Historical archive

Foreign policy speech on relations between Norway and Russia

Historical archive

Published under: Stoltenberg's 2nd Government

Publisher Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, Oslo 18 June 2008

- Our relations with Russia will always have two key dimensions. One defined by our position as Russia’s neighbour. And one defined by our position as a member of NATO, and as part of what we still call the West – and what Russia perceives as the West and the West’s relations with Russia, Foreign Minister Støre said in his speech 18 June 2008.

Check against delivery
Translation from the Norwegian
The speech translated into Russian

First of all, I would like to thank the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs for this opportunity to meet such a knowledgeable group of people.

I will start with a couple of snapshots – one from October 2005 and one from June this year.

The first is from my first day at work after the present Government took office in October 2005: the Russian trawler Elektron is fleeing on a stormy sea, with Norwegian inspectors on board after having been seized on suspicion of illegal fishing in the Barents Sea.

It is a dramatic situation in every way: for the people involved there and then, not only out at sea, but also at the political level, with viewpoints on policy and the law of the sea being put to the test. I have my first talks with my Russian colleague, Sergei Lavrov – a useful, business-like discussion, during which he expresses regret over the captain’s behaviour, but also reminds me of the Russian views on these issues. It is not until two or three nights later that the vessel is in calm waters, close cooperation is established between the Norwegian Coast Guard and the Russian Navy, our inspectors are released and the captain is charged.

A snapshot, in other words, of the present-day potential for conflict between Norway and Russia, but also a snapshot of our ability to handle Norwegian–Russian relations in October in the year of 2005.

Now a switch of scene. As Admiral Grytting, Commander of Regional Command North Norway, put it when I was visiting Reitan and Bodø together with my Swedish and Finnish colleagues in October 2007, in the High North, we have progressed from relating to and dealing with a single major military threat during the Cold War to looking at how we can work together to address a number of different risk factors. The Norwegian Armed Forces, he added, do not own any of the risk factors alone. And Norway must – in virtually all cases – seek cooperation with Russia, and with our other neighbours and partners, in order to resolve them.

NATO is Norway’s fundamental security guarantee. But, with increased contact, trade, exchange and activity in the High North – where Russia is our neighbour – we are meeting a broad range of challenges that do not bring the security guarantee into play. This in itself is a good thing. We should be mindful of our security guarantee and keep it alive through our NATO membership. But in the High North, we now have a historic opportunity to develop a different agenda – an agenda that gradually moves us further away from the Cold War. And that is also a good thing.

And now to the second snapshot, the one from June this year. My colleague Mr Lavrov and I are visiting a large and well-kept memorial to the Red Army in Kirkenes. This was his first visit to Kirkenes, and in fact his first visit to Murmansk. I might add that it was already my third visit to Murmansk as Foreign Minister.

Anyway, there we are at the war memorial. A surprised and visibly moved Russian foreign minister with flowers in his hands here in Norway, a Western country and member of NATO, where throughout the years we have carefully maintained a memorial for all the thousands of Russian men and women who helped to liberate Finnmark in 1944. And we are now in 2008.

“Perhaps we Norwegians have made Lavrov think along new lines,” wrote Morten Fyhn, who was present on this occasion, in the national daily Aftenposten. That we don’t know. It’s difficult to say. But these snapshots tell us something about the Norwegian–Russian relationship.

And there is one thing in particular we should note. Our relations with Russia will always have two key dimensions. One defined by our position as Russia’s neighbour. And one defined by our position as a member of NATO, and as part of what we still call the West – and what Russia perceives as the West and the West’s relations with Russia. And thus also coloured by Russia’s relations with other neighbours, many of which are our allies.

Our policy towards Russia will depend on how we cope with these dimensions – how we develop our neighbourly relations at the same time as we secure our interests in a framework that extends beyond our bilateral relations. For something we will always need is a secure framework that creates a better balance in our dealings with a large and sometimes unpredictable neighbour.

Experience shows that our bilateral relations and the wider European perspective have an effect on each other. This has always been the case. But they are doing so in new ways, with a different starting point and different consequences. The extent to which we understand this interaction will be decisive for the success of our policy towards Russia.

Between these two snapshots there are many others that offer glimpses from the story of our relations – the many Norwegian–Russian meetings and talks and the atmosphere around them, the meetings between Arctic foreign ministers in northwest Greenland, meetings in Murmansk and Moscow, meetings of the NATO–Russia Council in Brussels, Riga and Bucharest, talks in New York, London and Tromsø, the growing number of meetings between government ministers in both countries, the numerous telephone calls. Fishermen, factory workers, county governors, opera singers, experts on the law of the sea, Russian students in Bodø and school children in Kirkenes, Norwegian researchers and artists in St Petersburg, and so on.

But there are other pictures too: Russian aircraft in the airspace off the Norwegian coast, vessels at sea, tensions around old and new lines of conflict in Europe, such as Kosovo, the enlargement of NATO, the missile defence system.

These snapshots make up an album of foreign and security policy realities in a new era.

But we can, initially, allow ourselves to look at the situation today in the light of earlier events. In 1979, on this very date, 18 June, Jimmy Carter and Leonid Brezhnev signed the SALT II Treaty, the world’s first nuclear disarmament agreement, and we remember the photograph of these two very different men shaking hands. And, keeping to the High North, 18 June 1928 was the date Roald Amundsen set off on a mission to rescue the Italian Arctic explorer Umberto Nobile. He died on the way, somewhere near the island of Bjørnøya. This is a tragic illustration of a key aspect of our country: Norway was, and will always be, a polar nation.

