Russia's Ambassador: - We want to restore natural neighbourly relations

Da utenriksministrene i Norge og Russland, Børge Brende og Sergei Lavrov, møttes tidligere i januar diskuterte de blant annet importrestriksjonene for pelagisk og hvitfisksektoren.
Russia sees several opportunities for cooperation with Norway; however, they are tired of Norway repeatedly condemning Russia’s actions in Ukraine. – Norway must stop talking to us through political slogans, says Ambassador Teimuraz Otarovich Ramishvili.

Russia sees several opportunities for cooperation with Norway; however, they are tired of Norway repeatedly condemning Russia’s actions in Ukraine. – Norway must stop talking to us through political slogans, says Ambassador Teimuraz Otarovich Ramishvili.

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- The political pressure on Russia must stop, and Norway must demonstrate political smartness and stop talking to us through political slogans, says Russia’s new Ambassador to Norway when High North News meets him at the embassy in Oslo.

The relationship between Russia and Norway has varied between cold and frozen following the Russian annexation of the Crimean peninsula, and sanctions – both ways – are still a bone of discontent between the two neighbors.

We have just asked the Ambassador about whether he believes it is possible to rekindle the dialogue, and what that potentially would require from both the Norwegian and the Russian side.

- The relationship must be based on mutual respect and dialogue, Ramishvili says. He is former Russian Ambassador to South Korea and Denmark.

The cool political climate has not only had consequences for the political and diplomatic contact between the two countries. It has also hampered the potential for economic cooperation.

- It is necessary to work for a diversification, and we must find new niches for cooperation, even in a time of sanctions, Ramishvili says.

Will renew the Russian fishing fleet

- We are lacking a positive atmosphere in the political relationship. Russia does nothing to spoil this relationship; on the contrary, we do the opposite. Nevertheless, we do not see constructive signs or signals as it is now, he states.

In the coming years, Russia will have a large need for renewing its fishing fleet.

The Russian side would very much like to cooperate with Norway in order to construct and build a series of new fishing vessels. Norway has advanced competences in this area, a fact the Russians have taken note of:

- Norway has expertise and professionality in this area, he says.

However, the Ambassador fears that there will not be any cooperation in this area, and that this will be added to the list of lost opportunities following «the economic relationship not being very optimistic for the past few years».

- It will therefore be important for me to travel to the various regions and cities to look at which opportunities of developing and promoting this that there may be.


Limited by Norway’s point of view

- There is a lack of banking and finance cooperation due to the sanctions, and because of the limited scope of the Norwegian economy it is not easy to find new areas of trade and cooperation. Both industries and services suffer limitations due to the sanctions introduced by the West, says Ramishvili.

The consequences have been graver for Norway than for Russia, he argues.

- There has been a significant reduction in trade, and in the 2013-2016 period Norwegian export to Russia has decreased 74.5 percent measured in Norwegian kroner, 82 percent if measured in US dollars, the Ambassador says.

If measured in Norwegian kroner (NOK), the numbers from the Embassy mean that the reduction has gone from 8.5 billion NOK  in 2013 to 2.1 billion NOK in 2016. Valued in US dollars (USD), the amount has sunk from 1.4 billion USD to 240 million USD.

- The bilateral relationship between Russia and Norway has been seriously tested, in light of Norway’s position related to the events in Ukraine, the Ambassador says.

Norway has consistently agreed to and prolonged all sanctions that the EU have agreed on towards Russia.


- The problems require attention

Many of the former channels for communications between Norway and Russia are «frozen», including communications in the military sector. There is also, in accordance with the halt in cooperation in other areas, also reduced communication between the various governmental organizations.

The Ambassador argues that it is now time to improve the atmosphere between our two countries.

- This depends primarily on Norway, he says.

Ramishvili thinks that the problems marring today’s relationship between Norway and Russia are mainly provident and of strategic significance. They require attention from both parties, he says.

- Our neighborliness will not disappear. It will always exist. Therefore, we need to see these themes in a strategic context.


Weary of political slogans

- Given the cool political relations during the past few years; are you an optimist with regard to the years ahead?

The Ambassador hesitates a little before responding:

- Based on the attitude of the Russian government I must say that I am fairly optimistic. Russia considers Norway a neighbor and a very close partner in many areas. Not only related to fisheries, which appears to be a permanent slogan of the Norwegian government.

- Based on the statements from the Norwegian government I should not be very optimistic, because Norway keeps referring to its position on Ukraine. We can disagree with many countries, both in and beyond Europe, in foreign policy as well as on various international issues. However, that does not mean that these issues need repeating every other minute, the way Norway does, Ramishvili says.

- This does not provide any opportunity for moving forward, nor does it help solving these matters. The negotiations should take place in proper climate and statements should be accurate and thoughtful.

- If not, you cannot expect the positive cooperation in some areas, such as fisheries, to influence political relationship, as well as atmosphere itself, the Ambassador says. He has previously held several positions in the Russian Foreign Ministry.


- Norway forgets its neighborliness

Temporary cooperation is not of any interest for Russia, he says.

- Norway has a clever and balanced policy, both internally and externally. However, Norway lacks a strategic vision and the neighborliness is often forgotten. It is naïve of Norwegian authorities to believe that they can have a good relationship with Russia in one area and a poor one in others. Norway cannot just walk around and ask for something, and expect that Russia will not ask to get something in return. Dialogue cannot consist only of Norway’s telling us what we are doing wrong, he argues.

- The less understanding we meet, the less good will we are willing to demonstrate, he says in summary.

- But with a good atmosphere, everything is possible, he adds.


Way back when – and the present needs

Ramishvili refers to history and centuries of good neighborly relations. Norway and Russia have never had armed conflicts with each other; Russia was first to recognize independence of Norway, Russia helped gain victory over Nazi Germany, and many people in the north still have vivid memories from that time.

- We have no significant arguments against continuing the good neighborly relations, he says.

In Finnmark, the distance to Russia is short, and both Norwegians and Russians travel across the border on a daily basis. The number of travelers has even increased here, Ramishvili says.

- Both Norway and Russia must consider people’s needs, he argues.

- What will you focus on the most in your attempts at strengthening the bonds between Russia and Norway?

- I look forward to travelling around Norway in the coming period, and to learning more about the Norwegian way of life and Norwegians’ hopes for the future, Ramishvili says.

- It will help me make important decisions, and it will also be crucial for advising the Russian government. In the north, in particular, we see many similarities between Russians and Norwegians. I want to meet the people who live here, students and the younger generation. I want to present them with some challenges while at the same time telling them how we think in Russia.

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Russian Ambassador to Norway, Teimuraz Otarovich Ramishvili, was appointed to the position in October, last year. (Photo: Hege Eilertsen)