Russia demands ‘clear answer’ from Nordic neighbors on security guarantees

Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has published a letter that was sent by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to Norway, Sweden, Finland and other EU and NATO countries. (Photo: Thomas Nilsen/The Independent Barents Observer)

Norway, Sweden and Finland are among the countries that have received letters from Russia’s Foreign Minister asking for written answers whether they will comply with the OSCE commitments not to strengthen their security at the expense of the security of others.

The letters were delivered from Russia’s Embassies in Oslo, Stockholm and Helsinki to the countries’ foreign ministries.

Both Finland and Norway have a direct land border to Russia.

Sergey Lavrov opens the letter by expressing Russia’s “serious concerns” on growing military-political tensions along its western borders. The minister points to Russia’s proposals for security architecture in Europe, previously sent to NATO and the United States.

“The U.S. and NATO responses to our proposals received on 26 January 2022 demonstrate serious differences in the understanding of the principle of equal and indivisible security that is fundamental to the entire European security architecture,” Lavrov writes in the letter.

He continues:

“We believe it is necessary to immediately clarify this issue, as it will determine the prospects for future dialogue.”

The Russian Foreign Minister calls for attention to the European Security Charter signed at the OSCE Summit in 1999 which outlines the obligation of each state not to strengthen its security at the expense of the security of other states.

Lavrov’s letter does not mention the tensions along Russia’s border to Ukraine.

“…the Western countries continue to pick up out of it only those elements that suit them, and namely – the right of States to be free to choose alliances for ensuring exclusively their own security,” Sergey Lavrov claims.

Pekka Haavisto is the Foreign Minister of Finland. (Atle Staalesen/The Independent Barents Observer)

Finland’s Foreign Minister, Pekka Haavisto, said at a press briefing in the Parliament in Helsinki on Tuesday that it would be natural to discuss potential responses to the message with other EU countries.

“Our officials will look through the letter and see how other countries react to it,” Haavisto said according to broadcaster YLE.

On Wednesday, February 2, Pekka Haavisto and Finland’s Defense Minister Antti Kaikkonen travel to Stockholm to meet Sweden’s Foreign Minister Ann Linde.

The aim of the meeting is to discuss the ills of the current security situation in the two countries’ neighborhoods, the Swedish Government informs.

Country-to-country talks

Lavrov has sent similar requests as to the Nordic countries to several other member states of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), including the United States and Canada.

Moscow, which traditionally prefers to hold bilateral talks on key security challenges instead of discussions with multilateral forums like the European Union or NATO, underlines in the letter that it expects answers directly from each country.

“[Russia]…. expect that the response to this letter will be given in national capacity, as the aforementioned commitments were undertaken by each of our States individually and not within any bloc or in the name thereof,” Lavrov’s letter reads.

Barents cooperation

Russia keeps close ties with Norway, Sweden and Finland on cross-border contacts in the Barents region. This cooperation was set up in 1993, a year after the breakup of the Soviet Union, and was aimed at improving northernness’ well-being and supporting democratic developments.

Like the Arctic Council and the Council of the Baltic Sea States, the Barents cooperation was not aimed at facilitating security talks.

However, at a press briefing during the last Barents Council meeting in Tromsø, northern Norway, last November, Sergey Lavrov made NATO a key issue.

“… Norway is member of NATO and NATO is not a friend of Russia,” he underlined and added that NATO now is “looking for the meaning of its future existence” and that it wants to be “responsible for security all over the world,” Lavrov said before he called on Norway to hold bilateral security consultations with Moscow.

“We do not have any relation with NATO, but we have a relationship with Norway, also on the security front, and we want to raise this to a high level between the ministries of defense,” he explained.

A spokesperson with the Foreign Ministry in Oslo on Tuesday confirmed to newspaper VG that Sergey Lavrov’s request for Norway’s answers to Russia’s security questions for Europe is received.

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: Britain offers Canadian military help to defend the Arctic, CBC News

Finland: Nordic fighter jet exercises underway inside Arctic Circle, The Independent Barents Observer

Iceland: Nordics should aim for common approach to China’s Arctic involvement says report, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: Two NATO carrier groups will sail north for exercise Cold Response, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Russia’s Northern Fleet exercise area overlaps into Norway’s EEZ amid Europe tensions,The Independent Barents Observer

United States:  Putin, Biden talk Northern Sea Route, 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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