Cold Peace in the Arctic?

Minister of Foreign Affairs Ine Eriksen Søreide's speech at Nupi's annual Russia Conference.

In June this year, a new statue was unveiled in Saint Petersburg.

The statue stands in front of the icebreaker ‘Krasin’, which has been turned into a floating museum. There, in front of one of the greatest symbols of Russian polar exploration, is a statue of the Norwegian polar explorer Roald Amundsen.

The statue was unveiled to mark the 90th anniversary of Amundsen’s death. In 1928, both Amundsen and the icebreaker took part in the search and rescue operation for the Italian explorer Umberto Nobile, whose airship ‘Italia’ had crashed on the Arctic sea ice.

The Russian icebreaker ‘Krasin’ rescued crewmembers from a German cruise ship, who were in danger after having tried to rescue members of Nobile’s expedition.

This story illustrates several aspects of the Arctic and of the relationship between Norway and Russia.

First, that international cooperation and, at times, competition in the Arctic is nothing new.

Second, that in the harsh and sparsely populated Arctic, results are achieved through cooperation.

And third, that Norway, together with Russia, has a long history of cooperation in the Arctic. We share memories of common efforts, sacrifices and achievements – and these are commemorated in both Russia and Norway.


This is the legacy that Norway aims to carry forward.

In the Arctic, and in our relationship with Russia in a broader sense.

Last autumn, when a Russian helicopter tragically crashed into the sea off Svalbard, personnel from the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations joined the Norwegian-led search and rescue operation.

Together with Norwegian professionals and volunteers, they helped search the rugged coastline in the middle of the polar night. Sadly, we have not been able to recover the bodies of all those who perished, despite our best common efforts.

But the close cooperation on all levels during this operation testifies to the will to cooperate that exists between Norway and Russia.< /p>


Apart from the northern tip of the border between Alaska and Canada, the border between our two countries is the northernmost land border in the world.

Trade between North Norway and Russia dates back to at least the Middle Ages.

The Arctic-dimension has been important throughout the history of both our countries.

We recognize that Russia, as the state with the largest territory in the Arctic, has legitimate security interests and a history of its own in the north.

For Russians and Norwegians alike, the Arctic is not some far-away land, of ice and polar bears. The Arctic is a large part of both our countries, where people live and work, start families and businesses, go to school and learn to ski.

We are united by our identity as Arctic peoples and our state- of- the- art knowledge on dealing with Arctic issues.


The relationship with Russia is an important and constant factor in Norwegian foreign and security policy.

Our relationship as neighbours goes far back, and our relationship has had its ups and downs.

In 1905, Russia was the first country to recognise the independence of Norway.

Towards the end of the Second World War, soldiers from the Red Army liberated Eastern Finnmark from the Nazi occupation.

But in the years after 1945, the climate between the Soviet Union and the West started to freeze, and for decades our border was more or less closed.

Throughout the Cold War, the Soviet Union was perceived as a threat to Norway and the West.


If we look back at Norwegian history, Russia has shown many different faces and appeared in many different manifestations. At times, as a neighbor, trading partner and ally. At other times, as a threat and a challenge.

These two perspectives have always coexisted in Norway’s Russia policy. That is why the policy is built on two distinct pillars.

The first pillar is our membership in Nato, close integration with Europe and strong ties across the Atlantic. The second pillar is our bilateral cooperation with Russia.

Both these pillars are very important for Norway. And our point of departure for both is that we must deal with the realities as they are – not as we wish they were.

In essence, our Russia policy is a matter of striking a balance between these perspectives through changing political circumstances.

Norway has always been firmly anchored in the Western camp.

Our Nato membership remains the bedrock of our security policy. Over the past decades, we have also expanded our cooperation with the EU, despite being a non-member. Europe is our continent regardless of not being an EU member.

The asymmetry between Norway and Russia is obvious to any observer.

Norway’s political identity as a part of the West, backed by a robust security guarantee, has been very important for our ability to interact and cooperate, first with the Soviet Union and later with Russia.

This is no less true or relevant today than it was in the past.

As Russia has gradually taken a more assertive and, at times, aggressive stance internationally, Norway continues to stand united with its allies and partners.

This is about far more than relying on Nato to come to our assistance in a hypothetical situation.

It is first and foremost a question of standing together in defence of international law and the fundamental rights and principles that we hold dear.

Regrettably, over the past decade Russia’s actions have often made it necessary for others to stand together in defence of international law, rights and principles.

Russia’s military build-up, combined with its demonstrated willingness to use military force has given rise to new concerns about its intentions.

Nowhere is this more evident than in Ukraine. Just last week, I paid my first visit to Ukraine, including to the Donbas region, where the conflict is still very much ongoing.

