Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 138

The speaker of Russia’s upper house of parliament, together with a Foreign Ministry spokesman, criticized Norway on July 17 for actions taken against Russian boats fishing in waters near Bear Island in the Barents Sea. Federation Council Speaker Yegor Stroev called the expulsion of the Russian boats “a manifestation of a disgraceful attitude toward Russia.” He also politicized the issue, describing the expulsion as evidence of Russia’s declining international authority and claiming that “it is only possible to treat a weak state in such a way.”

Stroev’s remarks followed a Norwegian decision to close off the jointly fished waters near Bear Island in order to allow fishing stocks there to recover. A Russian trawler was seized by Norwegian authorities for fishing in the area, but was released without incident. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin nevertheless protested the seizure of the trawler and accused the Norwegians of speaking “in the language of ultimatums.” The two sides have reportedly agreed to convene joint consultations on preserving fish populations in the Barents Sea. (Russian agencies, July 17)

It has been a tumultuous year for Russian-Norwegian relations. On March 12, Oslo accused five Russian diplomats of spying and declared them persona non grata. The spy wrangle led to cancellation of an official visit to Russia by Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Bundevik that was to begin only days later. On March 17, Moscow hit back by ordering two Norwegian diplomats to leave Russia. The two sides then made efforts to step back from confrontation and to mend relations. (See the Monitor, March 13, 18-19) High-level visits were resumed, and in late May, the Norwegian king and queen visited Russia. Tensions have, nevertheless, sometimes surfaced between the two countries. Russia has expressed some irritation over NATO-related activities in Norway while Oslo has pressed Moscow to deal with the Russian Northern Fleet’s nuclear legacy before it can become an environmental disaster.