On April 13 2023, Norway announced that 15 Russian embassy officials are being expelled from the Russian embassy in Oslo.
Minister of Foreign Affairs of Norway Anniken Huitfeldt said that those 15 were “intelligence officers engaging in activities that are not compatible with their diplomatic status”.
We spoke to the UiT professor of critical peace and conflict studies Gunhild Hoogensen Gjørv about the recent expulsions. Professor remembers how she herself once faced an alleged Russian spy in the UiT campus in Tromsø.
“He was unremarkable,” she says adding that due to his Brazilian passport and Canadian degree it was almost impossible to trace his connection with the Russian intelligence.
Meanwhile those expelled from the embassy are part of the more traditional “spy category”. The practice when intelligence officers operate under the cover of diplomatic positions is done by other countries as well, Russia is not unique at this point. After Russias invasion of Ukraine, Moscow faced multiple expulsion
of its diplomatic personal
all over the world.
Meanwhile there is a specific focus Russian intelligence has in Norway. As the Minister Huitfeldt said ’Russia currently poses the greatest intelligence threat to Norway”. Professor Hoogensen Gjørv considers the north of Norway as the primal sphere of interest.
In the north there are important arctic military installations, oil production and fishing industry. Also here Norway has a 197,7 km long border with Russia´s Kola Peninsula - home of the nuclear fleet.
How to respond to such an increasing activity?
“Fear is not the right response, but awareness is not inappropriate at this point in time… ” professor says.
She adds that it is very important that Norwegian society doesn’t fall into spy mania and it would be wrong to be suspicious about every Russian:
“I wouldn’t start hounding Russian citizens because of the fact that they are Russian. This guy (the alleged spy at the UiT) came here as a Brazilian anyway.”
According to professor, it also doesn’t make any sense to focus on checking “non allied” countries nationals, as multiple cases like the one of Anna Chapman, who had a British passport, showed that false identity could be build for years in any country of the world.
Also she adds that to impose strict passport checks at the campuses and other public places is “unthinkable” for such a free and open society as Norway.
The main problem, as professor points out, is the loss of trust between two countries. But in the days when, in her opinion, diplomacy is not relevant any more, Russia and Norway have to share some information anyway:
“There are things, that are happening in the Arctic, that we can’t avoid but at least have some sort of communication with Russians: about the fishing industry, environment, climate change….”
But what should Russia do to gain trust again? Professor Hoogensen Gjørv answers very shortly: “Get the hell out of Ukraine.”