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Research Article

Studying Moscow’s Coercive Campaign Against Norway

The Bear is Awake

Pages 74-85 | Received 06 Jan 2023, Accepted 22 May 2023, Published online: 26 Jun 2023


Norway’s geopolitical position as both a neighbour of Russia and a member of NATO places it at the forefront of Moscow’s self-assertive and aggressive foreign and security policy. However, Norway’s NATO membership reduces Russia’s room for manoeuvre to actions below the threshold of armed conflict. In this article, Runar Spansvoll examines how Russia has made use of such aggressive and coercive sub-threshold activities in the political, information and military domains between 2014–23 in a campaign to compel Oslo to comply with its foreign and security policy objectives.◼

Russia’s increasingly self-assertive and revisionist foreign and security policy may not have received sufficient attention in the West until the sudden and illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014. Although the seizure sent geopolitical shockwaves into capitals around the world, the subsequent political response did not deter President Vladimir Putin from attempting to subjugate the whole of Ukraine in 2022. These two watershed events – the latter of which is still unfolding – have led to an almost complete collapse in relations with the West, including Norway, one of Russia’s immediate neighbours.

From Norway’s perspective, the deterioration in bilateral relations since 2014 has been visible through the degradation of political dialogue, cases of espionage, cyber attacks and a substantial increase in coercive military activity, as described in the following sections. From the Russian perspective, its security concerns related to Norway seem primarily linked to Norway’s administration and use of Svalbard, the presence of NATO forces in Norway and in its adjoining seas, and the Norwegian sanctions policy. Historically, these matters have been insufficient cause for escalation as Russia has had an enduring interest in ‘preserving the Arctic as a territory of peace’, isolated from conflicts elsewhere.Footnote1 Nevertheless, Russia’s renewed invasion of Ukraine makes it evident that its risk perception and acceptance exceeds traditional parameters, making its foreign policy conduct and role as an actor in the international system unpredictable.

This article explores Moscow’s campaign to influence and coerce Oslo into complying with its foreign and security policy objectives in the timeframe between 2014 and early 2023. These efforts can be grouped into the political, information and military domains where activities have remained under the threshold for armed conflict. Although the primary focus of this article is on Norway, it is important to recognise that Russia’s actions are not isolated incidents. Indeed, several of the actions taken by Russia against Norway are reflective of its broader patterns of behaviour towards other NATO partners. Therefore, this article should be considered a case study in Russian coercive actions to influence political decision-making, highlighting the comprehensive nature of Moscow’s disruptive actions and contributing to increased awareness of the wider phenomenon.

Diplomacy: Norway is a Member of NATO; NATO is not a Friend of Russia

Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014 is considered a turning point in Russo-Norwegian relations. Shortly after the annexation, Norway implemented sanctions in line with those of the EU. In turn, Russia is believed to have orchestrated the subsequent refugee crisis at the Russo-Norwegian border crossing station in Storskog in the last quarter of 2015. According to former prime minister Erna Solberg, Russia did this by assisting or allowing more than 5,000 refugees from various conflict zones to seek asylum at the border.Footnote2 This represented a significant increase compared with the first half of 2015, when only 40 people applied for asylum at the border.Footnote3 The situation bears similarities to the 2021 migration crisis on the border between the EU and Belarus, where Alexander Lukashenko’s regime used illegal immigration as a political weapon in response to Western and EU sanctions.Footnote4

A Norwegian F-35 A on NATO Quick Reaction Alert intercepting a Russian TU-95MS ‘BEAR-H’ near Norwegian airspace. Courtesy of Forsvaret/Norwegian Armed Forces

A Norwegian F-35 A on NATO Quick Reaction Alert intercepting a Russian TU-95MS ‘BEAR-H’ near Norwegian airspace. Courtesy of Forsvaret/Norwegian Armed Forces

In another instance of political manoeuvring, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov used the 2020 centenary of the Svalbard Treaty to formally protest violations of the treaty on the grounds of discrimination against Russian economic activity in the archipelago, demanding bilateral negotiations. However, Oslo dismissed the demand on the grounds that ‘Norway does not negotiate with anyone over what is Norwegian’, causing outrage in the Russian media.Footnote5 Although the protest was based on allegations of economic discrimination against Russia’s symbolic Arktikugol coal mining company in Barentsburg, the underlying concern was likely related to the geostrategic location of Svalbard in relation to Russia’s strategic nuclear forces on the Kola Peninsula. That is also why the Svalbard satellite station (SvalSat) has been criticised by Russian officials who claim that the facility serves dual-use purposes.Footnote6 SvalSat is operated by the part government-owned Kongsberg Satellite Services (KSAT) and the Norwegian Space Agency and is vital in communicating with satellites in low polar orbit.

