“We Will Have an Open Dialogue and Talks with Russia, but We Will Not Compromise Our Interests”

Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt hosts the Barents Council Ministerial Meeting in Tromsø. (Photo: Hilde-Gunn Bye)

Despite disagreements on security policy and NATO, cooperation with Russia contributes to the peace project in the High North, Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt stresses to High North News.

On Tuesday, Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt hosted the Ministerial Meeting of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council. Norway has held the chair of the Council for two years and the meeting marked the event of the chairmanship transferring to Finland.

In a High North News interview, Huitfeldt says the Ministerial Meeting has been characterized by a good atmosphere and room for informal talks, and also for her getting acquainted with new colleagues.

One of these was the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, one out of three foreign ministers (from Finland, Russia and Norway) who were present at the meeting.

Utenriksminister Anniken Huitfeldt sammen med Russlands utenriksminister Sergej Lavrov
Norway’s Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during the Barents Council Ministerial Meeting. (Photo: Hilde-Gunn Bye)

“We had frank and direct conversations”, Huitfeldt says about her talks with the experienced Russian foreign minister.

“I stress our having an open dialogue and conversations with Russia. However, we will not compromise our own interests. We disagree on security politics, on NATO, and on human rights.”

Disagreements about security politics and NATO were also evident on Monday night, when Lavrov and Huitfeldt met the press following their bilateral meeting.

As recently reported by High North News, Lavrov stressed that the differences, which of course exist between the two neighbors, were discussed openly and frankly during the meeting.

“We do not have relations with NATO, however, we have relations with Norway, also when it comes to security”, Lavrov said.

“We want consultations between the respective defense ministries. It is important in order for Russia to know where we stand”, Huitfeldt adds.

The Barents Euro-Arctic Council, BEAC) is a forum for inter-state cooperation. Its membership countries are Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, as well as the EU Commission. (Photo: Hilde-Gunn Bye)

Huitfeldt stresses that Norway wants concrete forms of cooperation with Russia in a series of areas.

“It contributes to the peace project of which the High North cooperation plays a part”, she says.

What do you think needs to be strengthened in the relationship between Norway and Russia?

“I do, amongst others, hope that the borders will be opened soon, so that we can strengthen people-to-people cooperation, and so that people can meet as usual again. We have a new generation of youth who do not know each other very well. When the world opens up again, it will be their turn.”

“The Barents cooperation is about bringing good neighbors together, building ties across the borders in the Arctic, which is the most important peace project for Norway”, the Norwegian Foreign Minister said during the ministerial meeting.

Finland’s Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto (far left in picture) took over the chairmanship from Norway during the meeting. (Photo: Hilde-Gunn Bye)
From the bilateral meeting between Norway and Finland’s foreign ministers. (Photo: Hilde-Gunn Bye)

Focus on climate change

At the ministerial meeting, the Tromsø declaration was signed. In it, the parties confirm a.o. their commitment to ensuring that the Barents cooperation will remain in a spirit of political dialogue, practical cooperation and people-to-people contact.

The declaration also notes the concern for the serious challenges climate changes represent to the communities, infrastructure, biodiversity and ecosystems in the Barents region. The updated action plan for climate change is also adopted with the declaration, and it encourages efforts to implement the action plan in the region, drive the transition to new low-carbon solutions, contribute to introducing circular economy and environmentally sustainable waste management, as well as use of clean and renewable energy.

In her talk, Huitfeldt stressed that one of the major concerns in the Arctic is about climate change. She praised Finland for its work on updating the action plan for climate change.

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

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