These introductory remarks reflect some of the scope of my topic today.


It is not easy to understand a world that is constantly changing. Nor is it easy to pursue a foreign policy that both has a firm and recognisable basis and is suited to dealing with new developments and challenges. You can easily let the weeks go by answering individual questions raised by an active and knowledgeable public opinion, responding to issues that are brought to the fore in the media and participating in debates on the hot topic of the week.

But as those of you at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs know better than most, we have to take time for strategic thinking. We have to digest and apply the knowledge we acquire – both factual and analytic. And we have to see developments in a long-term perspective, not least in Norwegian–Russian relations.

Relations with Russia are always high up on any Norwegian Government’s agenda. Why? Well, the answer may seem obvious. As it says in the catalogue for an exhibition on Norway and Russia that was held in Oslo and in St Petersburg in 2005: “For more than a thousand years, Norwegians and Russians have lived side-by-side as good neighbours (...) Europe’s most northerly border is also a meeting point between Norway and Russia. It is a well known geographical fact that the further north you go, the less distance there is between east and west.” This catalogue will be used as the basis for a book project to be completed in 2014.

From its first day in power, this Government has placed special emphasis on seizing the opportunities and addressing the challenges that arise from developments in the High North and a new and more open Russia.

The High North is the most important strategic priority area of the Government’s foreign policy. And hence the development of our relations with Russia is a main priority both for our High North strategy and for our foreign policy in general. The High North belongs to Norway’s neighbouring areas, and our efforts there involve both neighbourhood policy issues and global issues. These issues coincide in the High North.

And as some of our most important challenges as well as our greatest opportunities are related to the High North, many of these can only be dealt with in cooperation with Russia. Indeed, we have to get used to the idea that in many areas Russia is not just part of the problem – as our mindset has been telling us for many years – but should increasingly be seen as part of the solution to challenges in this region. Cooperating on solutions does not mean that we will compromise on our core values or interests. It means finding ways of further developing our relations with Russia.
And I would like to make this clear: I believe that our neighbourly relations with Russia are on a positive track. That these relations have practically never as been as broad as they are now – even though considerable progress can still be made.

This says something about just how icy our relations have been. We must remember this. The public debate does not always show sufficient understanding of what has gone before. We tend to put it behind us. We forget how the present situation has developed, what the departure point was when we started to develop closer and more normal neighbourly relations after decades of the Cold War.

We must maintain focus on the weak points and on what remains to be resolved. But we must also keep in mind the progress that has, despite everything, been made – the contrasts between 1990 and today, between 1980 or 1970 and today. I would argue that there has been a sea change in our relations.

The same applies to our policy towards Russia as applies to other areas of our foreign policy: we need to strike a balance between areas where we should remain firm in terms of attitudes, principles and patterns of behaviour and areas that require innovative thinking and new approaches.

In the new security picture that Admiral Grytting presented to us last autumn, we see that the concept of Norwegian interests includes more than a military balance of power, economic calculations and profit.

Of course our interests still involve a military dimension: the need to monitor the size and nature of the Russian forces in our neighbouring areas, and the need for military strategies.

But they also involve issues relating to climate change, the environment, global security, transport infrastructure, migration, conflict resolution, human rights and democratic development. These are all aspects of the broader concept of Norwegian interests.

Against this backdrop, the whole breadth of Russia’s political development affects the development of our policy towards Russia. Just as our overall relations with Russia are affected by how the country “gets on” with the West.

One of Norway’s fundamental interests is therefore that Russia develops and strengthens democracy, the rule of law, human rights and its civil society. That Russia gradually finds its place in the global economy and in the international community with its web of commitments. This reduces the risk of greater tension and conflict. It also builds bridges between people, firms, organisations, local authorities, governments and other organisations.

On the other hand, authoritarian tendencies, varying and at times insufficient respect for human rights, inequitable distribution of goods and unresolved rivalry between public bodies can all be regarded as modern risk factors. And a country with these characteristics makes a difficult neighbour.

Lack of transparency, widespread corruption and a poorly functioning legal system do not make for a good investment climate. Several Norwegian companies in various sectors have experienced this. Confidence in Russia as a neighbour and as a partner in Europe will depend directly on the country’s ability to make lasting progress in these areas.

At the same time it is obvious, now as previously, that from nature’s hand we have been created unequal. This has to do with geography, with concrete reality. Russia has the largest land area in the world – some 17 million square kilometres – it spans 10 time zones, and it is home to more than 140 million people.

Our neighbourly relations will always be characterised by asymmetry. This asymmetry affects how much impact we can expect to have in our dealings with Russia. Helge Blakkisrud here at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs pointed this out in his useful input to the series of articles Globalised Norway – what now? which is part of the Ministry’s “Refleks” project. He wrote: “One of Norway’s greatest challenges in its bilateral relations (with Russia) is simply to catch Moscow’s attention (...), raising Norwegian interests to a level where they are picked up by Moscow’s radar.” A good observation.

Nevertheless, I would maintain that we have a good dialogue with Russia. A dialogue with significant and substantial content that is important for both countries, and we find that we are able to catch Moscow’s attention, to borrow Mr Blakkisrud’s words.