I saw the damage and suffering caused by a conflict that is taking place in the heart of Europe. Russia’s actions in Ukraine have changed the security policy situation in Europe.

Norway has responded in a measured and transparent way, together with allies and partners.

This is also very important from a national perspective. The Kola Peninsula remains the home base for much of Russia’s strategic forces. While we do not consider Russia a direct military threat to Norway, it is clear that these forces constitute a strategic challenge to Nato.

Russia’s revitalization of its bastion defence concept makes this area increasingly important to Russia from a military-strategic perspective.

Although the Arctic is marked by stability and cooperation, it also remains a strategically important region.

This is also the reason why Norway for the past four years has been working in Nato to adapt the Alliance to new realities. A new command structure and a renewed focus on the maritime domain are both Norwegian priorities that were adopted by the Nato summit.

But while we recognise that Russian military activity in the north is not primarily aimed at Norway, we cannot ignore what takes place so close to our own territory.

We continue to follow closely and with concern the continuing build-up of forces, deployment of new weapons systems and a more assertive posture in our immediate neighbourhood in the north.

We are used to a high level of military activity in the north. It is important that this activity is conducted in a way that does not cause unnecessary concern for others. Exercises that include simulated attacks on Norwegian targets do not contribute to better relations between neighbours nor do they lower tensions in the north.


The second pillar of our Russia policy – our cooperation with Russia – is no less important these days.

As the relationship between Russia and the West has become more tense, it is even more important for Norway as a neighbour to remain engaged in practical cooperation and political dialogue.

The primary goal of this pillar is, for both countries, to solve challenges and pursue opportunities in our shared neighbourhood. This contact and cooperation also promotes mutual understanding and supports stability in the north.

This is in both Russia’s and Norway’s interest.


Ladies and gentlemen,

Since the end of the Cold War, it is this second pillar, the pillar of cooperation, that has been the main focus of Norway’s Russia policy.

As the animosities of the Cold War faded, successive Norwegian governments made it a policy to open up the border and reach out to Russia. Overcoming decades of mistrust and high tension was an important motivation, but so was the possibility of solving practical challenges to the benefit of both nations.

Through this policy of engagement, a new form of bilateral cooperation emerged.

This was built on a robust formal framework at the level of our national and regional authorities. Four bilateral commissions form the backbone of our bilateral relationship, and follow up four priority areas: fisheries management, nuclear safety, environmental issues, and trade and economic cooperation.

And as the often quoted Jean Monnet observed, Nothing is possible without men, but nothing lasts without institutions.

Thanks to the institutions we have created together, our cooperation with Russia has weathered some political storms.

We have come to know Russia through this kind of contact and involvement. And in order to understand the Norwegian perspective, it is important to recognize this.

For as with most things in life: the closer you are to them, the more details and nuances you see. This goes for Russia, too.

Thousands of Norwegians, from all walks of life, have engaged in cooperation with Russia and have gained firsthand experience of dealing with our neighbour. A country that just a couple of decades ago seemed so distant – unreachable, even - despite its geographical proximity.

And the same is true for our partners on the Russian side. In this respect, there has been quite a change over the last 25 years. Time and again, we see that it is our extensive contacts and detailed knowledge of each other’s concerns that enable us to resolve complex problems and challenges.

The basis for the expansion of Norwegian-Russian cooperation remains our shared interests. In fact, as neighbours, we share so many resources, interests and perspectives that not cooperating is hardly an option.


History shows that our cooperation did not emerge at a time of low political tensions.

It was at the height of the Cold War that Norway and the Soviet Union started to develop the joint management of fish stocks in the Barents Sea.

The Arctic cod stubbornly refused to recognise political realities and continued to migrate back and forth across the border. With fish stocks on the move, a joint bilateral arrangement was the only sensible way forward.

Earlier this year, we marked the 60th anniversary of the start of this cooperation.

In 1958, a Soviet research vessel arrived in Bergen for a first meeting of Norwegian and Soviet maritime researchers. Half a year later, the Norwegians paid a return visit to Murmansk.

There were concerns on both sides. The Norwegian delegates raised issue of the extensive catch of small cod by Soviet fishermen. The Soviet delegates were concerned about the extensive fishing of herring in the Norwegian fjords.

Today, 60 years later, we can look back and conclude that the bilateral cooperation on fisheries management has been a tremendous success for both sides. The results of this cooperation are quite literally being harvested by Norwegian and Russian fishermen.

The Barents Sea is today home to healthy and valuable fish stocks. The annual catch value of the fish resources managed by Russia and Norway alone is more than 14 billion Norwegian kroner.

The bilateral commission on fisheries meets annually to set quotas. The sub-groups work extensively throughout the year to establish a sound scientific basis for the commission’s decisions. And our coastguards cooperate closely to ensure that the quotas and regulations are effectively policed.

