Norway’s foreign ministry confirmed on Friday that one of its diplomats in Moscow is being expelled from Russia, after Norway expelled a Russian diplomat last week. The retaliation was not unexpected as both countries accuse the other of spying.
Jan Flæte, who carried the title of ambassaderåd at Norway’s embassy in Moscow, is being declared persona non grata and sent out of Russia. The expulsion follows the dramatic arrest at an Oslo restaurant earlier this month of a Norwegian citizen, Indian-Norwegian Harsharn Singh Tathgar, who later admitted to selling state secrets to Russia.
The arrested man’s dining companion was identified as Aleksandr Stekolsjikov, assistant trade attaché at the Russian Embassy in Oslo. Norway’s police intelligence agency PST claims he’d actually been an intelligence officer and he was given 72 hours to leave the country after being summoned to Norway’s Foreign Ministry on August 18. A ministry spokeswoman told reporters at the time that he was declared persona non grata and won’t be allowed to enter Norway again, after allegedly carrying out “actions that can’t be reconciled with his role and status as a diplomat.” He may well have trouble working in other NATO countries as well.
Russian officials quickly objected, claiming Stekolsjikov was “completely innocent” and warning that official reaction would follow. It has, with the ministry confirming to Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) Friday that Norway’s ambassador to Russia, Rune Resaland, had been called in to a meeting at the Russian Foreign Ministry in Moscow. Russian news bureau RIA reported that Flæte, one of the highest-ranking Norwegian diplomats in Russia, would be expelled.
‘Has not broken any rules…’
Norwegian diplomats called the expulsion “completely without foundation,” adding in a statement to NRK that “our diplomat has not broken any rules and has acted fully within the framework of diplomatic operations.”
Ministry spokeswoman Guri Solberg wrote in the statement to NRK that the expulsion of the Russian diplomat last week “was tied to the espionage investigation” now underway in Norway. It is based on how Stekolsjikov allegedly paid a “considerable” amount of money to the suspected Indian-Norwegian spy for information that Tathgar, who worked for DNV GL in Oslo, provided about various technological development projects he was working on with other companies that were customers of DNV GL.
Russian officials issued a statement on Friday in which it called the expulsion of its diplomat an “unfriendly” act that will harm Russian-Norwegian relations. They claimed that “the destructive line” Norwegian authorities have adopted will “unavoidably” contribute to a “negative atmosphere in the bilateral relation.” They further claimed that “responsibility for the consequences of such policy lies fully on Oslo.”
Denies criminal liability
The now- confined Tathgar, who moved to Norway in 1997 to study for a doctorate at NTNU in Trondheim, was described as a “project leader” at DNV GL. DNV told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) and other media that Tathgar worked with as many as 50 companies that were customers of his employer.
Among them was Kongsberg Maritime, where Tathgar was involved with development projects tied to material technology that’s been his special field of expertise. Newspaper Aftenposten reported that he’s recently been working with 3D printing, which can revolutionize industrial production and already is used to make everything from rockets to cars and planes.
Kongsberg Maritime, a unit of defense contractor Kongsberggruppen, specializes in delivering systems for positioning, surveillance, navigation and automation of the merchant fleet and offshore installations. Tathgar reportedly was developing guidelines to certify products made with 3D printing for use in the oil and gas industry.
Tathgar also earlier worked with Sintef, REC and Umoe on projects including solar energy, and has been described as clever, competent and well-liked. He’s now in police custody, charged with sharing state secrets that could harm Norway’s fundamental national interests. He has acknowledged his contact with Stekolsjikov, but denies any criminal liability.
NRK described Norway’s now-expelled diplomat Flæte as having higher rank than Stekolsjikov. Flæte was a former senior adviser in the communications department of Norway’s defense department and wrote his master’s thesis on the Russian intelligence service.