Prime Minister Erna Solberg’s staff and Norway’s foreign ministry were fending off reports in Ukraine this week that Norway had “frozen” all contact with Russia. That’s simply not true, claim Norwegian officials, blaming the reports on a mistaken translation of Solberg’s remarks during an interview while in Ukraine last week.
Solberg visited Ukraine directly after a trip to Poland, and arrived with lots of support for the Ukrainian government in terms of remarks and financial aid. In an interview with the major Ukrainian newspaper Zerkalo Nedeli, however, Solberg was also quoted as saying that Norway had “frozen” all political contact with Russia.
Since Zerkalo Nedeli is a well-regarded newspaper in Ukraine, its quotes attributed to Solberg were quickly picked up by other Ukrainian media and, reported Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK), spread to many websites, including one that has widespread readership in areas of the former Soviet Union.
Solberg’s comments on relations with Russia, though, were misinterpreted. Instead of being “frozen,” claim Solberg’s staff and Norwegian diplomats, Solberg merely said that contact on a political level between Norway and Russia had been considerably reduced and that bilateral military cooperation is “at ease.” It’s been temporarily suspended since tensions broke out following Russia’s highly contested annexation of Crimea.
Sigbjørn Aanes, a spokesman for the Office of the Prime Minister in Norway, told NRK that the translation they’d received of the Zerkalo Nedeli article was “both imprecise and lacking nuance.” He claimed that Norway’s position regarding Russia remains firm, with military cooperation on ice and political contact reduced.
Aanes and other Norwegian officials stressed that political contact with Russia is not “frozen” and never has been. “The Russians must hear what Norwegian authorities have actually said, and that Norway’s position has not changed,” Aanes told NRK.
Russia’s foreign minister Sergej Lavrov was, in fact, recently in Norway in connection with the 70th anniversary of the Soviet liberation of eastern Finnmark during World War II, and Lavrov met with Norwegian Foreign Minister Børge Brende. Aanes pointed out that several official Norwegian delegations were also in Moscow as late as last week.