Russia releases Norwegian ex-border inspector in 3-way spy swap involving Lithuania

Ex-border inspector Frode Berg. (Atle Staalesen/The Independent Barents Observer)
Ex-border inspector Frode Berg is now on his way home to Kirkenes, Arctic Norway after 23 months in FSB’s notorious Lefortovo prison in Moscow.

Nearly two years after his arrest, Frode Berg was Friday a free man.

The successful exchange of pardoned citizens took place across the border between Kaliningrad and Lithuania.

Frode Berg was together with the two Lithuanian citizens Yevgeny Mataitis and Aristidas Tamosaitis exchanged with the two Russian citizens Nikolai Filipchenko and Sergei Moisejenko.

Berg was Friday afternoon in the Norwegian Embassy in Vilnius before he is expected to fly to Norway where his family and friends are waiting.

Berg’s Russian lawyer, Ilya Novikov, writes in a tweet that his client is released and is on his way home after spending 23 months in Lefortovo.

Jailed for espionage in 2017

The former border inspector from Kirkenes, near Norway’s border to Russia in the north, was in April this year sentenced to 14 years for espionage by a Moscow city court.

Frode Berg had then been locked up in pre-trail detention in FSB’s Lefortovo jail since he was arrested in central Moscow by FSB on December 5th, 2017.

Berg did not plead guilty as charged, but admitted that he had cooperated with Norwegian intelligence and that he went to Russia as a courier. When detained he reportedly carried €3,000 in cash.

Exchange announced by Lithuania

His release, and the spy swap between Vilnius and Moscow on Friday, was announced by the Director of Lithuanian Security agency, Darius Jauniskis, at a press-conference in Vilnius.

Frode Berg’s Norwegian attorney, Brynjulf Risnes, informs in a tweet that his client earlier on Friday came over the border from Kaliningrad to Lithuania.

Friday’s three-country spy swap comes after the Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda pardoned the two spy-convicted Russians arrested in the former Soviet Republic two years ago.

Frode Berg is the first Norwegian to be arrested and sentenced for espionage in Russia in modern times and the case has been a thorn in cross-border relations between the two countries. Kirkenes, Berg’s hometown, is a short 15 minutes drive from the border to the Kola Peninsula, in northwest Russia.

“Help Frode home”, the posters said as locals in Kirkenes arranged a support rally shortly after his arrest in 2017. (Thomas Nilsen/The Independent Barents Observer)

“We are glad that Frode Berg is now coming home to Norway as a free man,” says prime minister Erna Solberg in a short statement. She thanks the Lithuanian authorities for their cooperation and their efforts to get Berg released.

In Kirkenes, the hometown of Frode Berg, near Norway’s border to Russia, was portraits of the ex-border inspector displayed on border poles as part of an street art exhibition last winter. (Thomas Nilsen/The Independent Barents Observer)
Top story

Berg’s release and the spy swap between the three countries is top story news in most national media in Russia on Friday.

Vedomosti writes that this is the first time a spy swap takes place between Moscow, Vilnius and Oslo. The newspaper has talked to high ranking officials in one of Russia’s law enforcement agencies, claiming the negotiations leading to the exchange of spy-convicted citizens “were conducted with direct participation of special services and the diplomatic corps for more than a year, but became more active only after Frode Berg got his sentence in Moscow.”

According to newspaper Kommersant, the case of Frode Berg was raised in bilateral talks prime minister Erna Solberg and foreign minister Ine Eriksen Søreide had with president Vladimir Putin during te Arctic Forum in St. Petersburg in April this year.

This was the first time since the annexation of Crimea that the Norwegian prime minister visited Russia.

The issue was again raised between when foreign minister Sergey Lavrov met Ine Eriksen Søreide in Kirkenes, Frode Berg’s hometown, on October 25th when the 75th anniversary of the Red Army’s liberation of Norway’s northeasternmost corner was celebrated, Kommersant notes.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Northern Canadian territory puts trade mission to China on hold amid diplomatic tensions, CBC News

Finland: Should Russian dual citizens be barred from Finnish military’s upper ranks?, Yle News

Norway: Norway releases Russian man detained over suspicion of espionage, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Russia’s Lefortovo prison: a haunting song from the Barents region, The Independent Barents Observer

Thomas Nilsen, The Independent Barents Observer

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

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