Norway and Russia Part I

By | October 22, 2021
  • Are we heading for a new Cold War?
  • What is behind the more powerful Russian foreign policy?
  • How is the relationship between Norway and Russia?

2: History

Ever since Norway became independent in 1905, relations with its great neighbor to the east have played an important role in Norwegian foreign and security policy. Today, Russia is often seen as one of three corners in a power triangle that encompasses Norwegian foreign and security policy and that strongly influences it. The other corners of this so-called security policy triangle consist of the United States and the European Union. Both what takes place in each of the “corners” and in the relationship between them are of great importance for the formulation of Norwegian foreign and security policy.

Relations with Russia can be divided into many different historical phases. From 1905 to 1918, Norway bordered on the Russian Tsarist Empire, more precisely on the Grand Duchy of Finland, which Russia had ruled since 1809. Sweden was then forced to cede Finland to Russia. After the October Revolution of 1917, the Russian Empire disintegrated and eventually became part of what became the Soviet Union. Finland became an independent state and managed to gain control of the Petsamo area, thus gaining a corridor to the sea in the north.

After the Winter War of 1939–1940, Finland was forced to cede part of the Petsamo area to the Soviet Union, and Norway was occupied by Germany. The occupation lasted until October 1944 when Soviet forces moved across the border and liberated Finnmark. Finland was forced to cede the entire Petsamo area to the Soviet Union in 1946, and a common Norwegian-Soviet border was then established. From 1946 until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991, this border was part of a border between two military, ideological and political blocs, led by the United States and the Soviet Union, respectively. Since 25 December 1991, this border has separated Norway from the Russian Federation, which is the new official name of Norway’s great neighbor to the east.

This brief historical review shows that conditions in the north are complicated and that they have been largely influenced by external actors . The relationship between Norway and Russia is largely influenced by forces that are far from the 193 km long border that separates the two countries. The most important forces are located in the two-tier capitals, Oslo and Moscow. But also the great European and global policy leaves its clear mark.

3: Norway and Russia after 1991

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the new Russian government set a new political course for the country. The dissolution of the Soviet Union also forced the Norwegian authorities – and Norway’s allies – to reconsider their policy towards their great neighbor to the east. During the Cold War, the relationship was marked by mutual distrust and suspicion. Norway regarded Soviet politics as a threat to vital Norwegian interests. The fear of what the Soviet Union led by Josef Stalin would do to Norway was one of the most important factors behind the Norwegian decision to join the Western defense alliance NATO.

Norwegian membership in NATO was in turn the most important single factor that influenced Soviet thinking about Norway. Norway was important to the Soviet Union, not so much in itself as as an American strategic outpost that threatened Soviet strategic bases on the Kola Peninsula. Norwegian policy towards the Soviet Union during the Cold War has been described as a mixture of deterrence and reassurance . The Norwegian membership in NATO and the certainty of rapid military assistance in the event of a crisis situation was the most important deterrent. At the same time, Norway wanted to reassure its neighbor to the east through self-imposed restrictions on military activity on Norwegian territory.

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Norwegian side is no longer as necessary as before to deter its neighbor to the east as during the Cold War. A Russia that has chosen democratization and the introduction of a market economy is no longer seen as a threatening neighbor. At the same time, the Norwegian government realized after 1991 that the crisis in Russia was so deep that the country needed help to meet its new challenges.

According to MBAKECHENG, Norwegian policy towards Russia in the early 1990s was therefore characterized by commitment and close monitoring of developments in this large country, which was undergoing dramatic upheavals and a violent crisis. One way to get involved was to invite Russia to work more closely with its neighbors in the north and help the country financially cope with problems that could spill over to its neighbors in the west.

4: Barents regions

In 1993, several countries agreed to form the Euro-Arctic Barents Region, which was planned to be the most important arena for regional cooperation in the north. The Barents region comprises 13 counties in Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia and covers 1,750,000 km2. The area is home to about 6 million people, almost 4.5 million of them in Russia. Part of the reason why this regional cooperation was initiated was that the whole region faced similar challenges related to the environment, harsh climate, long distances and scattered population.

The fact that the region is very rich in natural resources such as oil, gas, forests, fish and minerals was also an important driving force in the work on the project. In addition, the conclusion of the cooperation sent an important political signal – Russia was invited to a closer regional cooperation with its neighbors in the west. It should focus on business development, energy, transport, culture, education, health, environment and nuclear safety and issues related to the indigenous people in the region.

Norway and Russia 1