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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EDITORIAL: Spy Scandal Won't Solve Waste Crisis




Norway has gone out of its way to offend Russia by the manner in which it has declared five Russian diplomats personae non gratae on its territory.


Norway has known all about the activities of Russian spies since at least 1994, when double agent Svein Lamark starting feeding the Russians false information.


Yet the Norwegian government did not do anything about the spies until last week, when it went public with the affair on the eve of the Norwegian prime minister's visit to Moscow.


Adding insult to injury, Norway declared personae non gratae not only two diplomats who were currently serving in Oslo, but also three who are not even in the country.


The Russian government is not impressed and has warned of a round of tit-for-tat expulsions of Norwegian diplomats. The Kremlin's official response to the expulsions is one of "incomprehension and concern."


In the world of cloak-and-dagger espionage, it is, of course, hard to know what lies behind all this.


But a number of clues suggest that the incident is tied to the vexing question of the Russian submarine fleet's dumping of nuclear waste into the Barents Sea near Murmansk. The contamination poses a major threat to Norway, the northern coast of which is located only a short distance away.


The one concrete indication of this is Lamark's hint to a Norwegian newspaper that the Russian diplomats were trying to gather information on "environmental" issues.


This corroborates plenty of circumstantial evidence that the dumping is the major issue that is souring relations between the two countries. Norway has led the campaign to exonerate Alexander Nikitin, the retired Russian naval captain who is currently facing treason charges for having helped the Norwegian environmental group Bellona publish a damning report on the subject.


Russia, for its part, has claimed that Norway's interest in the dumping issue is the real reason why Norway arrested Russian sea captain Valery Petrenko on charges of drug smuggling. Russia has protested the case, hinting that Norway wanted to force Petrenko to divulge secrets about the fleet in which he once was a serving officer.


If the spy expulsions are indeed a sign of Norway's impatience with Russian recalcitrance on the nuclear-waste issue, it is easy to be sympathetic. Russia should be helping the world to find out as much as possible about the problem, not engaging in efforts to conceal.


But this scandal may not be the best strategy for encouraging Russia to change its ways. Russia's spooks may just dig in their heels.