A more assertive and unpredictable Russia: Norwegian foreign affairs minister

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (R) greets his Norwegian counterpart Borge Brende (C) in Moscow January 20, 2014. Sergei Karpukhin/REUTERS
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (R) greets his Norwegian counterpart Borge Brende (C) in Moscow January 20, 2014. Sergei Karpukhin/REUTERS
Norway needs a good neighbourly relationship with Russia, but stability in the North can no longer be taken for granted, Norwegian Foreign Minister Børge Brende said in his annual address to Parliament on Tuesday.

“The years 2014 and 2015 were difficult in foreign affairs, but we must prepare ourselves for even bigger trouble in 2016,” Brende told Norwegian legislators in the Storting. Among the top challenges to Norway and its international relations is the situation in the Middle East, migration, the growing divides in EU cooperation and the situation in Russia, the minister argued.

In the speech, available on the Foreign Ministry website, Brende painted a negative picture of the situation in Russia. At the same time, however, he sought to balance between Norway’s bilateral relations with the country and its multilateral commitments.

“We are facing a more assertive and unpredictable Russia, both in the East and in Syria,” Brende said, and added that the country is “more willing to surprise and take risks than before.” He underlined that Russia “continues to orient away from democratic and liberal values” and that the country’s military build-up in the North “demands increasing alertness.”

“Stability in the North can not be taken for granted,” Brende argued.

Intelligence assessment

His speech comes less than a week after the publication of the Focus-2016 report, the annual security assessment of the Norwegian Intelligence Service. Russia and the northern regions take a key position in the report.

Brende does not however see any contradiction between a hardline policy towards Russia in multilateral relations and a softer approach in bilateral affairs.

Neighbourly relations with Russia remain “a constant and important factor in Norwegian foreign policy,” he said in his speech.

“We want a good neighbourly relationship with Russia,” the minister said, adding that Norway will remain “predictable, consistent and clear” in bilateral relations.

“We will promote cooperation and contact where there is common interest and continue to stand up for our values, principles and interest.”

The foreign policy chief also highlighted the key roles of both Norway and Russia in Arctic cooperation.

Brende’s address to the Storting follows up on his speech in Kirkenes, Norway, in early February. In that speech, the minister stressed that “our interest in good neighbourly relations in the north remains unchanged.”

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Lessons from Norway’s Russia assessment, Eye on the Arctic

Denmark:  Nordics to step up security cooperation on perceived Russian threat, Yle News

Finland: Finland confirms 6th Russian airspace violation in just over a year, Yle News

Norway: Russia is more confident and unpredictable: Norwegian Intelligence Service, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia:  New Russian spy ship to keep tabs on Norway, Barents Observer

Sweden:  New security landscape in the Arctic, Radio Sweden

United States: U.S. general says Alaska military cuts not final without Arctic plan, Alaska Public Radio Network

Atle Staalesen, The Independent Barents Observer

For more news from the Barents region visit The Independent Barents Observer.

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