In May 2021, the Russian Embassy in Oslo openly criticised Norway for alleged violations of its self-imposed 1949 basing policy, which includes restrictions on foreign military presence in Norway.Footnote7 Specifically, the Embassy stated that Norway had allowed US nuclear attack submarines and strategic bombers to use Norwegian ports and airports, which it argued violated the 1949 policy.Footnote8 The Embassy also criticised the 2021 US-Norwegian Supplementary Defense Cooperation Agreement (SDCA), which grants the US increased jurisdiction over its military personnel and infrastructure within defined areas in Norway, enables joint training and exercises, sharing of military infrastructure and technology, and cooperation on security challenges.Footnote9

Relations deteriorated further on 25 October 2021, when Lavrov met with his newly appointed Norwegian counterpart, Anniken Huitfeldt. In the subsequent statement to the press, he announced that ‘Norway is a member of NATO, and NATO is not a friend of Russia’.Footnote10 Lavrov’s statement represented continuity in de facto relations since 2014, however, his directness in challenging the cornerstone of Norwegian security policy signalled change.

Following Russia’s attempted full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Norway implemented sanctions mirroring those of the EU, and continues to supply Ukraine with military hardware and funds. This resulted in Moscow listing Norway as a ‘nation unfriendly to Russia’.Footnote11 In addition, in July 2022 Russian politicians suggested invalidating the much-celebrated 2010 Russo-Norwegian maritime delimitation treaty – the result of four decades of negotiations – as an indirect, punitive response to Norwegian sanctions. The reaction from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has so far been that the treaty does not have a clause on termination.Footnote12

Despite the entrenched political positions, the Norwegian Intelligence Service (NIS) assesses that Moscow considers its diplomatic means the most influential towards Oslo, followed by – or reinforced with – military power projection.Footnote13 Therefore, Russia’s diplomatic signalling must also be seen in conjunction with the other instruments of Russian power, such as its ‘information confrontations’ and military force demonstrations.

Information and Disinformation: Conflicting Narratives

As part of Russia’s whole-of-government approach to its foreign and security policy objectives, its diplomatic efforts are regularly supported by information and cyber operations to reinforce the Russian narrative, while sowing doubts about – or discrediting – the competing narrative.Footnote14 Such ‘weaponisation of information’ is within the domain of ‘information confrontation’, a uniquely Russian term that includes information and cyber operations.Footnote15

In 2022, all three Norwegian security services (the Norwegian Intelligence Service (NIS), the Police Security Service (PST), and the National Security Authority (NSM)) renewed their warnings of there being a high and persistent threat posed by Russian state and non-state actors in spreading disinformation and conducting cyber operations.Footnote16 According to the three services, Russian state or state-affiliated actors are the most severe threats to Norwegian domestic security interests and actively attempt to influence the government’s decision-making processes, limit strategic options and weaken Norwegian national security interests.Footnote17

According to the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (FFI), Norway is likely not among Russia’s most prioritised targets. However, there is a persistent effort by Russia’s GRU (foreign military intelligence) and SVR (foreign intelligence service) in Norway.Footnote18 Their general objectives are likely ‘to weaken Western democracies through increased polarization, weakening public confidence in the government, and undermining and manipulating the perception of reality to both its own and other countries’ populations’.Footnote19 It is also likely that their specific objectives towards Norway are to ‘influence attitudes in the Norwegian population and Norway’s position in international politics’ due to its geostrategic location, in combination with it being a NATO member.Footnote20 Furthermore, the FFI report states that ‘Russian authorities and personnel at the Russian Embassy in Oslo are active, both through diplomacy, intelligence, lobbying, and editorial and social media activity’.Footnote21 Recently, on 13 April 2023, Norwegian authorities expelled 15 persons employed at the Russian Embassy in Oslo on the grounds that ‘their activities are a threat to Norwegian interests’ according to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Anniken Huitfeldt.Footnote22

Russian information operations are often based on official statements to the Russian and international media, at times reinforced by ambiguous or unattributable sources spreading disinformation via social media and other decentralised platforms.Footnote23 While Russian official statements may provide consistent – although alternative – narratives, other unattributable sources are to a greater degree used for spreading disinformation and conflicting narratives aimed at exploiting perceived vulnerabilities in democratic societies by attempting to exacerbate divisions, thereby seeking to degrade societal cohesion.Footnote24

