Amid an overall strain on bilateral relations, caused by reciprocal buildups, military jet interceptions, and spying accusations, the Norwegian Labour party, which recently won an election and has yet to form a government, has signalled that it would welcome a warmer relationship with Russia.
High-ranking Norwegian and Russian military officials will meet today on 29 September in the Norwegian town of Kirkenes bordering Russia’s Murmansk Region on the Kola Peninsula, the first meeting of its kind in two years.
Lieutenant General Yngve Odlo, the head of the Norwegian Armed Forces operational headquarters (FOH), will meet Lieutenant General Stanislav Maslov, the head of the FSB’s border directorate.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made it demanding to hold physical meetings between the delegations, so this will be the first protocol meeting between the FOH and the FSB’s border directorate since October 2019, the Norwegian Armed Forces said in a statement.
The FOH emphasised that the discussions and conversations during previous visits have been perceived by the Norwegian side as constructive. Specific problems related to common challenges within border cooperation, rescue services and fisheries management will be discussed.
“There is still an agreement between the delegations that the challenges in the Barents Sea, the Norwegian Sea, and on the border must be solved through open communication channels and a continuation of the agreements entered into between Norway and Russia,” the press release stated.
Cooperation on the Norwegian-Russian border is based on the border agreement between them from 1949. “In other words, it is a historically well-established cooperation characterised by a good, open dialogue,” the Norwegian Armed Forces noted.
Unlike its neighbours such as Sweden, which over the centuries have fought numerous wars with Russia over northern territories and general influence in the Baltic Sea area, Norway has never been at war with Russia.
Nevertheless, Norwegian-Russian relations, which date back hundreds of years and are characterised by cooperation, from the Viking Age onward (including subsequent Pomor trade), have been strained by reciprocal buildups, military jet interceptions, spying accusations and an overall harsher rhetoric, undermining the decades-long partnership.
Norwegian media, politicians and military officials tend to portray Russia in an increasingly negative light as “assertive”, often with coupled with emphasis on perceived wrongdoings, fictitious threats, and Cold War-era rhetoric. A tell-tale example of the general tone is the fictional political thriller “Occupied” in which Norway faces an invasion from Russia, which was slammed for going against history, as it was the Red Army that liberated northern Norway from Nazi occupation in the late stages of World War II.
Earlier in September, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov noted that foreign brigades are stationed in Norway, despite laws that make the permanent presence of foreign armed forces illegal. Lavrov emphasised that Russia is open to equal, honest and mutually beneficial cooperation with Norway and did not provide any reasons to cool down bilateral relations, citing the 2010 agreement on the delimitation of space in the Barents Sea.
However, the Labour party, which won the recent Norwegian election, voiced hopes for a warmer relationship with Russia.