One of the reasons for this assertion is that our foreign policy contact with Russia today extends beyond our bilateral relations, and we are also finding that this contact is normalising in several areas. Indeed, we can increasingly talk about international issues without resorting to labels and stereotypes to describe Moscow’s reactions, for example positions that have been developed in opposition to the West.

One example is the Middle East. Russia is a member of the Quartet, which is made up of the EU, the UN, the US and Russia, and we also have our role. As a result, I am in regular and close contact with Mr Lavrov – not least by telephone – to discuss issues relating to the region. In more and more areas we have discovered that we have developed similar analyses and that there are questions we find it useful to discuss.

Interests in the High North – some shared and some less so – are contributing to this trend. They are attracting attention, indeed some are quite literally appearing on the radar screen, both in Moscow and in Oslo. Russia’s interests in the north have not changed in any fundamental way, but the country has radically strengthened its capacity to pursue them. The High North will be a vital area for both countries – from a regional perspective, of course, but also from a national perspective, and indeed from an international perspective, as both countries seek to expand their role in key areas such as energy, transport and climate change. All of this has relevance for both countries.

Asymmetry – yes, but let us also bear in mind that the world is full of asymmetrical relationships between neighbouring countries. And many of these relations are far more complex than our relations with Russia.

For decades, this asymmetry was compounded by a deep ideological and political divide, which was reflected in the Cold War. Now there is a hope that this divide will become less important, so that the borders in the north are at least no longer borders between ideologies and world views.

But we cannot be sure. Again, our relations with Russia are coloured by Russia’s relations with the West. And again, we are often reminded that Russia is “somewhere else” as Peter Normann Waage has so aptly put it, that the path Russia will follow is not clear to us, and that we must accept the fact that there may be setbacks – both within Russia and in Russia’s relations with us and with the rest of the world.

At the same time we see that the progress in our bilateral relations with Russia is being made at a time when relations between Russia and the West have become more challenging. And at a time when concern about developments in Russia is increasing in many Western countries.

A number of questions are being asked about Russia’s democratic development and signs of authoritarian governance. And about Russian foreign policy: Russia’s reaction to the enlargement of NATO and to the missile defence system in Poland and the Czech Republic. Russia’s suspension of the CFE Treaty. The east–west schism in the OSCE. The way it is dealing with Chechnya, and continued violations of human rights in the region. Examples of how Russia – despite the fact that the Cold War has ended – still makes it quite clear that it has its own interests, distancing itself from Western positions. The signs of a new polarisation between Russia on the one hand, and the US and Europe on the other.

Nevertheless, as Helge Blakkisrud points out in his article, “much of the frustration that is so typical of Russia’s relations with the West” is due to the fact that it “feels like a superpower, but does not feel it is treated like one.” And that the resistance it meets in international forums is “over-communicated to the Russian public”.

This is the Russia we are all encountering – in our neighbourly relations and together with several of today’s NATO allies, who have far more dramatic chapters involving Russia in their histories than we do. Countries that until recently were quite simply occupied or relegated to the shadowy existence of a vassal state. Countries with leaders who themselves remember these times. Countries that have aspired to both EU and NATO membership to ensure that this will not happen again. Countries that feel genuine pressure and stress as a result of Russian energy policy.

This is the broader tapestry that now makes up the West, and that comes into play when the West is seeking the way forward in its relations with Russia. Norway is part of this Western community. But we are also Russia’s neighbour, and we can point to the fact that we maintained our own kind of neighbourly relations, even through the coldest years of the Cold War. And now that our bilateral relations are developing rapidly, our neighbourly relations are quite unique.

Meanwhile, some might ask whether the move towards qualitatively new and closer cooperation with Russia will put us on a collision course with our Western allies.

Could conflicts arise between transatlantic solidarity and our neighbourly interests with regard to Russia?
The challenge for Norway will be to strike a balance between our neighbourly relations and our transatlantic ties. Much has changed since the Cold War. But in my view, these ties are as firm as ever. They are vital for us precisely because of the asymmetry in our relations with Russia due to our geography and resources.

Some people believe that our position in the High North is weakened by our remaining outside the EU, and that it is the EU that offers the broad cooperation we need to enhance our ability to meet the new security challenges. And that although NATO’s security guarantee is certainly important, it is not as useful on a day-to-day basis for addressing the large and small issues we have to deal with in this region.

This may be one way of viewing the situation. But even though Norway is not a member of the EU, we are very closely integrated. We cooperate with EU institutions, with EU countries, in the Northern Dimension, with our Nordic neighbours. A community of interests is being developed in the High North – not only with Russia, but also with European and North American partners.

Increased tension between NATO and Russia, or the development of a bloc mentality reminiscent of the Cold War, would not be in Norway’s interest. We are therefore seeking to prevent such tensions from becoming too dominant in our bilateral and international relations.

We are not alone here. Many other NATO countries share our desire to identify and strengthen channels of cooperation with Russia. At the same time, we are part of an alliance, and we will stand firm on certain core values and commitments. And we see eye to eye with our other allies as regards the importance of communicating these standpoints unambiguously to Russia.

The cooperation in the NATO–Russia Council is important in this respect. It is in the interest of the whole of NATO to cooperate with Russia to meet the new security challenges that do not follow the logic of the Cold War and should not be understood in terms of “us” and “them” or “in front of or behind the Iron Curtain”. These are security challenges that we have to deal with together. The responsibility for finding answers to these challenges lies with us all.

