Russian spy service accused of role in Norwegian journalist’s firing

Thomas NilsenNorway’s state broadcaster has alleged that the Russian intelligence service pressured a Norwegian newspaper to fire one of its journalists who covered fossil fuel exploration in the Arctic Ocean. Last week, journalist Thomas Nilsen was fired by The Barents Observer, a Norwegian government-run newspaper that covers developments in the Arctic. Headquartered in the northern Norwegian town of Kirkenes, The Barents Observer publishes daily news in English and Russian from the four countries that border the region, namely Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. It is owned by the Norwegian Barents Secretariat (NBS), a government-owned agency that aims to encourage collaboration between Norway and Russia, two countries that share fishing, fossil fuel and mining interests in the Barents Sea.

Since the end of the Cold War, the NBS has funded collaborative projects between Norway’s state-owned oil company Statoil, and its Russian equivalent, Rosneft, which aim to promote offshore oil exploration in the Barents region. The move reflects a recognition by the Norwegian government that close relations with Russia are vital for Norwegian interests. But Nilsen is one of many Norwegian investigative journalists who have challenged Oslo’s collaboration with Moscow in Arctic oil exploration. Last year, Mikhail Noskov, Russia’s consul in Kirkenes, spoke publicly against Nilsen’s reporting, which he described as “damaging to the bilateral relations between Norway and Russia”. He also reportedly contacted the offices of The Barents Observer to complain about Nilsen’s articles.

Last week, when Nilsen was fired, staff at the newspaper protested that his removal from the paper had been ordered by the government in Oslo and described it as a clear case of government censorship. But on Saturday, Norway’s state-owned NRK broadcaster said that Nielsen had been fired following pressure from the Russian Federal Security Service, known as FSB. Citing an unnamed Norwegian government source, NRK reporter Tormod Strand alleged that the FSB had threatened that cooperation between Russia and Norway in the Arctic would be negatively affected if Nilsen was not removed from his post. The NRK contacted the embassy of the Russian Federation in Oslo, where a spokesman denied that Moscow had intervened in any way in Nilsen’s firing. An official from the Norwegian government told the station that he had seen no evidence showing that Tormod’s allegations were factual.

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