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Nordic countries close offices in Russia

The closure of five offices is a major blow to Nordic-Russian cooperation

The Nordic Council of Ministers spent more than 20 year to develop cooperation with Northwest Russia. Then it was given status as “foreign agent”.

In a meeting in Greenland this week, government ministers from all the Nordic countries decided to put all activities at the Nordic Council of Ministers’ information offices in Northwest Russia on hold indefinitely. That will affect the Council offices in St. Petersburg and Kaliningrad, as well as the contact centres in Petrozavodsk and Arkhangelsk, the organization informs.

The information center in Murmansk was closed in early 2014 for other reasons.

As previously reported, the Russian Prosecutor’s Office in January this year sent a letter to the Council which read that it will have to register as “foreign agent”. That triggered a furious response from the Nordic countries, which argued that the agent status is incompatible with the operations of the Council.

“We don’t understand why we should register as foreign agent”, Council Secretary General Dagfinn Høybråten said after having received the letter. Høybråten and his people however failed to convince Moscow about the need to revoke the decision.

“Continuing operations under the status of a foreign agent is unacceptable to the Nordic governments,” Council representative Carsten Hansen says in a press release. “The office cannot operate in the current conditions. The purpose of the Council of Ministers’ presence in Northwest Russia to create closer links and better networks between the Nordic countries and Northwest Russia is impossible to achieve as a foreign agent,” Hansen adds.

The closing of the offices is another blow to Nordic-Russian relations, from before strained after the Russian annexation of the Crimea and the country’s conduct in other parts of eastern Ukraine.

Commenting on the development, Finnish Minister for European Affairs and Foreign Trade Lenita Toivakka says the cessation of the Nordic Council of Ministers’ Russia activities “will affect Russians the most”. 

“The decision is unfortunate, but the Nordic countries were unanimous on the issue,” Toivakka adds in a press release from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The Nordic Council of Ministers have over many years financed and co-financed a broad range of joint Nordic-Russian activities. The Council’s activities in Russia will now be reduced to a minimum. Furthermore, a Nordic working group has been set up to look at re-drawing relations with the neighboring Russian regions.

The offices in Northwest Russia employ a total of twenty people, all of whom will be affected by the closure.

The Nordic Council of Ministers is an inter-governmental forum for all the five Nordic countries established in 1971. The Russian offices were opened in 1995 in a bid to enhance cooperation.