Smooth sailing for Norway and Russia

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Relations seem better than ever between Norway and Russia, following a few recent conflicts over salmon imports, human rights, business trouble for Telenor and Russian fighter jets buzzing the coast. Now the two countries seem to think it’s in both their interests to promote peace and harmony, and not only in the northern areas they share.

Norway has been taking part in Pomor exercises for years, like this one in 1994, but this year's naval exercise with Russia was considered especially important. PHOTO: Forsvaret

Last year’s historic agreement on the borderline between Russian and Norwegian territory in the Barents Sea has been followed by agreements on visa liberalization along the border shared by Russia and Norway on land and several “feel good” sessions between Russian and Norwegian government officials. Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre, who has stressed the importance of what he calls “the northern areas” during his six years in his post, could smile from ear to ear earlier this year and claim that ties between Norway and Russia have never been so good.

During the past week, the Norwegian and Russian navies have carried out joint military exercises in Arctic waters, as so-called Pomor 2011 took place in the Barents Sea. The 10-day-long exercise started in the naval city of Severodvinsk outside Murmansk on May 7 and concluded with Russian crews invited to participate in Norway’s Constitution Day festivities in Tromsø on the 17th of May.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg have met fairly often during the past year. This photo was from Medvedev's state visit to Norway last year. PHOTO: Statsministerenskontor

Before that, the Russian destroyer Viseadmiral Kulakov and the Norwegian frigate KNM Helge Ingstad followed each other closely through the Barents, reports news bureau NTB. The vessels had support from both Norwegian and Russian fighter jets and maritime patrols, as they practiced joint search and rescue missions.

It all amounted to one of the most successful joint military exercises in recent memory. “The last two to three years have been like a fairy tale, regarding the military cooperation with Russia,” Norwegian Commander Lars Saunes told NTB. “We have clarified borders and resources. Through these exercises we’ve had tight contact and become good friends and colleagues who rely on one another.”

While the tight cooperation between Norway and Russia still makes some other governments nervous, Norwegian officials think it’s important and want to nurture it. On Thursday, Russian Admiral Nikolay Maksimov was even invited to a meeting with King Harald at the Royal Palace in Oslo, where the two men and Norway’s defense chief Harald Sunde discussed further cooperation. Maksimov was also given a tour of Oslo, with visits to Norway’s historic ships on Bygdøy and the new Holmenkollen Ski Jump, reported newspaper Aftenposten.

“We are very much satisfied with the marine exercise Pomor, and we look forward to tighter cooperation with the Norwegian military,” Maksimov told Aftenposten. He said they pointed up some deficiencies, for example in communication between both countries’ search and rescue centers, “but they will not be addressed.” Maksimov also said he now wants add submarines to the next Pomor naval exercise and to encourage additional joint exercises between the Russian and Norwegian armies and air forces.

The Pomor exercise that just ended is part of long-term relation-building on both sides. Russian and Norwegian military officials also meet several times a year, as do the countries’ political leaders, not least since Russian President Dmity Medvedev state visit to Norway last year.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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