One of Norway’s prime Russia experts, former Moscow Abassador Øyvind Nordsletten, in the podcast Helt på grensa [Borderline], published by the Barents Secretariat, gives the government three bullet point advice about what to do to continue Thorvald Stoltenberg’s intentions about a good dialogue with Russia:
- Lift visa requirement
- We should not require a visa for Norwegian citizens visiting Russia or the other way around. Being able to cross the border is an important people-to-people intitiative, he argues.
- Lift the sanctions
- Even though one can understand that they were introduced following Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula, dropping the sanctions would open up something quite new in Norwegian-Russian cooperation.
- More economic cooperation
- For instance when it comes to LNG production at Melkøya.
Nodsletten acknowledges that this is a ‘best case’ scenario. However, he uses large parts of the 45-minute podcast to promote Russian culture and Norwegian-Russian neighborly relations.
From bridge blower to bridge builder
Øyvind Nordsletten is a man to whom one should listen.
His first meeting with Russia was when he was a young private and officer at the Norwegian armed forces’ border post at Elvenes near Kirkenes, Norway. Later he became deputy commander at the same station, and his job was to patrol the border and – if necessary – blow up the bridge across the Pasvik River.
Fortunately, it was never necessary.
On the contrary, in fact. Nordsletten has dedicated most of his life to building bridges between the countries rather than blowing them up.
The key word is ‘respect’
- Norway is neighboring on the world’s biggest country, Russia. A powerful state with an large military capacity.
Finding ways of living together is in everyone’s best interest, Nordsletten argues.
- The Russians are people, just like us, however, they have a different culture and history – a whole different baggage. They key word, nevertheless, is ‘respect’, even though we do not see eye to eye about everything, he says in the podcast.
Following his time with the armed forces, where he learned Russian, he got at job at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Today he can boast more than 20 years of working as a diplomat in the Soviet Union and later Russia.
Nordsletten was Norway’s ambassador to Russia for eight years and finished his career as a Consul General in Murmansk in 2013.
Difficult balancing act
He describes the Norwegian armed forces as “a defense that cannot in any way appear offensive” to the Russians. Nordsletten does not believe that Norway constitutes a threat to the Russians.
However, when asked what he believes to be the most significant bilateral challenge for Norway, he points to the difficult balancing act between being a faithful and reliable part of the western community, including NATO, while also physically being a neighbor of Russia.
- I would nevertheless argue that the Norwegian government has a policy that balances these two considerations. And that is not always easy, as we have to adjust to what goes on in Russia on an on-going basis, he says.
- Translated to English by: Elisabeth Bergquist