Russia shares borders with several of the countries where terrorists are clearly being mobilised and trained. In the NATO–Russia Council, we have benefited from Russia’s knowledge of Afghanistan in connection with the fight against illegal drugs, we have discussed transporting equipment to the forces in Afghanistan via Russian territory, and we have discussed issues relating to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Russia’s experiences of terrorist actions has also been discussed. We must continue to build on this basis, and we must continue to expand our common agendas and attribute greater importance to them.

Let us consider some new facts: unlike the Soviet Union, today’s Russia takes an active part in the global market economy.

This is a fundamental change that is often underestimated. Russia is dependent on selling the energy it produces and its products on the world market. The world needs Russia’s energy, but Russia also needs to sell it. Russia’s integration into the global market economy is the backdrop for its desire to join international forums such as the WTO and the OECD. And in my view, we should generally welcome the country in these forums.

Membership in such forums provides a broader framework, in which the members can hold each other accountable. Just as we can currently hold each other accountable in the Council of Europe. And this applies not only to members, but also to prospective members, for instance of the OECD, which requires “likemindedness”. We intend to remind prospective members of this.

There is another trend worth noting in our relations with Russia. Certain polarisation tendencies in the international arena are making regional cooperation arrangements more relevant. This is perhaps because there is a “lighter”, more pragmatic and cooperation-oriented tone in the regional forums, as they tend to discuss more limited, specific matters that are of interest to the participating countries.

When the Soviet Union disintegrated, the Barents cooperation became a door opener for cooperation between Norway and Russia in the north. A unique aspect of this cooperation has been, and continues to be, that it provides a tool for contact – not only between the central authorities, but also between authorities and other actors at the local and regional levels.

Today, the Barents cooperation is a fabric of interwoven cooperative relations.

One of the most important achievements has been the considerable normalisation of relations between Russians and Norwegians. This is something Hans Kristian Amundsen has reflected on in his accounts of the north. This normalisation is a major gain in itself. We tend to forget that things we consider quite normal today would have been virtually unthinkable 20 years ago. During all these years, the sense of ownership of the Barents cooperation felt by people in North Norway has been a driving force in this cooperation – and this is still the case.

Some of our systematic work has perhaps been contrary to much of the conventional wisdom in security policy circles, which question the usefulness of relation-building from the bottom up. Is it of any value in the world of power politics? However, in my view, history shows that it leads to considerable results.

Since its establishment 15 years ago, the Barents Secretariat in Kirkenes, which is owned by the three northernmost counties of Norway and receives financial support from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has provided support for 2800 cooperation projects at regional level in the Barents region. I might add that they have recently been thoroughly evaluated, and the conclusion of the evaluation was positive. These projects cover a wide range: from setting up radio broadcasts aimed at the indigenous peoples on the Kola Peninsula to establishing a ICT component factory in Murmansk.

The confidence- and competence-building effects of all these people-to-people, grassroots activities cannot be overestimated. This lays – in fact it is – the very foundation for broad cooperation in the north, which involves authorities and businesses, the educational and cultural sectors, civil society and individual people.

The Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS) and the Barents cooperation are forums where the tensions and polarisation tendencies I have mentioned are not so visible. They are – as I see it, and as my Russian counterpart recently also put it – the most innovative cooperation arrangement in Europe today. No less.

There is also another forum that is gaining importance: the Arctic Council is the obvious body for developing more of the policy we need for the Arctic area. This requires that the governments and organisations, including those that ensure the essential participation of the indigenous peoples, are prepared to set such political agendas. Norway is in the process of sending out invitations for an extraordinary Arctic Council meeting at state secretary level this autumn, at which climate issues and other political issues will be discussed. And there will be a new ministerial meeting in spring 2009.

This is of course a forum where we meet Russia, which is perhaps the leading polar nation. But let me add that countries far away, such as India and China, are showing increasing interest. The planting of the Russian flag on the seabed at the North Pole – or wherever it was – was a demonstration of a new Russian assertiveness also in relation to the Arctic. But apart from such symbolic acts, we note that Russia is sticking to the book – in this case the law of the sea’s provisions that the extent of the continental shelf is determined on the basis of submitted documentation, and Russia has in fact submitted such documentation. To a large degree, Norway and Russia coincide in their views of legal matters as regards the Arctic. And this is something we emphasise.

The title Kjell Dragnes chose for his article on the recent meeting between the five Arctic coastal nations in northwest Greenland was “Warm meeting in the Arctic”. Most likely you chose the word “warm” because much of the content was about the consequences of global warming, but it could just as well have been a description of the atmosphere during the meeting. The coastal states agreed to a large extent, and they discussed key issues without polarising the debate or turning their interests into a question of ideology.

Norway has clear rights in the Arctic. But we also have responsibilities. All in all, it is a question of political responsibility. The other states that border on the Arctic Ocean – Russia, the US, Canada and Denmark/Greenland – stress this point as well. The outcome of the ministerial meeting was a recognition both of the fact that we have the necessary legal basis and of the need for a new policy within this framework.

Then there is the EU’s approach, and here I would like to mention the Northern Dimension, of which Norway, Russia and Iceland are full members. This is another framework for developing our cooperation and relations with Russia. And once again, it contrasts the present situation with the realities of the Cold War.

I would also like to mention the revitalised Nordic cooperation on security policy. There is agreement among the Nordic foreign ministers that Thorvald Stoltenberg should head a new Nordic group appointed to consider Nordic foreign and security policy cooperation. Cooperation among the Nordic neighbours and with Russia will of course be a central theme. This would have been unthinkable only a few years ago, just as the Northern Dimension demonstrates how noticeably different the situation is now, compared with the Iron Curtain reality of the Cold War.

