On the very day that alarming reports were emerging that Russian soldiers were invading Ukraine, the Norwegian government announced that Foreign Minister Børge Brende would be meeting his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, in Norway in October. Russian officials denied an invasion was underway.
Reports Thursday afternoon that Russian tanks were rolling into Ukraine, despite Russian President Vladimir Putin’s statements that he’d refrain from more military intervention in the neighboring country, raised immediate questions over the planned meeting between Brende and Lavrov.
A senior researcher for foreign policy institute NUPI in Oslo, however, called the meeting “a welcome opportunity” to try to build on the special relationship that Norway and Russia have had for decades, even during the Cold War.
The meeting, set for October 25 in the northern Norwegian city of Kirkenes, is meant to mark the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Finnmark (Norway’s northernmost county) from Nazi German forces during World War II. Russia’s assistance when its Red Army troops crossed the border into Norway just east of Kirkenes played a critical role in pushing the Germans out of Finnmark months before the war actually ended in April, even though the retreating Nazis left the area as a burned wasteland.
Now, seven decades later, Russian troops reportedly are crossing another border, to Ukraine, in a move strongly opposed by the European Union, the US and other western allies including Norway. The foreign ministry announced later on Thursday that Norway’s foreign minister will also travel to Kiev on Monday along with his fellow government minster in charge of European issues, Vidar Helgesen, to show Norway’s support for Ukraine.
Meanwhile, Norway is trying to maintain good relations with Russia despite the tensions created by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent aggression, Russia’s decision to boycott all Norwegian seafood imports and Norway’s decision to adopt the sanctions against Russia put in place by the US and EU. News bureau NTB and state broadcaster NRK reported that Norway’s foreign ministry and Russia’s embassy in Oslo confirmed the planned meeting between Brende and Lavrov Thursday afternoon.
Julie Wilhelmsen, senior researcher at NUPI, welcomed the meeting, especially in light of all the current tension and hopes it move forward. “We can all think what we will about how Russia is behaving internationally, but it’s never a good thing to not speak face to face,” Wilhelmsen told NTB. Nor, she added, is it good “to have such different impressions of the situation as we have now.”