A Russian prosecutor asked a Moscow court to sentence retired Norwegian border inspector Frode Berg to 14 years in prison as his speedy espionage trial wrapped up on Tuesday. Berg stands accused of spying for Norway but claims he was merely an unwitting courier.
He’s already been languishing in one of Russia’s most high-security prisons since December 2017, when he was arrested during what he claimed was a pre-Christmas holiday visit to Moscow. He was found to be carrying EUR 3,000 in cash and later charged with espionage.
Berg has claimed all along that he thinks he was duped into being a courier for Norwegian intelligence agency E-tjenesten, which since has come under harsh criticism over its recruiting methods and for allegedly “casting (Berg) to the wolves.”
Berg’s Russian defense attorney Ilja Novikov told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that he thinks the court will settle on a prison term of “between eight and 14 years” if Berg is, as expected, found guilty. No reporters are allowed in the courtroom on Tuesday but Novikov said Berg had taken the prosecutor’s requested sentence in stride.
A verdict is expected next week. As Berg’s trial proceeded in Moscow, meanwhile, Prime Minister Erna Solberg was starting her first visit to Russia in five years, by attending an Arctic forum in St Petersburg and meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. She’s under pressure to bring up Berg’s situation with Putin and initiate either a prisoner exchange, a request for a presidential pardon or some other agreement that would allow Berg to be sent home to Kirkenes in Northern Norway or serve his sentence in a Norwegian prison.
‘I hope to see him back in Norway’
Solberg remained mostly mum on Berg and his predicament during a morning briefing with Norwegian reporters in St Petersburg to cover her visit and meeting with Putin. She also has refused to comment on whether any negotiations have been going on with Russian officials or the criticism directed at E-tjenesten.
“In the Frode Berg case, there is only one thing that should be the most important goal, and that’s to look after his interests in the best possible manner,” Solberg told NRK. “I hope to see him back in Norway.”
She added, meanwhile, tht she hopes her visit to St Petersburg and meeting with Putin will result in “stronger cooperation with Russia in areas connected to the seas. We need support in the years ahead to clean up the oceans.”
She stressed that such cooperation won’t change Norwegian policy in areas where Norway and Russia don’t agree, and that Norway will continue to stand by its allies, not least those in NATO.
“At the same time we have always managed to have a bilateral relation to Russia, which involves the Arctic and the seas, and to get that up on the international agenda,” Solberg said.