UPDATED: Norwegian Foreign Minister Børge Brende claimed on Thursday that he’d had “a useful conversation” with his Russian counterpart, Sergej Lavrov, at the G20 summit in Bonn. On Friday, the Russian Embassy in Oslo sent out a very different message, claiming in a “comment” published on social media that Russia’s “bilateral relation” with Norway is “unsatisfactory” and “not in accordance with Norwegian long-term interests.” Prime Minister Erna Solberg later dismissed the political broadside as “propaganda.”
In a lengthy statement, which includes a challenging translation that blends English and Norwegian, the embassy claimed that neither was Russia well-served by relations that Norwegian officials allegedly have already branded as “troubled.” The embassy complained that Brende’s statements about how Norway and Russia work well together on some issues, including many in the Northern Areas and Arctic, but not on others are “not coherent.”
The embassy also accused “our Norwegian partners” of using “false and disconnected anti-Russian rhetoric.” The statement claimed that Norwegian officials have been “ignoring our interests,” and that their position “stands in motstrid (contrast) to the needs to create a climate … necessary to promote a positive agenda in all Stuff.”
More to relations than fishing and border cooperation
The embassy claimed that Russia’s relations with Norway can’t simply rest on longtime cooperation in areas like those often referred to both by government officials and many residents of Northern Norway who want to remain friends with their Russian neighbours. Those areas include fisheries and fishing rights in the Barents, environmental protection, border cooperation, radiation security and search and rescue missions.
Russia, according to the unidentified embassy officials who posted the statement on social media, has “repeatedly made attempts to get rid of the legacy of the ‘cold war.'” It indicated it would not “force” partnerships, but “strongly disagrees” with the “proposition” that relations should have “suddenly changed because of Russia in 2014.” That was an apparent reference to when Russia annexed Crimea and intervened in Ukraine. That ongoing intervention and occupation of Crimea has led to Norway going along with the economic sanctions imposed against Russia by the EU and the US. That in turn led to relations souring between Russia and Norway, and more tension between Russia and NATO, of which Norway is a founding member.
The embassy also referred to “the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 199, the invastion of Iraq in 2003, the encourage of Georgia’s ‘military adventure’ in 2008, the attacks against Libya in 2011 and the systematic support to ‘Russ-ophobes’ and nationalists in Ukraine” as a “battle” against “the entire international system.” The statement goes on to offer its version of “a coup in Kiev in February 2014 conducted with the support of radical nationalists” that “got active membership from the United States and other countries in NATO (including Norway) and the EU.” In Russia’s view, an agreement made between Ukraine’s “legitimate government” at the time was “broken,” leading to “armed confrontation in eastern Ukraine.” The sanctions against Russia that followed are, in Russia’s view, “baseless from a legal standpoint.” Russia, according to the statement, hasn’t sent troops into the Ukraine, and isn’t party to the Minsk agreement.
Offended by local reports of the ‘Russian threat’
The Russian Embassy also complained about a recent stream of concerns expressed by Norwegian officials and reported in local media about Russia’s alleged interference in US elections, fears Russia will interfere in upcoming European elections and Norway’s own national elections, Norwegian intelligence claims that hackers tied to Russia’s own intelligence service have hacked Norwegian political parties and state institutions, and even that Russian agents allegedly have tried to steal Norwegian secrets and influence the Norwegian Nobel Committe. The concerns and reports “are very sad,” according to the statement, and aimed at “scaring Norway’s population” about a “mythical Russian threat.” Russia, it read, has “consistently” had “respect for sovereignty and for the rights of “locals to decide (their) own destiny.”
The statement also contained a lengthy portion in response to the recent visa flap between Norway and Russia, which prompted Norwegian Foregn Minister Brende to issue his own sharpest complaint so far against Russian authorities. Russia’s decision to deny visas to two Members of Parliament led a parliamentary committee to cancel a scheduled visit to Moscow, which Russia later regretted. The Russian Embassy in Oslo defended the visa denials to MP’s Trine Skei Grande and Bård Vegar Solhjell, though, as a response to the sanctions and Norway’s refusal to allow Russian officials on the sanctions list to visit either Norway or Svalbard.
Now the embassy claims that Russia’s ambassador to Norway was not “called in on the carpet” over the visa conflict but rather already had had several meetings with senior officials at Norway’s foreign ministry including the top administrative leader Wegger Christian Strommen, “where the parties over a glass of wine discussed the current situation” on the evening of February 1 at the govenrment guest house.
Apparently the wine didn’t help:
The Russian Embassy made it clear that neither Grande nor Solhjell will be issued visas as long as the sanctions are in place. They reported on Friday that the visa denials were directly linked to Norway’s refusal to issue a visa to Russian official Sergey E Naryshkin to attend a conference in Norway in September 2014 because he’s on the sanctions list. Naryshkin even had a “personal invitation,” claimed the embassy. “No one must have any illusions,” the statement read, that the ambassador was in any “charitable” mood while meeting with Strømmen.
The embassy concluded by saying that the invitation to the Norwegian parliamentary committee stands and that the ball was now in Norway’s court. It’s unlikely the committee will travel without Grande and Solhjell.
Frode Overland Andersen, communications chief for Norway’s foreign ministry, responded to Friday’s “comment” from the Russian Embassy by saying that it brought up “several well-known viewpoints” regarding European security policy and NATO. He told Norwegian Broacasting (NRK) that both Norway’s and Europe’s positions on what they consider Russia’s violations of the rule of law in Ukraine are also well-known to the Russians and have been repeatedly communicated.
“We stress constructive and predictable bilateral cooperation with Russian authorities on matters of common interest,” Andersen told NRK. He attempted to downplay the Russian statement on Friday, saying conversations between Norway and Russia are ongoing at both the political level and high adminstrative level. More meetings are planned between ministers this spring.
Andersen said Foreign Minister Brende has also decided to visit Arkhangelsk in Russia next month, to attend an Arctic conference, and had told that to Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov on Thursday. Brende told NRK, meanwhile, that he and Lavrov had discussed cooperation in the Arctic, and that both Norway and Russia viewed such cooperation as important.
Prime Minister Erna Solberg, informed of the harsh Russian criticism of Norway while attending the Munich Security Conference on Friday, seemed to be taking it in stride. “This is an example of Russian propaganda that often comes when there’a a focus on security policy,” Solberg told news bureau NTB. “There is nothing in this that’s new to us.” She indicated that Norway had no intention of pulling out of the sanctions against Russia: “We go along with the other countries. This will only have an effect if we do this together.”