Russia ‘surprises’ Norway up north

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Norwegian Foreign Minister Børge Brende got what he called a “positive surprise” on Thursday when his Russian counterpart, Sergej Lavrov, told him that Russia was ready to cooperate on environmental and atomic safety issues in the far north. Emissions from Russia’s Norilsk Nickels smelter in Nikel, just over the border from Norway, have been especially worrisome.

Foreign ministers Børge Brende of Norway (left) and Sergej Lavrov met during ceremonies last year marking the 70th anniversation of Russia's liberation of Finnmark in Kirkenes. Tensions over Ukraine and Syria have risen since then, but Brende now welcome's Lavrov's newly stated intention to cooperate on environmental and other issues in the Far North. PHOTO: Utenriksdepartementet

Foreign ministers Børge Brende of Norway (left) and Sergej Lavrov met during ceremonies last autumn marking the 70th anniversation of Russia’s liberation of Finnmark in Kirkenes. Tensions over Ukraine and Syria have risen since then, but Brende now welcome’s Lavrov’s newly stated intention to cooperate on environmental and other issues in the Far North. PHOTO: Utenriksdepartementet

“It was a positive surprise, because this is something we’ve been trying to take up for years,” Brende told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “So if they now want environmental cooperation, that’s new, but very positive. Now we’ll just have to see if action follows the words.”

The words were issued during a meeting Brende and Lavrov had in connection with a ministerial gathering of the Barents Council. Russia is now taking its turn at leading the Barents Council, which serves as a forum for intergovernmental and interregional cooperation in the countries bordering on the Barents Sea. Its members include Finland, Denmark, Iceland, Sweden and the European Commission, in addition to Russia and Norway. Several other countries with interests in the Arctic have observer status, including Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, the UK and the US. The council now refers to itself as comprising the Barents Euro-Arctic Council and the Barents Regional Council.

Russia has announced three priorities for its leadership period that runs through 2017: transport, the environment and climate, and culture and tourism. Foreign ministers from all the Barents Council’s members are meeting this week in Oulu, Finland, and Lavrov had a meeting with Brende Wednesday evening.

It was the second high-level meeting between Russia and Norway in the past week, and Lavrov surprised Brende by saying that Russia now wants to focus on the environment in the far north, especially on emissions, forests and the seas, in cooperation with Norway.

Environmentalists have claimed that Russia's Norilsk Nickel smelter in Nikel, just over the border from Norway, has been an eyesore and a polluter for years. PHOTO: Wikipedia

Environmentalists have claimed that Russia’s Norilsk Nickel smelter in Nikel, just over the border from Norway, has been an eyesore and a polluter for years. PHOTO: Wikipedia

Norwegian environmental organization Bellona has long maintained that the smelter in Nikel, just seven kilometers from the Norwegian border, is without doubt the biggest polluter in the area. It’s also been an eyesore but has a long, complicated history under Finnish, Russian and, during World War II, German control.

“In the conversation I had with Lavrov, who’s now chairman of the Barents Council, we agreed to have constructive cooperation on the things we can cooperate on,” Brende said. While Norway and Russia are at odds over such pressing issues as Russian intervention in the Ukraine and, more recently, Syria, Brende noted that environmental issues are among areas of cooperation,  along with “better transportation, atomic security in the north, our fishing resources and how we can create jobs and value in the region.”

He said there had been “positive dialogue” between Norway and Russia lately, and that’s important. The two countries have long had a “special relationship,” even during the Cold War years, with many Norwegians especially in Finnmark eternally grateful that Russian troops from the former Soviet Army liberated Finnmark in late 1944 by pushing German occupiers out of the area. The Soviet troops later retreated and the two countries generally have been “good neighbours” for centuries.

“We just have to hope that Russia won’t head in a direction where there will be less openness than what we’ve experienced so far,” Brende said. “People-to-people cooperation, like that we’ve seen through investment and business activity over the border, is important to retain.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund

  • frenk

    Magic – I love it when countries find issues they can ‘co-operate’ on!

    • inquisitor

      When NATO isn’t following the US/Zbigniew Brzezinski agenda by running cover ops to create political unrest in Ukraine and threatening critical Russian military interests , you will find Russia can be most amicable.