“Russia never has and never will conduct military aggressive actions or deploy forces that threaten Norwegian security. However, we are concerned about how NATO builds up its capacities, both in quantity and quality”, said Lavrov at a joint press conference with Norwegian Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide in Kirkenes last Friday.
Lavrov visited Kirkenes in relation to the 75th anniversary of the Soviet liberation of East Finnmark in October 1944. As the first town in Norway, Kirkenes could celebrate the conquering of German occupation forces on 25 October, 1944.
The anniversary was commemorated for days in Kirkenes, and both the Norwegian and the Russian foreign ministers mentioned the fact that it was Soviet forces that liberated this part of Norway 75 years ago.
Clear message from Moscow
However, the message from Moscow was very clear; Norway’s building up its own defense as well as deploying of allied forces on Norwegian territory creates a “security concern in the Arctic”.
“We have expressed worries that NATO is pushing its border towards the east. There is modernizing of runways and ports in order to receive nuclear-fueled submarines”, Lavrov says.
Norwegian Foreign Minister Søreide emphasized that Norway’s defense policy position has remained the same since 1949 and that nothing has changed over the past few years.
“This should not surprise Russia. We do not have foreign bases in Norway, just as has been our practice since we joined NATO in 1949. We do not consider Russia a military threat; however, we are worried about the rearmament taking place on the Russian side”, Søreide said.
When asked by Russian newspaper Kommersant whether Russia was happy with the response from Søreide about Norwegian base policy, Lavrov responded:
“When we discuss these matters, we do not chase fully satisfying answers. Through a human lifetime, one is never fully satisfied”, Lavrov said and added:
“The Norwegian Foreign Minister has her arguments when it comes to Norway’s obligations within NATO, however, she also confirmed the Norwegian base policy. That is a reply with which we are satisfied. We are also satisfied that Norway does not consider Russia a threat”, Lavrov said.
We are also satisfied that Norway does not consider Russia a threat
Russian authorities had prepared Foreign Minister Lavrov’s visit to Kirkenes well. Several media have reported about what Moscow argues is a disturbing development of Norwegian foreign policy.
In an op-ed in Norwegian daily Aftenposten last Wednesday, Russian authorities expressed “deep concerns” over increasingly “active military preparations” in Russia’s immediate neighborhood. Between the lines: The building up of Norwegian defense in the High North, including American soldiers being deployed on a rotational basis at Værnes and Setermoen, is noted with grave skepticism by Moscow.
Only hours before Lavrov landed in Kirkenes late Thursday night, the Russian Embassy in Oslo reported on Facebook that a series of issues impede Norwegian-Russian relations: “Norwegian authorities have abandoned the principle of not deploying foreign troops on Norwegian territory in times of peace”, the embassy wrote and argued that this is absolutely alarming.
Reuters also reported this week that Moscow argues that increased Norwegian defense budgets are aimed directly at Russia.
Søreide invited to return visit
Nevertheless, the tone at the joint press conference between the two foreign ministers was better than expected. Even though Norway and Russia still profoundly disagree about issues like the Ukraine and Syria, both Lavrov and Søreide stressed the policy areas that actually work.
Søreide also said the countries are to resume their human rights dialogue, and Lavrov took the opportunity to invite Søreide to a return visit to Russia next year.
Both countries pointed to the many political meetings that have taken place over the last year, amongst others Norwegian PM Solberg’s visit to the Arctic summit in St. Petersburg last April, where Solberg held bilateral talks with President Vladimir Putin.
Lavrov stressed that he is happy with how Norwegian authorities manage war history and argued that the events in Kirkenes last week were a good example to all of Europe.
This article was originally published in Norwegian and has been translated by HNN's Elisabeth Bergquist.