Nordics close Russia hub over 'spying' claim

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Nordics close Russia hub over 'spying' claim
The Nordic Council of Ministers office in St Petersburg was accused of being filled with 'foreign agents'. Photo: Merete Bendiksen/

UPDATED: After accusations from Russia that its offices in Saint Petersburg and Kaliningrad were filled with ‘foreign agents’, the Nordic Council of Ministers decided on Wednesday to shut its offices down in protest.


At a meeting in Greenland, the Nordic Council of Ministers (NCM) decided to shut down its Russia-based information offices “indefinitely”. 
In addition to the St. Petersburg and Kaliningrad offices, the decision will also affect contact centres in Murmansk, Petrozavodsk and Arkhangelsk.
The closing of the offices comes after the Russian Ministry of Justice in January included the Nordic Council of Ministers on a list of NGOs it considers to be “foreign agents”. 
The NCM is an inter-governmental forum, founded in 1971 to promote co-operation between Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Iceland as well as Greenland, the Faroe Islands and Åland.
“Continuing operations under the status of a foreign agent is unacceptable to the Nordic governments,” Carsten Hansen, who acts as the functioning chairman of the NCM during Denmark's presidency of the Council, said in a press release.
“The office cannot operate in the current conditions. The purpose of the Council of Ministers’ presence in Northwest Russia to create closer links and better networks between the Nordic countries and Northwest Russia is impossible to achieve as a foreign agent,” Hansen added.
The NCM said Russia’s ‘foreign agent’ designation threatens to jeopardize decades of co-operation. 
"It is very regrettable that our operation which has been running successfully for 20 years can no longer continue," Sweden's representative on the NCM and minister for Nordic co-operation, Kristina Persson, told The Local as she was boarding the plane back from the meeting in Greenland on Thursday afternoon.
Russian law states that foreign-funded NGOs engaged in “political activities” must register as foreign agents. NCM has had NGO status in Russia since it established its St Petersburg office in 1995.
"We have had a completely normal relationship up until now, sharing knowledge and culture to increase understanding between our nations. Nothing has changed, but all of a sudden they have labelled us 'foreign agents' and that limits our rights. It also means that other organizations won't be able to work with us freely, so there is no point in staying [in Russia]," said Persson.
The NCM stressed that despite the closure of its offices “Russia remains an important partner for the Council of Ministers” but added that “it remains to be seen how the partnership will evolve in the near future”. 
The closure of the NCM offices comes in the wake of the Russian Embassy in Sweden blaming “the West, not least Sweden” for provoking the Ukraine crisis by offering Ukraine a pathway to membership of the European Union.
In large part due to recent aggressive moves by Russia, Denmark and Sweden also recently announced that they would step up military co-operation between the two nations. Sweden has also recently entered into a similar agreement with fellow NCM member Finland.


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