Two Russians are expelled from Norway for spying

March 16, 1998|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

MOSCOW -- Two Russian diplomats flew home from Norway yesterday after they were expelled for allegedly trying to buy Norwegian government secrets and spying on the NATO member.

In a holdover from the Cold War era, a Norwegian official disclosed last week that he had worked as a double agent since 1994, feeding the Russians false documents and information after they tried to recruit him as a spy.

Demonstrating its anger over the incident, Norway canceled a visit to Moscow by its prime minister, Kjell Magne Bondevik, that had been scheduled to start tomorrow. Norway also declared three other Russians, including two diplomats once stationed in Oslo, "persona non grata" and banned them from visiting Norway.

"This is a very serious case," Foreign Minister Knut Vollebaek told reporters Thursday. "We did not believe that today's Russia would direct such activities against a friendly country."

It was unclear what prompted Norway to expose the alleged espionage operation so long after initially uncovering it and on the eve of the prime minister's visit.

Russian officials did not directly deny the accusation but accused Norway of acting in an uncivilized manner.

Yuri Kobaladze, a spokesman for Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service, said Russia will retaliate in a manner that "will not go unnoticed," but he did not specify what that might be.

"There are civilized methods to resolve any conflicts, and this conflict should have been settled some other way," he said.

Observers speculated that Russia could seek retribution by targeting Alexander Nikitin, a former naval captain who was accused of treason and jailed for 10 months after he began working for the Norwegian environmental group Bellona and helped expose radioactive pollution near the Norwegian border. Nikitin was arrested in 1996 but has not been tried.

Pub Date: 3/16/98

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