The Norwegian government yesterday announced that five Russian diplomats have been declared persona non grata. Two of the five are now in Norway and have been ordered to leave the country by Sunday. The three others are currently in Russia. Norwegian government officials also announced yesterday that, because of the incident, Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik has canceled plans to visit Moscow next week. Russian Foreign Ministry officials in Moscow reportedly expressed surprise over the actions by Oslo. They did not rule out expelling Norwegian diplomats from Russia in retaliation.
Although few details were available to explain the expulsion, Norway’s Justice Minister described the incident as the most serious of its kind between Oslo and Moscow since the 1980s. He accused the five Russian diplomats of having participated in efforts to recruit Norwegian citizens for Russia, and said that their espionage activities were aimed at political circles in Norway. (UPI, Itar-Tass, March 12)
While generally friendly, relations between Russia and Norway — a NATO member — have not been entirely free of friction in recent years. In addition to differing on the Western Alliance’s enlargement plans, tensions between the two countries have been evident with regard to the dangers posed by the nuclear pollution of Russia’s decaying Northern Fleet. Norway has contributed to some joint clean-up efforts on and around the Kola Peninsula, where the fleet is based. Tensions have been exacerbated, however, by the Russian authorities’ treatment of Aleksandr Nikitin. Nikitin is a former Soviet navy captain who participated in a Norwegian study on the fleet’s harmful nuclear legacy. He underwent a long imprisonment on charges of treason for his work on the study and his case has been much publicized by human rights activists in Russia, Norway and elsewhere. (See Monitor, September 30, 1997)
More recently, the two countries have clashed over the detention by Norwegian authorities of a Russian sea captain, named Valery Petrenko, who was ultimately convicted by a Norwegian court of drug smuggling. Various groups in Russia claimed to be outraged by the treatment that Petrenko received in Norway, and Russia’s Foreign Ministry has inquired officially into the case.
Moscow Will Play no Intermediary Role in Kosovo Crisis.