Experts tone down consequences of military freeze

It can be a while until next time Norwegian soldiers enter a Russian military vehicle. Last autumn, these Norwegian border guard soldiers visited their Russian colleagues.

Cooperation in the north will be more difficult, but both Norway and Russia have strong self-interest in maintaining good relations, according to experts BarentsObserver has contacted.


Cancelled military programs

  • Russian naval vessel’s visit to Oslo in connection with the Norwegian Navy’s 200th anniversary in May.
  • Joint exercise Northern Eagle, including the visit of two naval vessel.
  • Russian participation in the Norwegian Military Tattoo 2014.
  • Russian navy commander’s visit to Bergen.
  • Personal Exchange program for border guards.

Russia’s cooling relation with the west and Norway’s response to the Crimean crisis by suspending military activities come in sharp contrast to the good post-Cold War bilateral relations established in the north. But, how bad will the defense snub be for long-term climate between the two states that in 2010, after 40 years of negotiations, signed the maritime delimitation treaty for the Barents Sea?

“It seems fairly obvious to me that recent events in Crimea and the deterioration of Russia’s relations with the West are going to affect the climate for cooperation in the north negatively, military as well as in other areas. The question is of course how long-lasting it will be,” says Kristian Åtland, Senior Research Fellow with the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment. 

Norway condemns Russia
Norway’s Ministry of Defense informed Russian authorities on Tuesday that all planned military cooperation activities are temporary suspended, because, as stated by Defense Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide, “Norway condemns Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its use of armed forces in Ukraine.” 

Indra Øverland with the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI) says it is not very likely that these statements and actions will have a very negative impact, as there are many countries that are negative towards Russia at the moment and Norway is not worse than average. Also, the Russians themselves likely want to tone down the conflict and therefore have little interest in retaliation and escalation.

“Norway, in keeping with its tradition of high loyalty to NATO and key NATO countries like the UK and the US has adopted a negative stance towards Russia on the Ukraine issue. As a result, some of the statements and actions from Norwegian officials are somewhat one-sided and overly negative towards Russia, and are not in keeping with Norwegian interests,” he says. Indra Øverland is Senior Researcher and Head of NUPI’s Research Group for Russia, Eurasia and the Arctic.

“Norwegian interests concern both the maintenance of good relations with Russia in order to continue cooperation in the North and the protection of Norwegian business interests more generally in relations with Russia,” argues Indra Øverland.

Good releations must be based on internatonal law
Foreign Minister Børge Brende addressed the Norwegian Parliament this week about the status of Norway’s Foreign Policy matters. Brende then argued that the Crimean crisis affects all, but is yet not a bilateral matter between Norway and Russia.

“It’s in Norway’s interest to continue cooperation with Russia on challenges we only can find solutions to in common, regarding resource management, environment and economy. Norway wants to maintain the good contacts already existing between our two peoples,” Børge Brende said pointing to results as more open borders and greater mutual understanding, particularly in the north. “We will continue to be a predictable neighbor with a consistent bilateral policy, but it must be based on international law,” the Norwegian Foreign Minister said. 

Norway considers Russia’s annexation of Crimea as a clear violation of international law.

Moscow doesn’t consider military freeze as dramatic
Kristine Offerdal is Research Coordinator with the Norwegian Institute for Defense Studies with special focus on geopolitics in the High North. She believes Russia must have predicted various responses to its actions in Crimea.  

“I do not think that the fact that Norway temporarily freezes parts of its military cooperation with Russia is necessarily perceived as dramatic in Moscow, perhaps not even unexpected,” Kristine Offerdal says.

However, she also tones down the long term consequences. “Russia has an interest in continued cooperation with Norway in the North in a short and long term perspective for at least two reasons. First, for Russia the best scenario will be that relations with NATO and European countries normalize. The best way of achieving this – other than withdrawing from Crimea, which seems unlikely today – is, for now, not to respond to sanctions with counter measures and let time work to its advantage. Second, Russian-Norwegian collaboration in the High North builds on common interests, for example as Arctic coastal states, and Norway and Russia jointly manage common fish resources in the Barents Sea. Such interests continue to be important regardless of how Russia-west relations develop,” Kristine Offerdal argues.