Two Norwegian government ministers are heading to Russia both this month and next, for some of their first meetings with their Russian counterparts since Russia’s controversial annexation of Crimea. That set off economic sanctions that have disrupted such high-level political cooperation.
Business and Trade Minister Monica Mæland of the Conservative Party will travel to Moscow to meet next month with Russia’s minister in charge of natural resources and the environment, Sergej Donskoj. As reported earlier, Norwegian Foreign Minister Børge Brende will attend an Arctic conference in Arkhangelsk later this month, where he will meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergej Lavrov.
The meetings will take place just weeks after official relations between Norway and Russia hit a new low, after Russia refused to issue visas to two Members of Parliament and then complained that relations with Norway were “unsatisfactory.” Now there are signs of efforts at reconciliation.
“My impression is that we’re experiencing slow improvement of the ties between Norway and Russia,” Bård Vegar Solhjell, the MP from the Socialist Left party (SV) who was among those denied a visa to Russia, told newspaper Aftenposten. “I think that’s positive, because I think we should have more and closer dialogue also after the Ukraine crisis.”
Solhjell stressed, however, that the upcoming ministerial visits should in no way signal that the economic sanctions against Russia will be lifted. Aftenposten noted that even Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev told Russian reporters last week that Russia needs to recognize that the sanctions “will last longer.”
Frode Overland Andersen, a spokesman for Norway’s foreign ministry, told Aftenposten that it’s important for Norway “to take care of our own interests in the practical cooperation with Russia and at the same time be firm on the Rule of Law and defend important principles.” He denied there was any loosening of the sanctions, claiming that Norwegian officials “have been very clear that economic activity that isn’t covered by restrictive measures are legal and can continue. That includes Norway’s cooperation with Russia in several important fields, especially in the Far North.”
Russia has complained that Norway was being too “selective” in its relations with Russia but Norway has had similar complaints as well.