Leaders got down to business

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After a day of ceremony and smiles on Monday, Russia’s president and Norway’s prime minister were sitting down for political talks Tuesday morning. Norwegian officials insisted that human rights and environmental issues were on the agenda, as protestors took them up outdoors.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (left) and Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg also met on Monday, at a seminar on business cooperation between Russia and Norway. PHOTO: Statsministerskontor/Per Thrana

The first day of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s state visit was characterized by pageantry and royal pomp, from festive welcoming ceremonies at the Royal Palace to official tributes and optimistic speeches. On Tuesday, the tone was due to turn more serious as Medvedev and Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg met for a scheduled 90 minutes of talks beginning at 10am. 

By 8am, protesters were already demonstrating outside the Norwegian parliament and Amnesty International officials were complaining on national radio that the Norwegian government wasn’t being tough enough with the Russians on either human rights or environmental concerns.

A major human rights gathering is being held in Oslo this week, attracting activists from around the world, and Amnesty International thinks Norway should put more pressure on Russia to improve its record. They held appeals in front of the Norwegian Parliament, just across from the Grand Hotel where Medvedev was staying, drawing attention to the difficult and sometimes fatal situation facing their colleagues in Russia. Their banners claimed there was “no security for human rights” in Russia at present.

Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre was quick to defend the Norwegian government’s position and claimed he and his colleagues have brought up both human rights and environmental concerns with the Russians several times. Støre claimed Norway has indeed been “clear” in its message to Russia.

He said the issues are on the agenda, because “there’s reason for concern” when human rights workers don’t get visas to Russia, when journalists and lawyers are killed and when demonstrations are broken up by the authorities. 

Stoltenberg and Medvedev were expected to discuss a wide range of issues including border concerns in the far north, not least in the Barents Sea. Newspaper Aftenposten reported Tuesday morning, however, that there would be no agreement on a “visa-free zone” in Sør-Varanger and Nikel. Norwegian officials want residents on both sides of the border that Norway and Russia share to be able to move freely, but Russia’s security agency FSB reportedly has concerns about stateless residents of the area.

After meeting with Stoltenberg, Medvedev and government officials would attend a luncheon at the Akershus Fortress. The Russian president was traveling on to Denmark later in the afternoon.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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