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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Expelled Diplomats Return From Oslo

OSLO, Norway -- Two Russian diplomats, accused of spying and expelled from Norway, flew home this weekend as Oslo denied reports it planned to escalate sanctions if Moscow retaliated by expelling Norwegian diplomats.

Norwegian public radio NRK, citing Russian Foreign Ministry sources, reported Monday that Moscow's reaction will be "very harsh" and would come Monday or Tuesday.

The radio station said two Norwegian diplomats were expected to be expelled from Russia and three members of the Norwegian Foreign Ministry declared personae non gratae.

The two Russian diplomats, embassy counsellor Yevgeny Serebryakov and attach? Valery Koshkarev, left with their wives for Moscow on an Aeroflot flight early Sunday afternoon.

On Thursday, NATO-member Norway gave the two until Sunday to leave the country and barred another three Russian diplomats from entering Norway for trying to recruit Norwegian citizens as spies.

Norway's Foreign Ministry on Sunday denied that it planned tit-for-tat actions if Moscow retaliated. NRK television had reported Saturday that Norway aimed to take further punitive action if Moscow expelled any Norwegians.

"There are no such plans," ministry spokesman Ingvard Havnen said. "It would be very regrettable if Russia took any steps against Norway, but we're not going to speculate about what we might do if it did.

There are 22 people working at Norway's embassy in Russia, including five with diplomatic status.

As of Monday morning, the Norwegian ambassador to Russia, Per Egil Sandal Tresselt, had not yet been summoned to the Russian Foreign Ministry, NRK reported.

The dispute is the worst diplomatic dispute between the two neighbors since the collapse of the former Soviet Union.

Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov said Saturday that Norway acted in "inappropriate" fashion by excluding the diplomats and canceling a visit to Moscow by Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik.

Russia has said it reserves the right to retaliate, but Primakov made no mention of any possible moves.

Norway's allegations went far beyond the usual polite formulae, where spying is often referred to as "activities incompatible with diplomatic status."

A Norwegian bureaucrat who became a double agent to help trap the Russians, Svein Lamark, revealed further details of secret meetings in nations including Sweden, Russia, Finland and Norway to a Norwegian paper Sunday.

The daily, Verdens Gang, said that Lamark was handed a test paper in Finland, apparently to see if his attitudes were suitable to be a Russian agent. He was driven by taxi 35 kilometers from Helsinki to a tightly guarded villa.

Given the questionnaire to take home, Lamark copied it onto another paper by hand to give to the Norwegian secret services. He said he feared the paper was of a special type that could reveal if it was photocopied.

Both Verdens Gang and the secret services have denied cooperating in the case as part of a conspiracy to embarrass Russia. The head of the secret services has accused Lamark of breaking a vow of silence.