Since the annexion of the Crimean peninsula in 2014, Norwegian-Russian relations became more and more freezing, unlike the winter climate in the high north. And while the ice in the Arctic melted faster and faster, high-level talks between politicians froze in almost completely. But now with spring coming to the Arctic, it seems as if the neighbors also start thawing as well. Both foreign ministers have agreed to meet in March at the Arctic conference in Arkhangelsk.

The city of Arkhangelsk is situated near the coast of the White Sea. Back in its beginnings, it was a major factor in Norwegian-Russian rivalry and saw a series of clashes. Now, it might be the place to warm up their relationship. Picture: Panoramio
The city of Arkhangelsk is situated near the coast of the White Sea. Back in its beginnings, it was a major factor in Norwegian-Russian rivalry and saw a series of clashes. Now, it might be the place to warm up their relationship. Picture: Panoramio

Norway froze high-level political talks with Moscow after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March 2014.  By traveling to Arkhangelsk in northern Russia, Børge Brende signals a political thaw in a period that not exactly has been a highlight for cooperation between the two neighbors. Head of Communication with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Oslo, Frode Overland Andersen, says the Minister’s decision to travel to Russia was taken on Thursday. “Foreign Minister Brende met with Foreign Minister Lavrov yesterday in Bonn and agreed to come to Arkhangelsk for the Arctic conference in March,” Overland Andersen says. Brende and Lavrov were both at the G20 Foreign Ministers meeting in Bonn.

Deputy Prime Minister Ivan Rogozin surprisingly visited Svalbard in 2015. He had called the travel sanctions after Russia’s coup in the Crimea “absurd” and intended to show Europe’s incapability to uphold the sanctions. This lead to a further cooling of Norwegian-Russian relations. Picture: vg.no
Deputy Prime Minister Ivan Rogozin surprisingly visited Svalbard in 2015. He had called the travel sanctions after Russia’s coup in the Crimea “absurd” and intended to show Europe’s incapability to uphold the sanctions. This lead to a further cooling of Norwegian-Russian relations. Picture: vg.no

In the past, several news portal had reported incidents and clashes in Norwegian-Russian relations. But despite a colder east-west climate, Norway says it is of importance to maintain cross-border cooperation. Talking at the Kirkenes conference last week, Børge Brende underscored topics like nuclear safety, fisheries in the Barents Sea, search- and rescue, business and trade as well as environmental cooperation. “High north – low tension” has been a Norwegian slogan flagged in most debates and international forums the last decade. Last autumn, Foreign Minister Brende invited Russia’s Sergey Lavrov to come to Arctic Frontiers, Norway’s big Arctic venue annually taking place in Tromsø in January. Lavrov, however, turned down the invitation. By traveling to Arkhangelsk, where President Vladimir Putin will hold the main speech, Børge Brende shows appreciation to Russia’s important position in the Arctic. The conference “Arctic – Territory of Dialogue Forum” will take place at the end of March. In addition to President Putin, the conference will be attended by Deputy Prime Minister and Chairman of the State Commission for Arctic Development Dmitry Rogozin. He had made big headlines in Norway when he suddenly posted a photo on twitter of himself outside the terminal building at Longyearbyen airport on Norway’s Svalbard archipelago in 2015. Norway protested since the Deputy Prime Minister is sanctioned from entry to EU and Norway, allegedly because of his participation in Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. Russia disputes Norway’s right to deny entry to Svalbard by citizens from countries that have signed the 1920 Svalbard Treaty.

The two Foreign Ministers had met the last time in 2014. Even then, the tensions were displayed in the faces of the two men and the meeting was little amicable. Picture: Thomas Nilsen
The two Foreign Ministers had met the last time in 2014. Even then, the tensions were displayed in the faces of the two men and the meeting was little amicable. Picture: Thomas Nilsen

In Arkhangelsk, Børge Brende will also have a chance to have bilateral talks with Sergey Lavrov. Frode Overland Andersen says it is expected that the Russian Foreign Minister will attend the Arctic conference. Last time Børge Brende and Sergey Lavrov met in one of each other’s home countries, was October 2014, when Norway’s northeastern corner marked the 70th anniversary of the Red Army’s liberation from German occupation forces. After staying out of Russia for three years, Børge Brende might travel on even one more visit to Arkhangelsk this year. On October 18-19, Sergey Lavrov has invited his Norwegian, Swedish and Finnish colleagues for the Barents Council meeting. Sweden’s Foreign Minister Margot Wallström has already confirmed her participation and it has never in the 25-years lasting Barents cooperation happened that a Norwegian Foreign Minister has not participated in the event. Opening for more political dialogue, the Norwegian Government is planning for more ministers to meet their Russian counterparts. Frode Overland Andersen says ministers’ meetings are planned during the spring for both the economic commission and the environmental commission, two important areas for bilateral cooperation between Norway and Russia. 

The town of Barentsburg is Russia’s big foothold on Svalbard. Currently around 400 people live in the town, which gets most revenues from mining and tourism. Even though it is Russian territory, it lies within the jurisdiction of Norwegian rule. This has led to many discussions and debates between the two nations. Picture: Michael Wenger
The town of Barentsburg is Russia’s big foothold on Svalbard. Currently around 400 people live in the town, which gets most revenues from mining and tourism. Even though it is Russian territory, it lies within the jurisdiction of Norwegian rule. This has led to many discussions and debates between the two nations. Picture: Michael Wenger

Source: Thomas Nilsen, The Independent Barents Observer