Expelled ‘diplomats’ left Norway via Kirkenes and Istanbul

Storskog checkpoint near Kirkenes is the only road across the Norwegian-Russian border. (Thomas Nilsen/The Independent Barents Observer)

The last of the 15 Russian intelligence officers that were declared unwanted from Oslo left the country on Friday.

The first four expelled intelligence officers flew north from Oslo to Kirkenes on Wednesday this week. Kirkenes airport is a 15-minute drive from Norway’s border to Russia in the north, and Moscow has a Consulate General in town. It takes less than three hours to drive from the border to Murmansk airport which is well-connected with the Russian capital.

Sources with knowledge to the matter said the 11 others left Oslo on Friday and flew home via Istanbul, the main hub for air travel between Europe and Russia as there are no longer any possibilities for flights directly to Moscow or St. Petersburg.

Never before have so many diplomats been expelled from Norway in one move.

Russia’s Consulate General in Kirkenes. (Thomas Nilsen/The Independent Barents Observer)

It was on April 13 Norway’s Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt said the 15 persons “have been engaged in activities not compatible with their diplomatic status.”

“Russia poses the biggest intelligence threat to Norway. We look at the situation with concern and now take measures to counter Russian intelligence activity in Norway,” Huitfeldt said.

Spokesperson Maria Zakharova with the Foreign Ministry in Moscow said in a statement last week the expulsion of the diplomats is “a deliberate escalation of hostility towards Russia.”

She blamed Norwegian media for initiating a “fake news campaign” targeted against Russian intelligence.

“There can be no doubt that media disinformation fed by national authorities and special services and influenced from abroad was a carefully planned action aimed at a further deterioration of relations with Russia,” Zakharova said.

The Norwegian Embassy in Moscow with Russia’s Supreme Court building in the background. (Thomas Nilsen/The Independent Barents Observer)

The spokesperson made clear that there will come “a tough response” from the Russian side.

By Friday evening it was still unclear how Russia would respond.

Norway has an Embassy in Moscow and a Consulate General in St. Petersburg. Last summer, the Norwegian Consulate General in Murmansk closed its doors after serving bilateral relations in the north for almost 30 years.

Related stories from around the North: 

CanadaInt’l arctic cooperation needs to continue despite rupture with Russia: Canada’s GG,The Canadian Press

FinlandRussian cyber attacks, espionage pose growing threat to Finnish national security, Yle news

Greenland: Growing focus on Arctic puts Greenland at higher risk of cyber attacks: assessment, Eye on the Arctic

IcelandIceland authorizes U.S. submarine service visits, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: Norway expels 15 intelligence officers at Russian Embassy, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Russian Arctic rescue exercise attended by observers from Iran and Saudi Arabia, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Russian spy ships surveying Nordic energy infrastructure, Radio Sweden

United States: U.S. nominates Alaskan as first Arctic ambassador, Eye on the Arctic

Thomas Nilsen, The Independent Barents Observer

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

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