But there is still work to be done. In recent years, we have seen new species migrate north. Our joint management has been extended to incorporate quotas for new species.

As temperatures in the sea keep rising, we may also see the cod and other valuable fish stocks migrate further north and into the Arctic Ocean. This will present new challenges. We must continue to work together to address the consequences of climate change. < p/>

This year, we are launching a joint project on marine litter in the Barents Sea to address the issue of plastic in the oceans.

This is yet another example of our cooperation developing to incorporate new issues of concern. But environmental concerns are not new in the north, and Norway and Russia have for decades now had a bilateral commission on environmental issues.


Nuclear safety is another vital part of our cooperation.

Last week, my deputy minister Audun Halvorsen travelled to Murmansk to take part in the bilateral commission on nuclear safety.

But he also went to Russia to mark the 25th anniversary of our consulates general in Murmansk and St Petersburg, and to hold bilateral meetings with First Deputy Foreign Minister Titov in Moscow. The number of people involved in constructive cooperation with Norway in northwestern Russia is substantial, and the good relationship with the authorities in our neighbouring regions on the Russian side is highly appreciated.

The discussions in the meeting with Titov ranged from fisheries in the north to developments in the Middle East and North Korea, which reflects the scope of our relationship.

Back to nuclear safety: Over the years, Norway and Russia have worked successfully to address the concerns caused by spent nuclear fuel at the Andreyev Bay on the Kola Peninsula.

Last year, the first shipment of nuclear material was transported for safe storage in a purpose-built facility. This was a landmark event. And this October, the 6th shipment of nuclear material will take place.

Nuclear material has also been removed from submarines and lighthouses along the coast. These are important results.

But perhaps the most important result of this cooperation, is the trust that has been built between Norwegian and Russian experts. This enables exchange of data and joint monitoring of nuclear objects.

This summer, the world’s first floating nuclear power plant, Akademik Lomonosov, was towed along the Norwegian coastline en route from St Petersburg to Murmansk. Thanks to our dialogue with Russian authorities, we were kept well informed and the haul took place without any nuclear fuel on board. This cooperation is highly valued by Norwegian authorities.

While the commission on nuclear safety is primarily concerned with technical and practical issues, it can also be an instrument for more political dialogue.


Ladies and gentlemen,

The examples of our practical cooperation with Russia are numerous, they are real and they are important to us. They also have a direct impact on many lives in the north, on both sides of the border.

This is not to say, however, that we are not concerned about developments in Russia.

We are. Precisely because we rely so much on cooperation across the border, political developments in Russia are of great importance and concern to us.

While much of the interaction between Norway and Russia is at governmental level, there is a lot of interaction on all levels between our societies. Countless Norwegian organisations have been actively engaged in cooperation with Russian partners over the years. Trade unions. Environmental activists. Human rights defenders. Political youth parties. In my time as chairman of the Young Conservatives we travelled to Saint Petersburg to build contacts with our political friends.

As time has passed, however, many Norwegians have seen their cooperation with Russian partners obstructed or quite simply stopped. The space for civil society in Russia has been shrinking steadily.

This has real consequences. For real people. Norway will continue to support cooperation with Russian civil society.

This is based on a dual conviction.

First, we hold human rights and democratic values to be universal and we will continue to promote them everywhere.

Second, we believe that people-to-people contacts are a central component mainstay of any truly good relationship between neighbours.

A relationship between authorities alone will always be superficial and vulnerable to political turbulence.

Broad-based contact at the level of civil society and people-to-people contact adds depth to the relationship. We believe this is in the long-term interest of both Russia and Norway.

Unfortunately, the shrinking space for civil society in Russia has made it more difficult to maintain and develop this important aspect of our relationship.

When organisations are listed as foreign agents because they cooperate with Norwegian partners, and receive some of their funding from the Norway, this is not conducive to furthering our relationship. This is regrettable.

These developments do not only affect civil society.

The number of Norwegian companiesthat are active in Russia has also fallen. The positive trend we saw some years back has been reversed.

There are many reasons for this. Some have to do with the economic downturn that came with the financial crisis. Some are tied to a few major industrial projects that failed to materialise. And yes, some are due to the restrictive measures that were imposed as a response to the illegal annexation of Crimea.

But arguably the most important reason is the difficult investment climate and the problems experienced by Norwegian companies that operate in Russia. The problems experienced by a few companies have created a knock-on effect that has deterred others from entering the Russian market.

We will continue to do what we can to assist Norwegian businesses in Russia. But it takes two to tango, and Norwegian authorities cannot improve the business climate in Russia. But we are ready to do our part and would welcome a more substantive political dialogue on this issue.

Obviously, the potential for further business cooperation and investments is good, especially in the maritime sector and in tourism.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

The question posed by this conference is whether there is now a cold peace in the Arctic.