In matters related to the High North we see that our contacts with the EU are increasing considerably – as is the interest on the part of the EU. For example, an Arctic strategy is currently being developed in Brussels. Norway is following these efforts closely, and is also providing input to the process. Delivering on our High North policy – which is one of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ main tasks – means deepening cooperation on common interests with our partners, not least within the EU framework.



There has now been a change of president in Russia, although analysts question whether it really was a change.

Last week I observed that there are now two portraits on the walls of public offices in Murmansk, one of Prime Minister Putin and one of President Medvedev, the President’s hanging a few centimetres higher – with all that has to offer the eternal discipline of Kremlinology.

But despite the cynicism the analysis of the well-rehearsed change of president might lead to, let us take the new president at his word – and hold him accountable.

During one of his first visits abroad, which was to Germany, President Medvedev made a speech to German parliamentarians and representatives of civil society. In the speech, which he held in Berlin on 5 June, he said the following: “Many are asking themselves today what political line we can expect of Russia (…). I want to say from the outset that in both international and internal affairs we are committed above all to the rule of law and to having all countries, above all the big powers, respect international law. There can be no doubt that this is an essential condition for managing and maintaining world development.”

Further on in the speech, talking about modernisation and economic development in Russia, Mr Medvedev said: “I want to say now that one thing is clear: a free market and openness to the outside world guarantee that our changes cannot be reversed.” So this is something he considers important as well.

We need to interpret this in the light of where Russia has come from. First there was the collapse of the Soviet Union, and then, in the 1990s, Russia swung from one extreme to another – from a hermetically closed country with nuclear missiles aimed at the West to a country on the verge of disintegration.
The Soviet Union – and, by extension, its successor state Russia – had in many ways lost the Cold War. Russia’s political, ideological and economic collapse meant that the country had little influence on the international scene. And for a while during the 1990s, the former superpower was the object of a kind of “charity” and “political patronisation”.

This was not a constructive starting point. Sooner or later it was bound to trigger a reaction. The Russians are proud people, like most others. In my view, it is also wrong to interpret Russia’s absence from the international arena as a deliberate policy of détente.

I believe that we lost a number of good opportunities to involve Russia during these years. As we did in the Barents cooperation. Years of lost opportunities.

Russia’s economy is now growing at an annual rate of more than 7%. The country has oil and gas resources that to a large extent are yet to be exploited, it has huge natural resources in the form of forests and minerals, it has paid off its debt and has currency reserves worth USD 700 billion, just to mention a few figures. All of this has given Russia back its self-confidence, and not least a feeling of being an influential foreign policy actor.

Russia is back on the international scene, not as a great power, but as a major power. The Russian authorities are rebuilding the country’s strength, pride and image. In all international forums, they keep repeating the message that Russia is not a country that will allow itself to be dictated to. Russia insists on calling the shots itself. In his speeches, Mr Lavrov has underlined that Russia wants to be involved in resolving global problems, but it wants to “think for itself”.

In my view, this should not be interpreted as a change of policy. It is rather a question of increased influence, compared with the 1990s, when – due to its weak position – Russia was forced to pursue what was not really a policy of its own choosing.

Now that Russia is asserting itself, and we see that our mental picture of a “poor and weak” Russia is no longer correct, we could easily fall back into the logic of the Cold War. We should not allow that to happen. And we should on no account believe that we are about to experience a repetition of the Cold War. Such repetitions of history are rare.

If you glance through Norwegian newspaper articles from the past year, you will see that many of them discuss whether it is a new cold war we are seeing the contours of in Russia’s new mode of conduct.

The resumption of flight activity off our coast – and off other states’ coasts and along borders in general – is fuelling such conclusions. We must also take into account that one of the regions where this self-assertive Russia will want to make itself felt is precisely the High North, on our doorstep. This will require wisdom and firmness on our part – in line with the policy we have pursued in this area before.

In November last year, I said to my counterpart, Mr Lavrov: “It is easy for my government to argue the need to purchase new fighters now that Russia is simulating bombing raids on Bodø.” It is important that we tell Russia in clear terms how its actions and statements are perceived – just as we should listen to the Russians to understand how they perceive Western countries’ actions. This is also a part of this dialogue.

In my view we should put aside – in fact make an effort to get rid of – the mindset that tells us that we are heading back to the Cold War. We must not allow our mindset to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Today’s tensions do not spring out of ideology, as they did 20 years ago.

We should rather seek to understand the long-term trends in Russia’s development. And here we need the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs. This is not an easy task. And it is not given that it will be a reassuring exercise, although there has been peace between Norway and Russia for a thousand years.

Former Chancellor Helmut Schmidt claimed that to understand the Soviet Union, you needed to read “75% Dostoyevsky and 25% Lenin”. I think that combination may still be relevant. Charles de Gaulle, on the other hand, was reluctant to speak about the Soviet Union. He preferred “la Russie”. I believe there is more to be learned from studying the longstanding tensions between the Russian eagle’s two heads, which look in opposite directions, uncertain whether Russia should find its place in the East or in the West.

