Norwegian, Russian foreign ministers find common ground on northern issues at Italy meeting

Norwegian Foreign Minister Ine Marie Eriksen Soreide (left) and her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov. (Left photo by Martin Ouellet-Diotte/AFP/Getty Images; right photo by Alessandro Garofalo/Reuters)
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his Norwegian counterpart Ine Eriksen Søreide had bilateral talks in Milan on Thursday, but Lavrov could not directly say if he can make it to Kirkenes, Arctic Norway, next year to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Red Army’s liberation of Eastern Finnmark.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has not been to Norway since 2014, when he attended the 70th anniversary of the Red Army’s liberation of Kirkenes, the town near the border between the two countries in the north.

Five years later, Lavrov could again be heading to Kirkenes, this time for a ceremony on October 25th, 2019 marking the 75th anniversary of the liberation.

As the political disagreements between Norway and Russia are the worst they’ve ever been since the end of the Cold War, the two countries’ foreign ministers find common agreeable talking points in the north.

Here, Lavrov and Eriksen Søreide can focus on peaceful border cooperation, common understanding of management of Barents Sea fish stocks, environmental protection, cross-border people-to-people contacts and even joint uniformed naval cooperation at sea in the form of coast guard search-and-rescue cooperation.

The last is one of the very few areas where officers from NATO and Russia actually are exercising together, like in May this year out in the Barents Sea.

Invited to Kirkenes

At Thursday’s meeting in Milan, Italy, Ine Eriksen Søreide formally invited Sergey Lavrov to next year’s celebration in Kirkenes. Both ministers are participating at the OSCE Ministerial Council.

“I had a good meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov,” Eriksen Søreide says.

“We talked about our bilateral relations and discussed questions related to foreign and security policy like the tense situation in the Sea of Azov and the INF Treaty,” she says.

Press spokesperson Guri Solberg with the Norwegian foreign ministry tells the Barents Observer that Sergey Lavrov could not give a direct “yes” to the invitation to come to Kirkenes next autumn.

Lavrov laid wreaths at the monument to Soviet soldiers in Kirkenes in 2014 at the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Finnmark from German occupation by the Soviet Red Army. (Thomas Nilsen/The Independent Barents Observer)
Meeting next May

In May next year, Lavrov and Eriksen Søreide will have another meeting up north when they meet for the Arctic Council Ministerial in Rovaniemi, Finland.

Ine Eriksen Søreide has not been to Russia since she took over office after Børge Brende who resigned in September 2017. Brende visited northern Russia three times last year.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Nearly 2,000 Canadian troops take part in NATO’s largest exercise since Cold War, Radio Canada International

Finland: Finland summons Russian ambassador over GPS jamming, Yle News

Norway: NATO’s Arctic dilemma: Two visions of the Arctic collide as NATO and Russia flex muscles, Eye on the Arctic special report

Russia: Niinistö and Putin agree on Arctic, but at odds on NATO during Sochi talks, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Sweden to buy U.S.-made Patriot air defence systems, Radio Sweden

United States: U.S. fighter jets intercept Russian aircraft west of Alaska, Radio Canada International

Thomas Nilsen, The Independent Barents Observer

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

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