Arkhangelsk: North Norwegian business and politics hope for a better relationship with Russia. They believe in a giant market on the other side of the border – and hope for political thaw. Following his meeting yesterday with his Russian colleague Sergej Lavrov, Norwegian Foreign Minister Børge Brende says it is important to strengthen the cooperation between Russia and Norway.
It has been three years since the Norwegian and the Russian foreign ministers met.
- Lavrov, just like I, makes a distinction between our bilateral relationship and the relationship with the EU and Europe, a relationship that has been difficult ever since the annexation of the Crimea. We agree that this is not first and foremost a bilateral relationship between Norway and Russia, and that it is important to strengthen our cooperation. Lavrov is happy that I am here now, and I think we manage this balance, Børge Brende says.
Disagreement about Svalbard
Børge Brende made no secret of there having been disagreements in the meeting between the two.
Sergej Lavrov amongst others raised the issue of Norwegian Svalbard policy, following the Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin's being denied access to Svalbard in 2015. The fact that Lavrov chose to raise this issue with Børge Brende goes to prove that Russia still disagrees with the Norwegian way of practicing the Svalbard Treaty.
When HNN asks about why Svalbard became an issue at the Norwegian-Russian summit, Børge Brende responds:
- It is not odd that Svalbard is mentioned. I met Deputy Prime Minister Rogozin earlier today. Russia has her view on that matter, though we are of the opinion that the same rules that apply on the mainland shall also apply on Svalbard. We have differing views on that. I argued our side, which is a view he knows from before.
High North theme
In the meeting, which lasted about an hour, a series of questions concerning the High North were raised, including the situation at the border-crossing station at Storskog, Norway, following the flow of refugees from Russia last year.
- We also agree on continuing our environmental cooperation and our nuclear security cooperation. We spoke also about the economic commission that is to meet for the first time in a long time, and about how we can increase the economic trade between our countries. Of course, that only applies within the context of the ongoing restrictions.
Børge Brende will not agree that this meeting signifies a softening of the sanctions.
- We discussed the respective starting points of the Russian and the Norwegian interests, and what we as neighbors have a joint interest in solving. We will just have to live with NATO and the EU disagreeing with Russia. Norway is a member of NATO and supports the EU.
Alone after the meeting
Børge Brende calls the meeting a good one.
- It was substantial and conducted in a friendly tone.
The Russian foreign minister did not want to meet the press together with Børge Brende after their meeting.
Before the meeting he nevertheless expressed that "it was good that Norway had finally come to its senses" and come to Russia.