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Norwegian diplomat expelled by Russia over spy affair

The Russian foreign ministry on Friday said it had expelled a senior Norwegian diplomat in retaliation after Oslo expelled a Russian diplomat following the arrest of a suspected spy.

Norwegian diplomat expelled by Russia over spy affair
An unrelated illustration photo showing the Russian embassy in The Hague. Photo: AFP

The Russian ministry said that “as a retaliatory measure” a senior diplomat at the Norwegian embassy was declared persona non grata and must leave within three days.

Russia accused Norway of taking a “destructive course” that would “inevitably negatively affect the atmosphere of bilateral relations.

Norwegian foreign ministry spokeswoman Guri Solberg called the diplomat's expulsion “totally without foundation” in a statement sent to AFP. Norway named the diplomat as Jan Flæte.

It came after Norway announced the expulsion of a Russian diplomat on August 19th, days after arresting a Norwegian man suspected of passing sensitive information to Moscow.

Oslo accused the Russian diplomat, who worked in the trade section, of acts “not compatible with his status as a diplomat.”

The diplomat was with the Norwegian man at the time of his arrest at an Oslo restaurant.

The Norwegian, identified by court documents as Harsharn Singh Tathgar, risks up to 15 years in prison if found guilty of espionage.

He worked for DNV GL, a company that provides certification for oil and gas industries.

The 50-year-old man told investigators he had handed over information in exchange for “not insignificant sums in cash”, but insisted the information was not harmful to Norway's interests.

In recent decades several spy cases have marred ties between NATO member Norway and Russia, which share a border in the Arctic Circle.

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RUSSIA

Germany arrests Russian scientist for spying for Moscow

German police arrested a Russian scientist working at an unidentified university, accusing him of spying for Moscow, prosecutors said on Monday, in a case that risks further inflaming bilateral tensions.

Germany arrests Russian scientist for spying for Moscow
Vladimir Putin. Photo: dpa/AP | Patrick Semansky

Federal prosecutors said in a statement that the suspect, identified only as Ilnur N., had been taken into custody on Friday on suspicion of “working for a Russian secret service since early October 2020 at the latest”.

Ilnur N. was employed until the time of his arrest as a research assistant for a natural sciences and technology department at the unnamed German university.

German investigators believe he met at least three times with a member of Russian intelligence between October 2020 and this month. On two occasions he allegedly “passed on information from the university’s domain”.

He is suspected of accepting cash in exchange for his services.

German authorities searched his home and workplace in the course of the arrest.

The suspect appeared before a judge on Saturday who remanded him in custody.

‘Completely unacceptable’

Neither the German nor the Russian government made any immediate comment on the case.

However Moscow is at loggerheads with a number of Western capitals after a Russian troop build-up on Ukraine’s borders and a series of espionage scandals that have resulted in diplomatic expulsions.

Italy this month said it had created a national cybersecurity agency following warnings by Prime Minister Mario Draghi that Europe needed to
protect itself from Russian “interference”. 

The move came after an Italian navy captain was caught red-handed by police while selling confidential military documents leaked from his computer to a Russian embassy official.

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The leaders of nine eastern European nations last month condemned what they termed Russian “aggressive acts” citing operations in Ukraine and “sabotage” allegedly targeted at the Czech Republic.

Several central and eastern European countries have expelled Russian diplomats in solidarity with Prague but Russia has branded accusations of its involvement as “absurd” and responded with tit-for-tat expulsions.

The latest espionage case also comes at a time of highly strained relations between Russia and Germany on a number of fronts including the ongoing detention of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, who received treatment in Berlin after a near-fatal poisoning.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government has moreover worked to maintain a sanctions regime over Moscow’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula, the scene of ongoing fighting between pro-Russia separatists and local forces.

And Germany has repeatedly accused Russia of cyberattacks on its soil.

The most high-profile incident blamed on Russian hackers to date was a cyberattack in 2015 that completely paralysed the computer network of the Bundestag lower house of parliament, forcing the entire institution offline for days while it was fixed.

German prosecutors in February filed espionage charges against a German man suspected of having passed the floor plans of parliament to Russian secret services in 2017.

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas last week said Germany was expecting to be the target of Russian disinformation in the run-up to its general election in September, calling it “completely unacceptable”.

Russia denies being behind such activities.

Despite international criticism, Berlin has forged ahead with plans to finish the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, set to double natural gas supplies from Russia to Germany.

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