Norway expels 15 Russian ‘intelligence officers’ posed as diplomats

The expulsion of 15 “intelligence officers” from the Russian embassy in Oslo, announced by Norway on Thursday (April 13), has strained ties between the two neighbors even more.

Moscow pledged that it will retaliate to the “extremely unfriendly” choice.

Anniken Huitfeldt, the foreign minister of Norway, stated in a statement that “the 15 intelligence officers have been engaging in activities that are not compatible with their diplomatic status.”

The “officers” were required to leave “shortly” after being deemed “personae non gratae,” according to the statement.

Huitfeldt stated during a news conference that their actions had been watched “over time,” but she chose not to go into further detail about what actions had prompted the decision.

The officers are thought to have worked for the Russian military intelligence GRU and the SVR, a foreign intelligence branch, according to the Verdens Gang (VG) daily.

When approached by AFP, the Norwegian Police Security Service (PST), which is in charge of counterintelligence, declined to comment.

Timur Chekanov, a spokesman for the Russian embassy, wrote to AFP in an email, saying, “The reaction is strongly negative.”

“This is yet another extremely hostile action, and a retaliatory measure will be taken,” he continued.

FROM COLD TO FREEZING

The decision was made in reaction to a “changed security environment in Europe, which has resulted in an increased intelligence threat from Russia,” according to the Norwegian foreign ministry.

The greatest espionage risks to Norway, which is a NATO member and shares a 198-kilometer border with Russia in the Arctic, are frequently identified as China and Russia.

A few weeks after the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in April 2022, Oslo removed three Russian diplomats it believed to be spies, prompting Moscow to counter by expelling three Norwegian diplomats.

Russia could nearly empty the Norwegian embassy in Moscow, which barely has twenty diplomats on staff, if it were to deport 15 Norwegian diplomats in retaliation.

The long-standing tight relationships between the two nations, particularly in the far north, have significantly deteriorated as a result of the conflict in Ukraine.

Norway supports practically all of the sanctions imposed on Russia by Brussels despite not being a member of the EU.

Despite the latest deportation, Huitfeldt emphasized that “Norway is seeking to maintain normal diplomatic relations with Russia, and Russian diplomats are welcome in Norway.”

The most recent deportation, according to Sigurd Falkenberg Mikkelsen, a foreign news commentator for national broadcaster NRK, took the relationship “from cold to freezing.”

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