It could be tempting to say that this is one of the few conferences I have been invited to recently where the issue of the Arctic climate being too cold is a topic for discussions…

But of course the question deserves a more serious answer.

The Arctic is well regulated by international law. In the Arctic, questions of borders and the delimitation of maritime zones are settled by one of the most valuable instruments of international law – the Law of the Sea. All of the Arctic coastal states – the US, Canada, Russia, Denmark and Norway – agree on this.

We also agree that all overlapping claims are to be resolved in an orderly way. All states – Arctic and non-Arctic –respect that the Law of the Sea applies in the Arctic. This clearly reduces the potential for any future conflict.

The Arctic is an example of how respecting and adhering to international law serves the common good.

The Arctic Council is our key international body for handling Arctic issues. The Council has been instrumental in finding common solutions to regional challenges. A robust and effective Arctic Council – firmly supported by member states and observer countries - is a major contribution to continued stability in the Arctic.

Norway values its good and constructive cooperation with Russia and the other members of the Council and highly appreciates the input from the observers. We should continue to strengthen the Arctic Council.

The Arctic provides both a home and a livelihood for millions of people. In order to sustain and develop our Arctic communities, we need to create jobs and develop business activities. We need to strike a good balance between sustainable development of resources and protection of the environment.


Close and constructive dialogue is crucial in order to ensure sustainable development in our northern regions.

This year we are celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Barents Cooperation. Since the Barents Cooperation was established it has encouraged cross-border cooperation, supported regional development, built trust and fostered people-to-people contact in the north.

Norway attaches great importance to the Barents Cooperation. We look forward to taking over the chairmanship of the Barents Council in the autumn of 2019.

The Northern Dimension is another important element of international cooperation with Russia in the North.


Ladies and gentlemen,

In October next year, we will mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Eastern Finnmark by the Red Army.

The battles between the Red Army and the forces of Nazi Germany were arguably the fiercest and most gruesome battles ever seen in the Arctic.

As we commemorate those who fought to liberate the northeastern part of Norway, both the soldiers of the Red Army and the Norwegians that fought alongside them, we should also reflect for a while on what is at stake.

Because of political circumstances in the post-war era, many of those who fought for the liberation of this part of Norway never got the recognition they deserved.

During the Cold War, the now busy Norwegian-Russian border was sealed for decades. And the Arctic was heavily militarised.

Thankfully, the Cold War never became hot, but it should serve as a reminder that peace is far more than just the absence of war.

Today, in cooperation with Russia, we are still dealing with the remnants of the Cold War in the form of nuclear waste and environmental problems.

What we can learn from this is that only a cooperative environment will allow us to take full advantage of the opportunities that will open up in the Arctic.

The mechanisms that we have built over the past 25 years should enable us to do precisely this. But no cooperation mechanism can save us if we fail to honour our own commitments. Norway strongly believes that respect for international law and commitments is the bedrock on which future peace in the Arctic must rest.

The cooperation between Norway and Russia across a mutually agreed and accepted border should serve as an example in this regard.

Dear friends,

I started today’s speech with a story about our great polar explorer Roald Amundsen.

90 years have passed since he gave his life to the Arctic. And just a few weeks ago, one of his great inventions returned home when the ship ‘Maud’ came back to Norway.

Roald Amundsen had this ship purpose-built for exploring the Arctic. Maud’s very first voyage was through the Northeast Passage – or the Northern Sea Route as it is referred to in Russia – all the way from the Barents Sea to the Bering Strait. A trip that took two years.

Today, as the ice is retreating in the Arctic Ocean, commercial exploitation of the same sea route is becoming more realistic. This will present challenges for Norway and Russia when it comes to infrastructure and search and rescue capabilities.

Our cooperation in these fields is already well developed, but we should expect it to become much more extensive in the years ahead. < /p>


‘Maud’ was the ship of Amundsen’s dreams. It was built to his exact standards based on years of experience. Amundsen’s plan with Maud was to drift over the Arctic Ocean, hopefully all the way to the North Pole.

To reach his goal, he engaged in constructive cooperation with our Russian neighbours. A Russian telegraphist – Gennadij Olonkin, who was born of a Russian father and a Norwegian mother - became the tenth member of the expedition and played a crucial role as interpreter.

But the changing conditions in the Arctic meant that the expedition ultimately failed and Amundsen abandoned his plan to reach the North Pole by sea with Maud.

The Arctic has always revealed the frailty and limitations of human beings and modern technology. Despite global climate, this is unlikely to change.

If we are to succeed in the time ahead, we cannot afford to have a situation of ‘cold peace’.

Cooperation and constructive relations in the Arctic – and between Norway and Russia in particular – are quite simply a precondition for success in the region.

Thank you.