Two Russian diplomats flew home from Norway on Sunday after they were expelled for allegedly trying to buy Norwegian government secrets and spying on the NATO member.
The two expelled diplomats, Russian Embassy counselor Yevgeny Serebryakov and attache Valery Koshkarev, left Oslo Sunday afternoon on an Aeroflot flight to Moscow.
In a holdover from the Cold War era, a Norwegian official, Svein Lamark, disclosed last week that he had worked as a double agent since 1994, feeding the Russians false information after they had 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 Tuesday. Norway also declared three other Russians - including two diplomats once stationed in Oslo - “persona non grata” and banned them from ever visiting Norway.
“This is a very serious case,” Foreign Minister Knut Vollebaek told reporters last week.
It is 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 Moscow visit.
Russian officials did not directly deny the accusation but accused Norway of acting in an uncivilized manner. They threatened to retaliate for the expulsions and the cancellation of the high-level visit.
“I am at a loss,” Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny M. Primakov said in a television interview Saturday night. “Doing this ahead of the prime minister’s visit and canceling it? This is an improper way of doing things.”
Yuri Kobaladze, a spokesman for Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, said Russia will retaliate in a manner that “will not go unnoticed.”
Some observers speculate 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. Arrested in 1996, Nikitin still faces trial.