Norwegian goes on trial in Russia for espionage

A Norwegian accused by Russia of spying on its nuclear submarines went on trial Tuesday in Moscow, Russian news agencies reported.

Norwegian goes on trial in Russia for espionage
A former Russian police officer was accused of handing Berg files on the Russian navy. Photo: AFP

Norwegian Frode Berg, 63, was detained in Moscow in 2017 following a sting operation by Russia's FSB security service.

Berg “is accused of spying for Norway. He gathered information on nuclear submarines,” state prosecutor Milana Digayeva told RIA Novosti state news agency.

The case is classified as “totally secret” and is being heard behind closed doors, Digayeva said. Fifteen witnesses were to be called, the prosecutor added.

A former Russian police officer was accused of handing Berg files on the Russian navy and given a 13- year prison term in December.

Berg admitted to acting as a courier for the Norwegian intelligence services several times, but said he did not know the purpose of what he was delivering.

“He thought the money he was delivering had another purpose,” Berg's Norwegian lawyer Brynjulf Risnes said.

Risnes, who is in Oslo awaiting permission from Russia to visit his client, told AFP that Berg “is pleading not guilty to the charges of espionage.”

He said that there was a “very great risk that he will be convicted,” given the lack of acquittals in Russian spy cases in recent years.

Berg risks a jail term of 10 to 20 years, the lawyer said. He hoped that if convicted, Berg would not have to serve a full sentence in Russia but could be extradited or pardoned by President Vladimir Putin.

At the end of the hearing, Berg told Norwegian journalists that “it went well, it went very well,” Risnes said.

Berg's position “has not changed,” his Russian lawyer Pyotr Anashkin told the TASS state news agency. “He does not accept any guilt. He's glad the trial has started and soon it will all end.”

The Moscow court on Tuesday extended Berg's detention in custody until September.

Norway, a NATO member, normally enjoy good relations with neighbouring Russia, with which it shares a short land border, but these have grown more tense since the outbreak of the Ukraine crisis in 2014. 

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Norway summons US embassy top official over spying claims

Norway said Thursday it had summoned the US embassy's top official in Oslo to lodge an official protest following a report that Washington had spied on Norwegian and other European leaders.

Norway summons US embassy top official over spying claims
Norway's Prime Minister Erna Solberg gestures as she speaks at the official NATO outreach event, 'Nato Engages' in central London. Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP

The meeting was held between the Ministry of Defence and the US embassy’s top official. 

“The defence ministry held a meeting with the US embassy in Oslo today where we made it clear that spying on allies is unacceptable and unnecessary,” Norway’s Defence Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen said on Twitter.

The ministry said the US charge d’affaires — Richard Riley, according to the embassy’s website — was the person who attended the meeting with a senior Norwegian official.

The US embassy is currently without an ambassador.

A tweet from Norway’s Ministry of Defence. Source Twitter @Forsvarsdep

In an investigative report on Sunday, Danish public broadcaster DR revealed together with several other European media outlets that the US National Security Agency (NSA) had eavesdropped on Danish underwater internet cables from 2012 to 2014 to spy on top politicians in Germany, Sweden, Norway and France

The NSA was able to access text messages, telephone calls and internet traffic including searches, chats and messaging services — including those of Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, then-foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and then-opposition leader Peer Steinbrück, DR said.

READ MORE: Europe demands answers after US-Danish spying claims

 “I’m pleased that the Americans clearly said that they changed their practices in 2014 when it comes to the monitoring of allies, and that they want to cooperate with us and others to chart what happened,” Norwegian news agency NTB quoted Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg as saying.

“We summoned the US embassy in Oslo today to follow up on this,” she added.

 According to NTB, Solberg also held talks on Thursday with her Danish counterpart Mette Frederiksen.

“I reiterated that we consider espionage against close friends and allies unacceptable and unnecessary,” she said.

US eavesdropping on European leaders is, however, not new.

In 2013, former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed thousands of classified documents exposing the vast US surveillance put in place after the September 11th, 2001 attacks.

Among other things, the documents showed the US government was spying on its own citizens and carrying out widespread tapping worldwide, including of Merkel’s mobile phone.

However, if the Danish-US spying is confirmed, it went on during and after the 2013 Snowden affair.

In 2014, following the Snowden scandal, a secret internal working group at FE began looking into whether the NSA had used a Danish-US spying collaboration — called XKeyscore — to spy on Denmark’s allies, DR said.