Charged with high treason for cooperating with Norway

Ivan Moseev is head of the Pomor movement in Arkhangelsk. Photo: Andrey Shalyov/BarentsObserver

FSB accuses Ivan Moseev, the leader of an organization promoting the culture of the Pomors for high treason “with support from Norwegian special services”. If convicted, he faces 12 to 20 years in prison.


Ivan Moseeev, leader of the Pomor movement in the White Sea area and director of the Institute of Indigenous Peoples and Minorities at the University of Arkhangelsk is accused for high treason in favor of the neighboring country of Norway in accordance to paragraph 275 in the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation and for incitement of ethnic hatred, paragraph 282.

The court hearing starts in Arkhangelsk on Monday.

Norwegian secret services
The indictment reads: “Norwegian secret services are using Ivan Moseev to destabilize the social-political situation in Arkhangelsk,” and:

“With support from foreign networks Moseev has been carrying out activities aiming at making federal Russian authorities recognize the Pomors as an indigenous minority of the North and including their territory of residence under the jurisdiction of international law, which can lead to a violation of Russia’s territorial integrity”. 

The case documents also read that Moseev addressed the regional authorities of Arkhangelsk with a suggesting to establish a “Republic of the Pomors”.

“With support from foreign special services Moseev established the organization “Brotherhood of Pomors”, which connects Pomors in the Barents region”.

“With financial support from Norway Moseev produced a dictionary of the language of the Pomors, by the help of which he published a series of articles and conducted activities aimed to harm Russia’s safety”.

Cooperation with Vardø
Ivan Moseev has been a primus motor in re-establishing the cultural and historical relations between Arkhangelsk and the town of Vardø in northern Norway.

Thor Robertsen in Vardø is the one that have cooperated most closely with Ivan Moseev over the last two decades.

“I know him well. Ivan’s cooperation with us in Vardø has been within the spheres of culture and history,” says Thor Robertsen to BarentsObserver. The two have, among other things, published a children’s book with fairytales from the time when the Pomors were trading fish and farmer products between Vardø and Arkhangelsk. 

Barents cooperation
Thor Robertsen has since the early 90ies been a pioneer in Norway’s regional cooperation with the Arkhangelsk region. From his position in the Finnmark County administration, Thor Robersten was a member of the Barents Regional committee and a board member of the Norwegian Barents Secretariat.

“I am totally unable to understand the reasons for the charges,” says Thor Robertsen. “I know him well and he has never had another agenda here in Vardø than strengthening the historical and cultural ties based on the old Pomor-trade.”

Read BarentsObserver’s interview with Ivan Moseev from last autumn.

Historic ties
Pomor trade was carried out between the population living around the coast of the White Sea and the coastal population in Northern Norway in the period from 1740 until the Russian revolution. Norway’s most northeastern fishing town Vardø was the gateway to the neighbors in the west for many of the Russians sailing from the White Sea area.

Since the establishment of the Barents cooperation 20 years ago, the historical link between Arkhangelsk and Vardø has again gained focus.

Remi Strand is a local politician in Vardø actively working to promote the ties with Arkhangelsk.

“Ivan Moseev has stayed at my home. He has been here in Vardø many times, for instance when we arranged the Pomor-festival last summer,” says Remi Strand.

Thorvald Stoltenberg
Moseev was also in Vardø during the festival in late July 2010, when Norway’s former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Thorvald Stoltenberg, was decorated with the title honorary Pomor. Stoltenberg was the one initating the Barents cooperation with Russia’s Foreign Minister Andrey Kozyrev back in 1993.

Both Remi Strand and Thor Robertsen in Vardø are decorated with the title honorary Pomor.

House searched by FSB
According to newspaper Kommersant, FSB tightened the grip on the Pomor movement after an article in Kommersant Vlast in June this year. The article described how Ivan Moseev is working to preserve the Pomors’ language and culture and having them acknowledged as an indigenous minority. Shortly after the publication, the FSB searched Moseev’s house, confiscated all computers, memory sticks, disks and documents in his house. They asked how often he visited Norway and checked his passport. FSB was then granted permission from the Arkhangelsk Oblast court to tap Moseev’s phone for 180 days.

Several of the projects with Vardø where Ivan Moseev has participated are supported by the Norwegian Barents Secretariat. Head of the secretariat, Rune Rafaelsen, says Ivan Moseev is a cultural celebrity in building connections between northern Norway and the Arkhangelsk region.

“Moseev has participated in re-establishing good old connections with Vardø. We have never seen any hint of separatism, only peaceful cooperation,” says Rune Rafaelsen.

Treason bill with wider definition
On November 1 the Russian Parliament passed a controversial bill broadening the definition of high treason.  The bill lists as high treason as not only passing secret information to foreign governments, but also giving out consultations or financial help, including to international organizations, if they are engaged in “activities directed against the security of Russia.”

The court case against Ivan Moseev is the first where a person involved in the Barents cooperation could get a verdict according to the new bill.

12 to 20 years in prison
High Treason is article 275 in the Criminal Code of Russia. If convicted, Ivan Moseev faces a prison term of 12 to 20 years.

The only person in modern Russian history that have been acquitted in court after being charged by FSB for high treason, article 275, is Aleksandr Nikitin. He was arrested in 1996 by FSB for his contribution to a report published by the Norwegian Bellona group on the security risks related to radioactive contamination from the Russian Northern Fleet. After four years in and out of court hearings he was found not guilty by the Supreme Court in Moscow in 2000.