Fears NGO-law could halt Barents research

Norwegian researcher Salve Dahle has for decades cooperated with Russian colleagues in the Barents Region.

Norwegian researcher Salve Dahle fears Russia’s new law requiring NGOs to register as foreign agents could have a chilling effect on research cooperation in the Barents Region.


Can Russian researchers continue to work on joint projects with Norwegian colleagues if the funding comes from Norway? The question is introduced after Russia in March implemented a law requiring nonprofit organizations to register as foreign agents if they receive money from foreign sources and are found to be engaging in political activities. 

What are political activities, asks Salve Dahle, Senior Researcher with Akva-plan niva in Tromsø. Over the last decades, Salve Dahle has sailed the seas and traveled across the Barents Region together with Russian researchers. The list of publications is like a catalog. 

Last week, the 20 years anniversary for Norwegian, Russian cooperation on research and higher education in the north was marked with a conference at the Svanhovd Environmental Centre in Finnmark. The anniversary conference was hosted by Akvaplan-niva, the University of Tromsø and Murmansk Marine Biological Institute of the Russian Academy of Science. All have been key-players in the cross-border research cooperation for the last two decades. 

With the new NGO-law, a nationwide fear has spread throughout Russia regarding any kind of foreign funding, including joint research projects. Recently, the Levada Analytical Center in Moscow that conducts sociological research, has been threatened by Russian prosecutors to close down under the new NGO-law. 

Salve Dahle has so far not seen any direct threats to nature- and environmental research across the borders in the Barents Region, but fears for the future.

“Our collaboration with Murmansk Marine Biological Institute involves funding of Russian researchers traveling to Tromsø and Norway,” says Salve Dahle. He also points to the successful annual international conference Arctic Frontiers taking place in Tromsø. 

“The Norwegian Barents Secretariat contributes with funding so that young scientists can participate at Arctic Frontiers. They are in main working on natural science, oceanology, environmental science etc, but what if they are present at a meeting where suddenly some kind of political question appears,” asks Salve Dahle. 

Rune Rafaelsen, head of the Norwegian Barents Secretariat, says contacts and cooperation between young researchers across the borders in the Barents Region are of key importance. “Especially young researchers, those who are building the future for the region, should have the financial instruments to meet even more frequently,” says Rune Rafaelsen.

The Research Council of Norway has a long history of financing bilateral research cooperation with Russia. Grants are given to a broad field of areas; marine research, environmental research, polar research and energy research are priorities. A call for proposal online right now includes a 3 years project on social science research aimed to “produce knowledge on how political, economic and social factors affect Russian policy and decision-making, and should encompass issues of relevance to the whole of Russia, beyond merely the High North.”

President Vladimir Putin has by several occasions over the last year said all sorts of foreign influence on Russian domestic politics must be weeded out.