Also, fascist government claimed sovereignty over the archipelago in 1928 after the disaster of the Nobile expedition - arguing that the Tegetthoff (named after Wilhelm von Tegetthoff) was equipped with an engine from the now-Italian city of Trieste, but non of these protests had any success.

(1) Barr et al. 1995

(2) Spitzbergen with Frank Josef Land & Jan Mayen (Bradt Svalbard, 201)

  • So far this seems to be the answer, if nobody brings different records, I will accept this answer in few days. Special thanks for Semaphore. – CsBalazsHungary Nov 19 '14 at 9:23
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It was annexed by Austria Hungary on November 2, 1873. On August 16 (29) 1914 the Imperial Russian Navy changed the name to "Romanov Land" that day on the conquest of the archipelago at "Hertha Rock" at Cape Flora.

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