No smiles now as Russia bans imports

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Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who was all smiles in cooperating with Norway just last year, is now punishing its northern neighbour along with many other western nations for sanctions that Norway hasn’t yet formally adopted. Medvedev announced Thursday that Russia will block imports of fruit, vegetables, meat, fish and dairy products from Norway, the US, the EU, Australia and Canada.

Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg (right) and Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev are said to have generally good relations, The sunny weather they enjoyed when meeting on Monday turned into rain and wind on Tuesday, but they continued bilateral talks after the Barents Summit with a planned boat ride on a research vessel, review of search and rescue operations and then a "working lunch" and wreath-laying at the Russian War Memorial outside Kirkenes. Their meeting was to end at the Russian-Norwegian border crossing late Tuesday afternoon. PHOTO: Utenriksdepartementet

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev (left) and former Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg were all smiles when shaking hands at the two countries’ shared border east of Kirkenes last summer. Now Medvedev is including Norway in a ban on food imports, in retaliation for looming sanctions against Russia because of its military intervention in Ukraine. Stoltenberg, meanwhile, is about to take over as head of NATO. PHOTO: Utenriksdepartementet

The import ban reportedly is set to take effect immediately and last for one year. Russia is one of Norway’s biggest export markets for seafood, and share prices for Norwegian seafood producers plummeted on the Oslo Stock Exchange Thursday morning.

The value of Norwegian salmon exports alone was estimated at NOK 4.2 billion last year, according to the state fisheries ministry. Norway also exports a lot of mackerel, herring and cod to Russia, which is largely self-sufficient in fruit and vegetable production but fails to produce enough seafood to meet domestic demand.

Russia’s ban on seafood exports from Norway comes after the EU and US agreed to impose sanctions against Russia in response to Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine, its annexation of Crimea, its refusal to recognize Ukraine’s territorial integrity and its alleged support for Russian separatists and the resulting destabilization of Ukraine. Initial sanctions were directed at specific Russian and companies involved in the Ukraine conflict. Last week the EU and US hit harder after a Malaysian passenger jet was shot down over Ukraine in an attack widely believed to have been carried out by the Russian separatists.

Norway, which is not a member of the EU, has not yet formally gone along with the sanctions but is expected to do so. The growing conflict with Russia is especially difficult for Norway and poses a huge dilemma, because of a traditional “special relationship” between the two neighbouring countries. Norwegian politicians at both ends of the political spectrum are disappointed to see Russian President Vladimir Putin’s willingness to destroy the past 20 years of increasing cooperation with Norway and other western nations because of his desire to rebuild a powerful and bullish Russia and, it seems, a new form of an authoritarian Soviet Union.

Wire services reported from Russia that Medvedev, Russia’s former president with whom Norway has signed many key agreements in recent years, said Russia was forced to impose the import bans in response to the EU’s and US sanctions, and that the decision was “difficult.” Russia has tried to distance itself from the Malaysian jet crash tragedy, that killed hundreds of innocent victims, many of them Dutch. TIME magazine reported this week that Putin is playing a “dangerous game” by creating problems (such as the annexation of Ukraine) that only he can solve, and that he’s also trying to “divide and conquer” the EU and cause problems for relations between the EU and the US. Medvedev, now subordinate to Putin’s growing quest for power, has said Russia may also forbid US and European airlines from flying over Russian airspace, thereby severely disrupting traffic beween Europe and Asia.

Peter Ørebech, a professor at the University of Tromsø, claimed that Russia’s general import ban would violate its obligations as a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO). “You can try to regulate imports by imposing customs duties but you can’t block imports unless they pose a danger to people’s lives or health,” Ørebech told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). He said Norway can file a protest against Russia, and if it’s ignored, file a protest with the WTO. It may all end with Russia being excluded from the WTO. Berglund