Maybe We Should Stop Nagging About Lack of Contact Between Norway and Russia?

Foreign Ministers Ine Eriksen Søreide, Norway (right) and Sergey Lavrov, Russia (left) held a joint press conference in Kirkenes Friday. Photo: Arne O. Holm

Kirkenes: For the fourth time in less than a year, foreign ministers Ine Eriksen Søreide and Sergey Lavrov met for political talks today. Perhaps it is time to put aside the constant nagging about lacking political dialogue between Russia and Norway.

It is neither true nor descriptive of the political development between the two countries since the Russian annexation of the Crimea in 2014.

Norway has not changed its principal view on public international law, though it is easy to realize that there is a long political distance between the message presented by then-foreign minister Børge Brende in Kirkenes in 2015, and the overall tone in today’s conversations between the two countries’ leaders.

From rhetoric to results

That is inherent in this case. In 2015, the situation in the Ukraine was fresh and complex, and Børge Brende was a rather new foreign minister without extensive knowledge of the close relations between inhabitants of East Finnmark and Northwest Russia.

The question is nevertheless a question about how far the distance is from softer rhetoric to genuine political results.

Friday’s bilateral press conference between Norway’s Foreign Minister, Ine Eriksen Søreide, and her Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov provided us with quite a few answers.

Like letting us know that Norway and Russia resume hitherto shelved conversations about human rights.

The Arctic Council

Like Serge Lavrov who, after first establishing a distance to what he describes as threatening security policies from NATO and Norway, nevertheless concluded that he is satisfied with Søreide’s assurances that the Norwegian base policy remains firm.

Or a joint desire to strengthen and develop cooperation in the Arctic Council and the Barents Region.

That there has been, according to Foreign Minister Søreide, a positive dialogue around the challenges with Russian GPS jamming in the High North.

And to stress dialogue and “good neighborly relations”, Lavrov invited Ine Eriksen Søreide to Russia next year, “at her convenience”.

Little take-aways

All this represents little take-aways from a smorgasbord that also has come to include hot dishes.

It is also true that the fronts remain sharp when it comes to analyses of the militarization in the High North. For all practical purposes that also applies to the real core of the problem; the Ukraine issue, which Sergey Lavrov this time spent a lot of time addressing.

This time though, I nevertheless chose to emphasize the small, but important steps of progress that lie in the fact that the top political leadership in Norway and Russia continue bilateral talks.

Only through dialogue can changes be achieved. That applies to politics too.


This op-ed was originally published in Norwegian and has been translated by HNN's Elisabeth Bergquist.