We should not be naive. Norway shares a land border and sea areas with a Russia that is demonstrating its regained strength and flexing its muscles. Norway continues to have a responsibility for maintaining stability in vast sea areas. The natural resources in the High North are becoming increasingly important. It is as important as ever that Norway has adequate defence capabilities in the north and that we belong to an alliance that gives us a security guarantee. It is also important that we are mentally prepared for the fact that developments in Russia could take a serious turn for the worse.

But I would warn against what at times can appear to be “Russophobia” and Cold-War reflexes in the Norwegian public debate. We now have what we did not have before, namely a close dialogue with the Russians on a vast range of topics and common challenges. This is where the bilateral aspect becomes important. We openly exchange views on common Norwegian and Russian interests. There is now a breadth and depth in our political, economic, cultural and people-to-people relations with Russia that we have never seen before.

There is a profusion of cooperation arrangements. This is new, in terms of both quantity and quality. This is not a magic formula that solves problems or defies the laws of gravity. But it is drawing our neighbourly relations and the dynamics in the north in a new direction. It will take time before this manifests itself in tangible changes. But we must take advantage of this development, both to further deepen our bilateral relations and to promote more constructive cooperation between the West and Russia.


What then about one of the main objections, the development of democracy in Russia?

We observed the recent parliamentary and presidential elections with amazement. Some have termed it “managed democracy”. As we consider an independent civil society to be a pillar of democratic society, a knowledge base and an important corrective to the authorities, we are concerned by the increasing control civil society and the media are subject to in Russia. Killings of journalists that are not resolved and human rights violations in Chechnya that are not properly prosecuted show that Russia still has a long way to go as regards the rule of law.

In my mind’s eye, I see a picture of something I was once told: above the entrance to the Russian Supreme Court, which was recently renovated, there is a statue of Justitia, the goddess of justice. If you look carefully – which I am sure many of you who have been there have done – you see that the Russian Justitia is represented without the traditional blindfold. The story goes that when the statue was made, it was decided that Justitia had no need of a blindfold: there might be a need for one in capitalist countries, but not in the Soviet Union, where justice and equality before the law had been established once and for all.

Today Justitia has been restored, but still she has no blindfold. There is a symbolism in this. Maybe it shows how difficult it is to expel the demons of the past, and that goes for Russia as well.

I believe we should continue putting human rights on the agenda – as we do when we raise individual cases, when we promote the principles of the rule of law, when we share the impatience of the whole of Europe with Russia for not ratifying Protocol 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Our message is not intended to be patronising. It is never wise to communicate in such a way. It is in our interests that Russia experiences social and economic progress. A Russia in which democracy grows stronger.

We will do what we can to support such a process. We would be a bad neighbour if we did not. We are therefore making sound investments – not donations – when we provide support, which in 2007 totalled NOK 37 million, for cooperation between Norwegian and Russian NGOs or for measures related to environmental protection, human rights and indigenous people’s rights, for youth organisations and, not least, for media and journalists’ organisations.

From time to time, Russia objects to the fact that many NGOs are funded from abroad. We need to explain and demonstrate that such suspiciousness is not justified. I discuss human rights issues with my Russian counterpart, and so do my colleagues.

Since he was elected president, Mr Medvedev has on several occasions advocated strengthening civil society and an independent judiciary in Russia. And it should be noted that he emphasises that the country adheres to fundamental European values such as democracy, humanism and the principles of the rule of law. For example, in Berlin (on 5 June) he said: “(…) we very much want to see the emergence of as many non-governmental organisations as possible working on issues such as (…) increasing tolerance (…). I fully agree that media freedom needs to be protected, and that this protection needs to be enshrined in law.”

Some Russian human rights activists have reacted positively to such statements, whereas others dismiss them, saying that someone who has been so close to the top for many years is not going to change now.

When we show our impatience and criticise Russia for not living up to its obligations – for example as a member of the Council of Europe – we must keep in mind that the development of true democracy, where civil society is taken seriously and where the opposition is respected and valued, is the result of a long process. Our task should be to ensure that Russia chooses the road to democracy and stays on it.

On the other hand, recognition of the fact that this will take time must not become an excuse for inaction or be used to explain away problems. Critical and engaged dialogue on these issues will therefore continue to be an important part of our discussions with Russia, both in Norway’s and in the West’s dealings with Russia. Dialogue is always best if it builds on respect. And in my opinion the respect we show Russia paves the way for such dialogue.


Although Norway’s proximity to Russia poses challenges, it also offers opportunities. At present there are opportunities in many areas. We discussed several of them at our meetings in Kirkenes and Murmansk last week. I want to touch on some of them now too, because when taken together, they paint a new picture, not only of our relations with Russia, but also of cross-border relations in the north.

I will start with a few words about business cooperation.

With the development of the petroleum sector in the north, we expect considerable growth and development on both sides of the border. Many people have high expectations of spin-off effects. Governor Yevdokimov of Murmansk oblast told me that the Shtokman development will involve investments of USD 50 billion, and than USD 19 billion of this will be invested in Murmansk oblast. Last week, the Murmansk authorities presented their plans for the development of the port of Murmansk to Foreign Minister Lavrov and me. These plans involve major investments, and they will promote development and create many jobs.

The Barents region may become a major energy supplier to both the US and Europe. As I have said before, the High North may become a petroleum province of global importance. Norwegian petroleum-related companies have special expertise developed in our own offshore industry. And this will be needed.

We know that the competition is keen. But cooperation is in both Norway’s and Russia’s interests – cooperation both between the authorities and between companies. We will therefore continue to support the business sector by removing barriers to cooperation across the border with Russia and providing framework conditions that give Norwegian companies the best possible basis for taking part in this development.

