Barents Euro-Arctic Council (BEAC)
Comment by the Information and Press Department on Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to Norway
On October 24−25, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will visit Kirkenes, Norway, at the invitation of Norwegian Foreign Minister Ine Marie Eriksen Soreide. The visit is timed to coincide with a landmark event: the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Northern Norway from Nazi occupation by the Red Army.
The foreign ministers will hold talks on October 25. The agenda includes the current status of the bilateral political dialogue, prospects for expanding trade and economic cooperation, as well as Russia’s economic and scientific presence on the Spitsbergen. A special focus will be given to security in the Far North.
The sides will exchange opinions as regards collaboration within regional cooperation formats, including the Arctic Council and the Barents Euro-Arctic Council, and will also exchange opinions on topical international matters.
The liberation of East Finnmark from Nazi occupation by Soviet forces in 1944 has intransient significance for Russian-Norwegian relations. The nationwide scale of events in Kirkenes is underscored by the fact that King Harald V of Norway and Prime Minister Erna Solberg will be taking part in them. This also reaffirms the sincere feelings that Russians and Norwegians share when it comes to this event, and the unshakeable nature of our common historical memory, which is not affected by time-serving political considerations.
Commander of the Russian Navy’s Northern Fleet Vice Admiral Alexander Moiseyev will also take part in the celebrations at the invitation of the Norwegian side. The programme includes a joint performance of the Northern Fleet choir and the Staff Band of the Norwegian Armed Forces.
The people of Norway cherish the memory of the Red Army soldiers who liberated them. Soviet military burial sites are kept in perfect order, and painstaking work is underway to identify the victims of Nazi concentration camps who perished in Norway during the war.
During his stay in Kirkenes, Sergey Lavrov will take part in an official ceremony of laying wreaths at a monument to Soviet soldiers-liberators and a monument to wartime mothers. King Harald V of Norway, Prime Minister Erna Solberg and Foreign Minister Ine Marie Eriksen Soreide will take part in the event. Sergey Lavrov will meet with Russian and Norwegian veterans of World War II. The minister will also take part in the opening of an exhibition dedicated to the 70th anniversary of the 1949 Treaty between the Government of the USSR and the Government of Norway on the Soviet-Norwegian Border Regime and the Procedure for Resolving Border Conflicts and Incidents. The Norwegian side will receive copies of several archival documents.
Relations between Russia and Norway have always been constructive and based on mutual understanding. However, their progressive development was suspended after Oslo joined the anti-Russia sanctions of Brussels and Washington in 2014 and initiated the curtailment of cooperation in several areas. At present, they can be described as unstable.
Bilateral political dialogue has been recently revitalised at the top level. On April 9 of this year, President of Russia Vladimir Putin met with Prime Minister of Norway Erna Solberg on the sidelines of the Arctic: Territory of Dialogue forum held in St Petersburg. It was the first contact at such a high level since 2010.
In October 2018, Prime Minister of Russia Dmitry Medvedev met with Prime Minister Erna Solberg during the Asia-Europe (ASEM) Summit held in Brussels. It was the first such high-level meeting in years.
The two countries’ foreign ministries maintain dialogue and are implementing a cooperation plan for 2019−2020.
The Norwegian-Russian Intergovernmental Commission for Economic, Industrial, Scientific and Technical Cooperation resumed its operation in 2017. The commission is co-chaired by Russian Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Dmitry Kobylkin and Norwegian Minister of Trade and Industry Torbjorn Roe Isaksen. The previous, 18th meeting of the commission was held in Oslo on October 25, 2018; the next meeting has been scheduled for early 2020. Working groups on shipbuilding and tourism plus on interregional and cross-border cooperation operate between the commission’s meetings.
Industry-specific cooperation agencies maintain stable ties. In 2019, the sides held meetings of the commissions on cooperation in the field of fishing, nuclear and radiation safety, as well as environmental protection.
However, there are several problems that are hampering Russian-Norwegian relations.
Norway’s policy of “appeasing and containing” Russia has been complemented with enhanced military development. NATO allies are using Norway’s territory increasingly more often. The Norwegian authorities have actually abandoned its commitment to the principle of non-deployment of foreign troops in the national territory in peacetime. More and more military exercises and drills are being held ever closer to Russia’s land and sea borders.
Norway is increasing its military budget and its defence spending per capita is now the largest in Europe and the second largest among NATO countries. Norway is modernising its military infrastructure and buying modern weapons. Its military development plans are obviously spearheaded against Russia.
This is certainly something that is alarming. At their meeting in Kirkenes, the ministers will hold an in-depth discussion on this topic. We hope that the Norwegian side will provide arguments explaining its active military preparations on Russia’s borders.
Norway’s decision to join the anti-Russia EU sanctions had a negative impact on bilateral trade, which decreased by 33.3 percent between 2014 and 2017. Russia’s response measures terminated fish and seafood imports from Norway.
The situation slightly improved in 2018 and 2019. Bilateral trade increased to $1.6 billion in 2018 and to $2.4 billion between January and August 2019. However, this falls short of the two countries’ potential.
Norway’s support for the sanctions regime is hindering the implementation of several projects in the field of energy, primarily on the Russian Arctic shelf, as well as fishing. Bilateral investment cooperation is slackening, with Norwegian companies sustaining billion-dollar losses.
In the context of Sergey Lavrov’s visit to Kirkenes, a town located in a region bordering on Russia, we should mention inter-regional and border ties. The two countries’ interaction in this area has always been marked by diversity, pragmatism, and a determination to implement projects in the interest of the border areas’ residents. Efforts are in progress to put into practice the Plan of Actions to Intensify Russian-Norwegian Inter-Regional and Border Cooperation for 2018−2022, which includes joint transport, emergency prevention, fishing, tourism, educational and cultural projects. On October 17−18, Nikel, Russia, hosted the 9th Days of Russian-Norwegian Border Cooperation.
In 2018, 254,900 crossings of the Russian-Norwegian border were recorded, and 265,200 crossings in 2017. The record high was reached in 2013, with over 320,000 crossings.
Cultural cooperation has intensified. From February to April, 2019, Oslo hosted a highly successful exhibition of art objects from the collection of the Tretyakov Gallery. From April to July, 2019, Moscow hosted an exhibition of works by the Norwegian painter Edvard Munch.
The Svalbard issue remains a priority for Russia on the bilateral agenda. Russia has long-term plans to strengthen, diversify and upgrade its economic activities on the Svalbard archipelago. We seek to organise interaction with the Norwegian side on the archipelago based on constructive dialogue and address problems arising from Russia’s business operations and research in the same manner. In this context, the Russian side proceeds from the assumption that Norway should perform, strictly and in full, its international legal obligations outlined in the 1920 Treaty, which will be 100 years old next year.
Russia and Norway have had good interaction on Arctic issues, both bilateral and in the regional formats, and its dynamics must be maintained.
We have a vested interest in preserving the Arctic as a territory of peace, stability and constructive interaction. We are committed to the further strengthening of international cooperation in the region, which should remain depoliticised and oriented to the attainment of concrete practical results. We proceed from the assumption that our Norwegian neighbours hold similar positions.
We hope to further strengthen cooperation with Norway at the Barents Euro-Arctic Council (BEAC) during its chairmanship of the organisation in 2019−2021. The Norwegian Chairmanship’s priorities – healthcare, contacts between people, sustainable development skills, and more – are consonant with Russia’s interests. It is important to persist with joint efforts in the main areas of the BEAC’s activities: modernisation of transport and logistic infrastructure, environmental protection, the fight against climate change, joint emergency response and support for indigenous ethnic groups.