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Saturday, April 13, 2024

Norway waits for Russian response

Norway’s embassy in Moscow expects that several of its diplomats will soon be sent home, in retaliation for last week’s decision by the Norwegian government to expel 15 Russian diplomats in Oslo for alleged spying. The expulsions reduced the Russian espionage threat in Norway, but didn’t remove it.

The Norwegian Embassy in Moscow still hasn’t heard anything from Russian officials expected to retaliate for Norway’s expulsions of 15 Russians believed to be spies posing as diplomats in Oslo. PHOTO: Wikipedia

Russia had around 40 diplomats stationed in Norway until Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt effectively cancelled the credentials of nearly half. The move was welcomed by counter-espionage officials at PST (Politiets sikkerhetstjeneste), Norway’s own domestic intelligence agency.

PST believes the Russians are mostly keen to gain access to technology that’s become more difficult to obtain because of the sanctions against Russia following its invasion of Ukraine last year. PST’s Dag Røhjell claims that Norway “has a lot of good technology and knowledge” and stresses that Norway’s petroleum and defense sectors are of the most interest to the Russians.

“It has to do with what Norway contributes to Ukraine’s defense capability and Norway’s energy supplies to Europe,” Røhjell said at a press conference following the Russian expulsions. Inger Haugland, who leads counter-espionage efforts at PST, said that Russian spies posing as diplomats have tried to purchase advanced underwater technology while on assignment for Russia’s own military intelligence agency GRU.

“They’re willing to take bigger chances” since the invasion of Russia, Haugland said. She wouldn’t say how long PST tracked the 15 Russians now being sent home.

Norwegian officials expect the Russians to respond in kind, leaving 15 of the 22 Norwegian diplomats working in Russia vulnerable to expulsion as well. It’s important for Norway to maintain some form of dialogue with Russia, note researchers and commentators, but that’s likely to become more difficult.

Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) identified four of the 15 Russians expelled (external link to NRK, in Norwegian), in cooperation with Swedish, Danish and Finnish media. They ranged in age from 35 to 53, were all based at the Russian Embassy in oslo and attached to GRU. Haugland believes there are still more Russian agents in Norway, perhaps around five. Officials at the Russian Embassy insist all working there are engaged in “routine diplomatic work.”

That’s included attendance at various conferences and seminars, from the annual political gathering known as Arendalsuka to the major oil industry conference held in Stavanger called Offshore Northern Seas (ONS). Russia’s ambassador to Norway was among those seen in the audience last year.

PST thinks Norway’s Arctic areas top the list of what interests the Russians the most in Norway. That includes Norwegian surveillance of the Barents Sea on behalf of the US and Norway’s administration of Svalbard.

The Russians are also believed to target information regarding Norway’s plans for ongoing military support for Ukraine, the expansion of NATO, Norway’s large oil, gas and electricity sectors, how Norway handles crises and Norwegian technology.

NewsinEnglish.no/Nina Berglund

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