In the High North strategy, we proposed the establishment of an economic and industrial cooperation zone straddling the border in the High North as a means of promoting cooperation. This has been called the “Pomor Zone” as a reminder of the sense of community that existed before the long parenthesis that began with the Russian Revolution in 1917. This is a bold vision and a complicated idea with a long-term perspective. But we must be allowed to have some dreams.

In the meantime, we are working step by step to develop concrete initiatives to achieve our vision. The mayors of Sør-Varanger and Pechenga are interested in twinning the municipalities, and the governments of both countries are supporting this initiative.

Next, there is the issue of infrastructure. Most transport and communication still runs north-south, and far too little east-west. One concrete result of our approach in the border area is the work that has been done by a Norwegian-Russian group that has studied the possibilities for better coordination of Norwegian and Russian infrastructure in the north. Their report has now been published, and will provide valuable input in the preparation of Norway’s next four-year national transport plan.

But perhaps even more important: what is needed in the way of infrastructure given the expansion of offshore activities and the repercussions on land? We still lack a lot of the necessary information here. We do not yet know what the seabed has to offer, but time and exploration activities will tell. And we cannot build deep-water ports before we know what we need.

But we do need an overall strategic perspective on infrastructure and what will be needed if the pace of development really picks up. This is something the Government is now turning its attention to with a view to developing a better knowledge base for making decisions in the future. This of course overlaps with important aspects of the work being done by the Ministry of Transport and Communications and the Ministry of Fisheries and Coastal Affairs.

And we note a sense of optimism in the High North, on the Norwegian side of the border too. Norwegian companies no longer feel that they need financial support from the authorities in order to invest in Russia. They are making good money. There are many examples of this. There are contractors, of course, but other sectors are also moving into Russia. There are many success stories. In most cases, these are companies that have made a long-term commitment and experienced some setbacks, but have persisted. They include everything from cement and engineering firms to banks and construction firms – not to mention the fact that Russia is one of the most important markets for Norwegian seafood exports.

We have a broad range of contacts in the maritime field. For example, there are now several hundred Russian naval officers serving on Norwegian-owned vessels. This would have been unthinkable during the Cold War.

The Government Pension Fund – Global recently decided to include Russia in its investment portfolio. This is also quite a change from just a few years ago.

The Research Council of Norway is in the process of launching a major five-year research programme with a total budget of NOK 25 million. The programme will explore the geopolitical factors that are likely to affect the High North in the time ahead. Russia will of course be part of this equation. This summer the Research Council will announce which research institutions and other actors it intends to involve in the programme.

Then there is the question of people, the most important resource. Economic development, particularly in the north, will make it difficult to find enough qualified labour, and that applies on both sides of the border. We are already experiencing a shortage of labour, and the demand will only increase. There are now plans to reopen the Syd-Varanger mine. Who would have guessed that, after the painful closure in the 1990s? But due to the good times, there is now not enough qualified personnel to operate the mine. And when the development of the Shtokman field gets under way, there will be a huge demand for qualified labour on the Russian side of the border.

We should have a vision of the whole of the Barents region as one labour market. The demand for labour will vary over the course of the various projects involved. Ideally, the available workforce should be used wherever it is needed at any given time – across the borders.

A lot will need to be done to achieve this. We need a new visa agreement between Norway and Russia to simplify the procedures for issuing visas in both directions and to make it easier for people who travel a lot to get multiple visas.

Furthermore, since last autumn we have been working to identify ways of making visa and border crossing procedures simpler and more effective. Today, approximately 98% of all visa applications are granted, but this still involves a lot of paperwork.

Last week Sergei Lavrov and I agreed to start preparation for the introduction of a border resident ID card, which would exempt the local population on either side of the border from visa requirements.

Mr Lavrov was also grateful for the fact that Norway has already started issuing five-year multiple visas to Russian nationals who are engaged in long-term cooperation with Norway. He added jokingly that he was unsure how to interpret this – whether Norway wanted to “set a good example” or “to show Russia in a bad light”. That is up to Russia.

Governor Yevdokimov of Murmansk oblast expressed a certain degree of concern earlier this spring when he was presented with our white paper on easing the procedures for employing Russian labour in Norway. He feared that we would “drain” northwestern Russia of labour that the region needs itself.

We must strive to make people on both sides of the border see the advantages of making the best possible use of the labour that is available in the north. In fact, seeing mutual advantages is a chapter by itself. There are those who claim that the Russians are not used to thinking in terms of win-win situations, and that the other party has to lose for them to feel they have won. Perhaps the networks that have been created in the north can help to make a different scenario seem credible.

The current visa requirements are among the few clear dividing lines that still exist between “East” and “West”. Few other things would do more to eliminate the notion of “them” and “us” as the establishment of a visa-free regime. But before that can happen, a number of important conditions need to be fulfilled. However, the mere fact that we can consider such an idea shows that times have changed. And I intend to hold on to the vision of turning our border with Russian into a “normal” border some day.

In other words, what we are seeing now is that Norway and Russia are growing closer as true neighbours, in a qualitatively new way. There are currently about 10 000 people with a Russian background living in Norway. They are part of Norwegian society – the new Norwegian “we” – and are adding to its diversity and contributing their expertise. In 1990 a few thousand people crossed the Norwegian-Russian border. Last year nearly 109 000 did. The number speaks for itself.

