King Harald of Norway met Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, this Friday in the northern Norwegian city of Kirkenes. The meeting took place only a few days after Russia claimed that Norway is gearing up for a conflict with Russia and relations between the two nations are tense. The last time the two met was in 2014. The Russian foreign minister also met with the Norwegian prime minister, foreign minister and defense minister. The meeting took place in connection with commemorations for the 75th anniversary of Soviet forces liberating parts of Finnmark in northern Norway from German occupation.
The Russian Foreign Ministry claims that Norwegian defence policy is anti-Russian. It is quite uncommon for the Russian Foreign Ministry to come up with such strong criticism of a neighbouring country the day before an important meeting. Russians are also unhappy that Norway has joined Western anti-trade-deals after Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula in 2014. As of today, Russia also has a Norwegian spy detainee, who was captured in 2018, which is believed to be pardoned in the coming weeks.
King Harald thanked Russia for their efforts in the fight for a free Norway. The king gave a speech in which he said: “Norway will never forget the war effort of the Soviet army. We know what losses and sacrifices it required from you. The many soldiers who participated on the Soviet side are also our heroes. The events from 75 years ago provide power and inspiration to the neighborhood, which for centuries has been marked by peace between our two countries.”
East Finnmark was liberated from German occupation in the fall of 1944, when Soviet soldiers arrived at Bjørnevatn on October 25, 1944. In the rest of Troms and Finnmark, the liberation came only on May 8, 1945. After the forced evacuation and burning of Finnmark and Nord-Troms, the rest of Finnmark and Nord-Troms largely no-man’s land partly under German control. Following the liberation, the Norwegian government in exile in London, under the direct leadership of King Haakon VII and the defence-minister, then Crown Prince Olav, decided to send Norwegian forces to Finnmark. The Soviets left Finnmark to Norwegian forces when they arrived and withdrew across the border.
After the long-standing tension between Norway and Russia, King Harald’s message was that the two nation had a lot to gain if they worked together. His Majesty said: “It is precisely through cooperation that we can best honour the memory of all those who contributed to the liberation of East Finnmark 75 years ago, both on the Norwegian and Russian side. We not only share a border here in the north. We also share interests and hope for the future. To our guests, I want to repeat what is on the memorial of fallen Soviet soldiers in Oslo: Norway thank you.”
The meeting took place on day two of the King’s visit to Norway’s northern county of Finnmark. On the first day of the visit, Thursday, His Majesty participated in the celebration of the Sami language week. The goal of the Sami language week is to raise the status of the Sami languages, and increase knowledge of Sami languages and culture throughout the community.