Wednesday 18 September 2019

Spying war casts shadow over Norway border town

Prison term: Frode Berg was sentenced to 14 years in jail after claims of espionage
Prison term: Frode Berg was sentenced to 14 years in jail after claims of espionage

Alec Luhn

When Frode Berg was a guard on the border near Kirkenes, Norway, in the 1990s, relations with Russia were so good that he would carry out joint patrols and go fishing with his counterparts from across the line.

But in recent years, the town of 3,500 people on the Arctic coast has found itself caught up in a geopolitical chess game between Nato and Russia. Mr Berg became a pawn when he was arrested in Moscow and sentenced in April to 14 years in jail for espionage.

Kirkenes has become the epicentre of a spying war with Moscow. It once prided itself on having warm relations with its neighbour, even during the Cold War.

But last spring, Russia repeatedly tested missiles off the Norwegian coast, and last year Norway and Finland accused their neighbour of jamming GPS signals during Nato bomber exercises.

Meanwhile, the discovery in Hammerfest of a beluga whale wearing a camera harness led to it being dubbed the 'Russian spy whale'.

For its part, Norway, which backs sanctions against Russia, hosted major Nato war games last year and has welcomed allied troops.

Kirkenes, where many residents have worked across the border, has long been a recruiting ground for intelligence agents seeking information about Russian activity.

Among the recruits was Mr Berg, who began taking envelopes of cash to an informant in Russia in 2015, despite having misgivings.

In autumn 2017, intelligence agents approached him to undertake one last errand.

Trine Hamran, a journalist and friend of Mr Berg, advised him not to do it, but she said the secret service had played upon his patriotism. "He said it was not dangerous; just one last thing," she said. "And then he goes to Moscow and we don't hear from them again."

The Russian informant turned out to be a double agent. Operatives from the FSB, the Russian security service, arrested Mr Berg with an envelope containing €3,000.

Norway and Russia are now discussing a prisoner exchange to bring home Mr Berg, his lawyers said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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