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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Nordics Lead the Way in Condeming Neo-Soviet Russia

In the wake of "President" Putin's insane tirade in Munich, Aftenposten reports, Norway has wisely decided to reclassify Russia as a military threat to their nation:

Relations between Russia and Norway have been strained of late, over incidents ranging from illegal fishing in the Barents to collapsed investment prospects in Russian gas fields to Russian restrictions on salmon imports.

At the same time, Russia has been asserting itself all over Europe, often in unpopular ways. It has cut off gas supplies to countries that don't agree to its terms, it has refused entry to top officials traveling to Russia on business, and it has rekindled Russian nationalism to a degree that worries human rights activists. Suspicious murders of government critics also have sparked widespread international concern.

Newspaper Aftenposten has gone through a series of recent speeches and reports written by Norwegian defense officials, and documented use of descriptions of Russia that reflect the recent tensions. The most revealing was a fresh report from the defense institute FFI (Forsvarets forsvarsinstitutt) that analyzed threats against Norway. In the report, which sets the premises for the Defense Ministry from 2009 to 2012, Russia is identified as a "military threat." There's no fear of invasion, but rather a "limited, military action."

The report notes that the institute may be criticized for its classification of Russia, but even Defense Minister Anne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen has altered her word usage of late. She has stressed that Russia isn't likely to exert power, but notes that its military build-up can't be overlooked. "We must be aware that developments can take another direction than we want and expect," Strøm-Erichsen said in a recent speech before the defense group Oslo Militære Samfund.

'Demand for attention'

Espen Barth Eide, state secretary attached to the Defense Ministry, says Russia has consciously positioned itself as an "international player with a demand for attention and influence." Oil income and foreign currency reserves have helped give the country new economic clout that it lacked when the Soviet Union fell apart.

Barth Eide also rejects any talk of a new Cold War, but notes that Russia "is back on the international stage." Its president, Vladimir Putin, is working hard to keep it there, and boost Russian self-confidence. "It's more important than ever that we continue our policies based on dialogue and concrete cooperation, both multilaterally and bilaterally," Barth Eide told Aftenposten.

Jurnalo reports that Sweden is having similar thoughts:

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt on Wednesday expressed disappointment over certain developments in neighbouring Russia during a foreign policy debate in parliament. During the presentation of the government's foreign policy, Bildt praised increased "business activity and human contacts" with Russia but noted some "steps backwards. "

"The political climate and the media climate (in Russia) alike have become less free. Sometimes we have seen examples of the language of force being used against neighbouring states that have led us to react. We are still seeing breaches of human rights in Chechnya," Bildt said. He also mentioned the unsolved murders of Russian reporter Anna Politkovskaya and former agent Alexander Litvinenko.

The wide-ranging statement underlined Sweden's commitment to the European Union and that the bloc should remain "open to all European democracies that meet the requirements of membership. " Bildt noted that Sweden would also increase its bilateral ties with the Ukraine and criticized "the lack of democracy and civil liberties and rights in Belarus". The foreign minister said Sweden remained committed to free trade and believed it would also benefit developing countries.

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