Spokesmen for Russia’s Foreign Ministry and the country’s intelligence services continued over the weekend to express bewilderment — and some outrage — over Oslo’s decision on March 12 to declare five Russian diplomats persona non grata. (See Monitor, March 13) The reaction in Russia appeared to be based on both the timing and the severity of Oslo’s action. The expulsion order came only days before Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik was to depart for a two-day official visit to Moscow. He has canceled the trip.
The diplomatic tone used by Norwegian authorities in explaining their actions, moreover, was a relatively harsh one. Rather than declaring offending diplomats persona non grata, governments will under such circumstances sometimes use a milder formulation — such as accusing them of "activities incompatible with diplomatic status" — to avoid damaging broader bilateral relations. (Reuter, March 15)
Apparently with such considerations in mind, Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov claimed on March 14 to be "at a loss" over the actions taken against the diplomats and, especially, the cancellation of Bondevik’s visit. "This is an improper way of doing things," he told Russian television. A Foreign Ministry statement likewise expressed concern over Norway’s actions and said that they "contradict the overall context of bilateral Norwegian-Russian relations," which it described as cooperative. A spokesman for Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service spoke in sharper terms. Yury Kobaladze called Norway’s actions a "recurrence of the Cold War" and charged that they were politically motivated. He also said that the manner in which Norway chose to handle the affair cannot but do damage to Russian-Norwegian relations. (Itar-Tass, March 13-14; Ekho Moskvy Radio, March 13)
Of the five Russian diplomats banned last week from Russian territory, three were already out of the country. The other two — identified as embassy counselor Yevgeny Serebryakov and attache Valery Koshkarev — departed for Russia yesterday with their wives. (Reuter, March 15)
Double Agent at Center of Scandal.