Russia and the Nordic Countries – Relations and Cooperations

Oslo, Lysebu, 26. oktober 2015

Statssekretær Tore Hattrems åpningstale ved en konferanse 26. oktober 2015 om Russland og de nordiske landene.

Sjekkes mot framføring

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to thank the hosts for the opportunity to speak at this conference on “relations and cooperations” between Russia and the Nordic countries. This is a most timely conference.

I am therefore pleased to see such a number of prominent – and competent – people among the guests and speakers.

This is, I am sure, largely thanks to Thorvald Stoltenberg’s tireless dedication to furthering Nordic cooperation and to exploring the potential for cooperation between the Nordic countries and other countries and regions.

Unfortunately, we have to discuss our relations with Russia against a political backdrop that has changed considerably compared with only a few years ago.

That is why this conference is important. We all need to discuss how to achieve and preserve a stable, well-functioning and good relationship with neighbouring Russia under the circumstances we are currently facing.

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The Nordic countries are bound together by history, culture, people-to-people bonds, and, of course, geography. You will be hard put to find a region of sovereign states more closely intertwined.

One can speak of a Nordic identity in addition to our national and, increasingly global identity. Since the end of the Cold War, we have experienced a significant development of a Nordic security community based on our joint values and interests.

Throughout Norwegian and Nordic history, Russia has been – and will naturally continue to be – an essential part of our immediate neighbourhood. The various Nordic countries relations with Russia have differed as a result of their foreign policy orientations and choices.

For a long time we faced the challenge of existing in the shadow of European great power politics. Then, during the Cold War, we more or less unwittingly created what has aptly been called “the Nordic Balance”.

Nonetheless, despite the Nordic foreign policy diversity, the Nordic countries and citizens have gradually grown closer and closer. And after the end of the Cold War, the Nordic countries shared a strong sense of optimism about the possibility of more political and economic integration between East and West.

Some of the most important developments of the 1990s in our region were the birth of new forms of cooperation, such as the Council of the Baltic Sea States in 1992, the Barents Euro-Arctic Council in 1993, the Arctic Council in 1996 and the EU Northern Dimension in 1997.

The EU became a more important factor in the region through the membership of Finland and Sweden in 1994, and the EEA agreements with Norway and Iceland.

I feel honoured to be in the presence today of some of the architects of these cooperation structures. Structures that contributed so much to the confidence building and integration processes that we set up in our region together with Russia.

All these developments were products of the post-Cold War geopolitical reality. Products of initiative, opportunity and innovation. The regional structures helped bring about cooperation and low tension to replace polarisation and strategic competition.

Significantly, Russia is and continues to be an equal partner in all of them.

In our view, these forms of cooperation should continue to play an important role in promoting constructive and practical cooperation between Russia and the Nordic countries.

This is particularly important in a time when relations between Russia and large parts of the international community are strained.

This is the core of our current challenges: Russia has violated international law and challenged the international legal order.

The annexation of Crimea and destabilisation in eastern Ukraine, have changed the security landscape in our region.

Tensions and concern have grown. There was no choice but to respond.

For the first time on the European continent since WW II, a country – our neighbour – seized a part of a neighbouring country by military means.

An absence of response in this situation would imply a tacit acceptance of violations of international law – and that might prevails over right.

This would have been unacceptable and utterly dangerous for international relations in the 21 century.

Our response is well known. We have suspended military cooperation, aligned ourselves with EU’s restrictive measures, and supported various steps taken by NATO.

However, as neighbouring countries, we need to continue important forms of practical cooperation.

It is in our interest to ensure continued border cooperation, sound fisheries management and to continue our cooperation on environment, nuclear safety, and search and rescue in the Barents Sea.

Less than two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to discuss these and other issues with First Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Titov here in Oslo. This was part of the ongoing dialogue we maintain with Russia at various levels.

Norway also wishes to maintain people-to-people contact and regional cooperation. This has helped to forge valuable and longstanding ties across our common border in the north.

We will continue to engage Russia in constructive cooperation in the Arctic Council, the Barents cooperation, the Baltic Sea cooperation and in other regional forums.

We were therefore disappointed when the offices of the Nordic Council of Ministers in St. Petersburg and Kaliningrad were instructed to register as so-called “foreign agents”.

Consequently, the Nordic Council of Ministers decided to put its activities in Northwest Russia on hold. This is most unfortunate and regrettable.

The Nordic Council of Ministers has maintained a presence in Russia spanning 20 years.

Its offices have made significant contributions to establishing contacts between authorities, organisations and companies in the Nordic countries and Northwest Russia.

They have been important points of contact and support for Russian civil society, not least in the spheres of culture and education. The suspension of the offices’ activities is therefore a loss for all parties.

The Nordic countries are meeting the present situation through solidarity and enhanced cooperation. Our cooperation rests on shared values and a determination to address common challenges together.

Although our affiliations differ, we cooperate closely within the frameworks of the EU and NATO.

The increased security policy significance of the Baltic Sea region makes Nordic and Nordic-Baltic cooperation even more relevant.

NATOs partnerships with Finland and Sweden are extensive and have the potential for further development. At the same time, Norway welcomes the increased importance of the EU in security and defence matters. Increased EU-NATO cooperation is essential.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Our Russia policy follows a dual track: On the one side defending our values and principles - loud and clear, if need be. And on the other side seeking pragmatic and practical cooperation of mutual interest.

We seek to be clear and consistent in our message, predictable and firm in our approach. We will continue to pursue this policy. But we need to be clear on why cooperation and contact with Russia today is more difficult than a couple a years ago.

The answer is Russia’s actions in Ukraine and worsening conditions for democracy, human rights and the rule of law. We will, however, continue practical cooperation where we have common interest. A deep political cooperation will require a return to common values and the path of international law.

Our common vision should be that the relations to Russia one day should be as close and good as between the Nordic countries. It is a long way to go and a large gap to fill. But we should all move in the right direction.

By engaging in cooperation, promoting people-to-people contact, supporting civil societies and respecting human rights, we contribute to trust, peace and security in our part of the world.

I sincerely hope that this conference will bring us closer to our goal and I wish you a stimulating conference.

Thank you.