The Russian government yesterday ordered two Norwegian diplomats to leave Russia by March 20. The expulsions, announced by Russia’s Foreign Ministry, are retaliation for Norway’s decision last week to declare five Russian diplomats persona non grata. (See Monitor, March 13, 16) Russian authorities had said at the time that they reserved the right to respond in kind to Oslo’s action. The Norwegians expelled yesterday — one a councilor at the Norwegian embassy in Moscow, the other a consul at Norway’s consulate in Murmansk — were accused of activities "incompatible with their status" as diplomats. The language is diplomatic shorthand for spying. Norway’s Foreign Ministry in Oslo said yesterday it would, for the time being, reserve comment on Russia’s action.
Unnamed sources in Russia’s special services were quoted on March 16 as saying that Norwegian counterintelligence had recently tried — without success — to recruit a member of Russia’s embassy staff. The Russian sources intimated that Norway may have declared the five Russian diplomats persona non grata in order to cover up the recruitment failure. A spokesman for Russia’s Federal Security Service suggested, also on March 16, that Norway’s action against the Russian diplomats was linked to a criminal case conducted over the past year by Norwegian authorities against Valery Petrenko, a Russian sea-captain. (Ekho Moskvy, Russian agencies, March 16) Various groups in Russia accused Norway of abusing Petrenko’s rights. Also heard were claims by the Russian side that Norway had tried to get classified information from Petrenko — a former naval officer — in exchange for granting him his freedom. Petrenko was convicted last month on drug smuggling charges, but was released after spending nearly a year in custody during the investigation. (AP, February 22)
Russian Foreign Minister in Belgrade.