Let us now consider the natural resources in more depth. There are the renewable resources, the fish, on which we have enjoyed close cooperation for many years, including during the Cold War. We can now see that illegal fishing is on the decline – thanks to our joint efforts.

Then there is energy – one of the main driving forces in the north. Success here will not depend on any given single project. In the years to come there may be several. Or none. We don’t know. But there can be no doubt that Norwegian participation in the development of the Shtokman field opens great perspectives. StatoilHydro is actively involved, and the Russian authorities have conveyed to us that Gazprom wants to include StatoilHydro in other projects as well. This was confirmed last week.

The Norwegian supply industry is actively positioning itself in order to compete for contracts. This is all very well for the Norwegian economy, but what about other important consequences of petroleum development in the Barents Sea?

What we do know is that the world’s demand for energy is immense and that oil and gas fields in the Barents Sea will be developed. It is therefore in our interest to do everything we can to ensure that this development does not cause harm to the marine environment. I believe that in order to maximise our influence on these processes, we should participate actively and expand our cooperation with the Russians – on both sides of the border. Norwegian companies have experience of oil and gas extraction in difficult sea areas, and thus have the best possible starting point for ensuring that the petroleum development in the Barents Sea is carried out in an environmentally sound manner.

Norwegian industrial participation is an excellent basis for a broader energy dialogue between the Norwegian and Russian authorities. As a start, we have launched a project under the knowledge programme “Barents 2020”, which under the auspices of Det Norske Veritas (DNV) is to develop common health, safety and environmental standards for the offshore industry and the maritime transport sector. Here, Norway and Russia have common interests.

Of course, the rapid climate changes we are observing in the High North also figure prominently in our future picture of the Shtokman development and petroleum development in general. Norway and Russia are major producers of fossil fuels. We therefore have particular responsibility for doing our utmost to combat climate change. Strategically, it would be wrong for Norway not to explore the opportunities for pragmatic cooperation on climate-related issues with Russia, as we are doing with other partners.

Norway and Russia have not agreed on the causes of the changes we are witnessing. Some of the Russian rhetoric is based on old scientific theories that are stubbornly resisting re-evaluation, although President Medvedev has announced a new line in this area as well. We must hold on to our goal, which is to identify good projects where cooperation with Russia could provide economic or social benefit, and at the same time reduce CO2 emissions.

Norwegian-Russian cooperation on environmental issues is also developing. This is certainly needed when it comes to cleaning up nuclear waste – where a lot has been achieved, but much still remains to be done – and polluting industry, such as the nickel smelter on the Kola Peninsula, which according to a recent announcement will be closed by 2011. The fact that the post of minister of the environment has been re-established in Russia will hopefully mean that environmental issues with be put high on the agenda in Russia as well. This is another area where the new president is signalling a new line.

There is also a vast array of people-to-people contacts and networks. One example from the field of culture is the long-term cooperation that has been established between the Norwegian National Opera & Ballet and the Murmansk Cultural Committee.


My point is that Norway has unique experience of tangible, close cooperation with Russia. This cooperation covers a broad range of fields and is progressing well, but there is still room for considerable improvement and development.

Because of course, it isn’t all plain sailing. Russia’s new border zone in the north, the Russian restrictions on the import of Norwegian fish, the signals Russia is sending as regards its ambitions in Svalbard, and the joint fisheries management and control regime in the Fisheries Protection Zone – these are all examples of real challenges to Norwegian-Russian cooperation.

I started my speech with the picture of the Russian trawler Elektron fleeing out at sea. This illustrates one of the new risk factors. It is also an example of a situation we handled satisfactorily – both internally in Norway and in our dealings with Russia.

In such cases where we disagree with Russia, events and statements can lead to heated situations, even in cold areas.

But what has changed, what means that we are in quite a different situation now as compared with earlier, is the quality of our dialogue with Russia. Even on difficult issues, we are able to conduct an objective dialogue.

We are also signalling quite clearly that in northern waters, Russia can expect Norway to take a predictable and firm line on familiar issues. This is a question of taking a long-term approach to Norwegian policy and enforcement. That way, things are clearest. Our door is open. But we are not “bilateralising” our responsibility for exercising Norwegian sovereignty with respect to other countries.

So my friends, to sum up, it is the developments in the High North that have the greatest impact on Norwegian-Russian relations. Here the bilateral dimension is centre stage, and this dimension has been strengthened, developed and deepened. We may still have conflicting interests, but we have gained more experience on how to handle them. All in all, this points in the right directions. This is one dimension.

Then there is the other dimension – the relations between Russia and the West, including Norway. Internal developments in Russia, such as the emergence of a form of governance of a more authoritarian nature, do not serve to build trust. On the contrary, they serve to consolidate the perception that Russia is still “somewhere else”.

In the same vein, developments in the relations between Russia and its closest neighbours in its “near abroad” are also important, as they say something about Russia’s willingness to tolerate that states that were once part of the Soviet Union, or part of the Soviet sphere of interest, now have the freedom to choose their own allegiances.

Developments in the relations between Russia and leading NATO and EU members are also important, because Norwegian foreign policy in the High North is about relating to – and influencing – parameters that have developed as a result of the relations between Russia, the US and the EU.

This means that our neighbourly relations with Russia – which are important to us in their own right – are also an experience and a landscape that draw Norway towards the centre of European and transatlantic politics. Filling that position is both a challenge and an opportunity for us.