Norway was ready to roll out the red carpet for Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Monday. Business cooperation and border issues in the Barents Sea topped the agenda for Medvedev’s two-day official visit.
Concerns continued that ash clouds from Iceland’s unpredictable volcano would disrupt Medvedev’s trip to Oslo. Like everyone else, the Russian president has had to alter his own schedule during the past several days, because of circumstances beyond his control.
On Monday morning, though, he was due to land in Oslo and get a literally royal welcome. He was invited to lunch at the Royal Palace at 1pm on Monday and then back for dinner at 8pm, along with a few hundred other officials for a gala state banquet.
On Tuesday Medvedev was scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg at 10am, with lunch at 12:30pm at the historic Akershus Fortress and Castle. Stoltenberg has met Medvedev on several occasions, including last year in Russia (photo above).
Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre would be along for all the official meetings in Oslo, with talks revolving around business and border issues. Norway and Russia have long tried to agree on where their northernmost border should run in the Barents Sea and Medvedev told newspaper Aftenposten that he’s confident a solution would be found.
“I think it’s absolutely possible to resolve the issue,” he told Aftenposten, adding that he’s been giving the issue some personal attention. He noted that Russia faces far more complicated border issues than the one involving Norway, and a new report was being readied for the Norwegians’ review.
Støre, who also has a personal interest in issues involving Norway’s northern areas, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that he also expects Medvedev and Norwegian officials to agree on a visa-free zone between Norway and Russia in the far north. That would allow around 40,000 Russians and 9,000 Norwegians to freely travel over the border between Russia and Sør-Varanger in the Norwegian county of Finnmark.
Støre said he hoped that the visa-free area would ultimately apply to everyone, so that the border would be as open as those Norway shares with other Nordic neighbours.
Talks between Medvedev and his staff and their Norwegian counterparts were also expected to dwell on the cooperation between Norway’s Statoil and Russia’s Gazprom regarding development of the vast Stockman gas field in the Barents. The project has been delayed and one oil industry expert told NRK Sunday evening that “it hangs by a very thin thread,” because demand for gas has declined and the project is expensive. It’s questionable whether it can be profitable.
Medvedev, however, told Aftenposten that “the right date” will be found to actually launch the project. Statoil has a 24 percent stake, Total of France 25 percent and Gazprom 51 percent in the development company.
One thorny issue in business relations between Norway and Russia finally has been resolved after Telenor and the Alfa Group of Russia ended years of legal disputes over control of mobile operator VimpelCom. Now the Norwegian and Russian interests are being pooled in a new company registered in Bermuda, based in the Netherlands and stocklisted in New York.
Medvedev, who’ll be traveling with his wife Svetlana, also promised that the Norwegians should face tougher competition from the Russians when they meet at the next Winter Olympics on Russian turf. “I can’t hide the fact that we weren’t especially satisfied with how our team did in Vancouver,” he told Aftenposten. “I really hope we’ll compete against the Norwegians with all possible strength.”