Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide in Russia: No Change in Norwegian Foreign Policy

Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and his Norwegian counterpart Ine Eriksen Søreide agreed on much in St. Petersburg, though their views on the NATO exercise Trident Juncture last fall diverged. In the middle; the Russian special advisor for Arctic issues Artur Chilingarov. (Photo: Jonas Sjøkvist Karlsbakk)

Foreign minister Ine Eriksen Søreide’s meeting with her Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in St. Petersburg Tuesday does not mark any change to Norwegian foreign policy. – We will still have our differences, however, at the same time it is important for us to cooperate on issues where we agree, says Søreide to High North News.

ST. PETERSBURG: The Foreign Minister has just spent an hour and a half on stage with Foreign Minister Lavrov when she meets with High North News.

- It was as expected, she says when asked to summarize the foreign policy summit.

Relationship not changed

Søreide stresses that “the basics of the relationship between Russia and Norway have not changed since the annexation of the Crimea in 2014 and up until today”.

- Not at all. However, nor have we stopped cooperating about the Arctic during this period. We have maintained that cooperation at all times, and we have also attended these conferences. We have continued all commission work, and last year as well as in 2017, we had 11 political meetings of the commissions. That is simply because that’s where we see the practical work go on, which serves both our and Russia’s interest, Søreide says.

On stage before a ram packed hall in St. Petersburg, the Chinese Deputy President Arkin Iambarki, Danish Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen and the Russian Special Envoy for Arctic Issues, Artur Tshilingarov also attended.

Arctic to remain peaceful

During the past couple of weeks, there have been signals that the USA will take a more active role in the Arctic, amongst others by sending marine vessels through the sea areas.

When asked whether this means increased armament in the polar seas, Sergey Lavrov commented as follows:

- We do nothing but secure our population. We do not threaten anyone in the Arctic. We will maintain and defend Russia’s security. There is not one single problem in the Arctic that requires military presence.

Both Lavrov and Søreide referred to the cooperation through the Arctic Council and the continued future significance of this in their remarks in the debate.

However, the bilateral cooperation between Norway and Russia was also a vital part of the Norwegian foreign minister’s message.

- The Arctic shall remain a peaceful region where international agreements and regulations are respected. Military cooperation between Norway and Russia was frozen following 2014, however, we maintain open liens between the two countries. We cooperate about the Coast Guard as well as search and rescue. We are fully capable of having a good and fruitful cooperation in the Arctic even if we disagree on other issues, Eriksen Søreide said.

Disagree about Trident Juncture

Sergey Lavrov criticized Norway and NATO based on the Trident Juncture military exercise in 2018.

- We are worried about the militarization of the Arctic. Trident Juncture was aggressive because it was aimed against Russia. However much NATO attempts something else, I am sure that peaceful solutions will work, Lavrov said.

Ine Eriksen Søreide responded by saying that “we follow the Russian military armament”.

- However, Russia knows the significance of our NATO membership and that is not about a bilateral Norwegian-Russian relationship or the relationship between Arctic states. Despite international tensions, we will use our influence to continue cooperation between Norway and Russia, Søreide said.