A consistent trend in Moscow’s official statements is that the Norwegian government is manipulating public opinion related to Russo-Norwegian bilateral relations. Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) spokesperson Maria Zakharova goes as far as claiming that ‘Norwegians are being misled [by] Oslo’.Footnote25 Also, Moscow has occasionally attempted to exploit perceived divisions in Norway through statements such as ‘Oslo is ignorant of the security of “northerners”’ by allowing US submarines to enter its northern ports. Although Moscow is failing to gain traction in its information campaign, it clearly shows that Moscow pays attention to Norwegian politics to identify areas where it can inflame societal divisions.Footnote26

In another case of ‘weaponisation of disinformation’, Russia has resorted to falsifying Automatic Identification System (AIS) location data.Footnote27 One such incident involved Royal Norwegian Navy (RNoN) vessels operating in the Baltic Sea on 14 June 2020. According to publicly available Marine Traffic AIS data, the two RNoN corvettes operating in the region falsely appeared to have violated Russian territorial waters outside the Kaliningrad enclave as a consequence of AIS receiver stations being fed falsified location data by non-attributable cyber-actors.Footnote28 Although this incident did not involve actual ships emitting the false location data, other incidents did. According to information disclosed through the Norwegian Freedom of Information Act, the RNoN points to Russia as a likely source of such disinformation in at least one specific case in September 2020, where two Russian warships operating between Norway and Denmark emitted AIS signals identifying them as Norwegian and Danish frigates.Footnote29

Norwegian Department of Defence spokespersons stated that an adversary may have multiple purposes for falsifying location data. The manipulation of location information is seen as a broadening of ongoing disinformation campaigns in social media and the press aimed at undermining the credibility and reliability of governments and institutions in the West. Furthermore, in case of a confrontation at sea, falsified information may be used to substantiate false claims or to support allegations of violations of sovereign states’ territorial waters, thereby adding to the Russian narrative that it is surrounded by aggressors.Footnote30 Another aspect is that the demonstration of such capacities and capabilities is likely to support Russia’s wider strategic deterrence signalling. In another noteworthy event, Putin signed the Russian Federation’s 2022 Maritime Doctrine on 31 July 2022. This doctrine places an increased emphasis on employing civilian vessels for military purposes, potentially further blurring the lines between combatants and non-combatants at sea.Footnote31

Another trend is Russia’s continuous effort to export its ‘memorial diplomacy’ to Norway.Footnote32 In particular, this can be seen through the continued emphasis on constructing and maintaining public memorial sites in the north-eastern region of Finnmark, which was liberated from German occupation in 1944 by the Soviet Red Army. Commentators suggest that this is part of a broader strategy by Russia to cultivate a sense of gratitude and obligation from the Norwegian side.Footnote33 This approach may also seek to divert attention from negative publicity and reinforce a positive image of Russia.

The overall effects sought by Moscow in its information operations are likely two-fold. On the one hand, it aims to construct a narrative through official statements or Russian and Norwegian media that Oslo is ignoring Russia’s interests and misleading its population by offering its territory to NATO as a springboard from which to threaten Russia’s security interests. On the other hand, this feeds into a domestic narrative in Russia, where Norway and NATO are portrayed as aggressive and encroaching on Russian sovereignty. Taken together, Russia’s signalling could be considered an active information campaign and is likely aimed at undermining public trust in the Norwegian government and influencing government decision-making.

According to NSM, cyber attacks causing serious consequences tripled from 2019 to 2021.Footnote34 Although most were of criminal character, some also targeted Norwegian national security interests. These attacks target academic or government institutions and companies possessing advanced manufacturing technologies. NSM claims that the attacks aim to gain insight into government policymaking and to access otherwise inaccessible technology.Footnote35 The majority of such attacks remain either unattributable or are otherwise ambiguous. This is further complicated by the fact that several attacks are attributed to third-party actors, thereby creating sufficient ambiguity to remain plausibly deniable by their suspected sponsor. It is also likely that some state or state-sponsored cyber attacks have remained undiscovered due to the increasingly sophisticated means and ways of such activities.Footnote36

However, in late 2014, an advanced network of false GSM transceiver stations was discovered in the vicinity of the parliament and government administration buildings in Oslo and is assumed to have been monitoring government officials.Footnote37 The system’s sophistication indicated that foreign state actors were involved, but the incident was not publicly attributed. In 2020, the Norwegian parliament’s email system came under attack from what the PST and NSM attributed to the ‘Fancy Bear’ (APT-28) cyber espionage group affiliated with GRU.Footnote38 In a historic move, the Norwegian MFA publicly attributed the incident to Russia, calling it an unacceptable attack on Norway’s democratic interests.Footnote39 In 2022, the University of Tromsø was subjected to a cyber attack in which the attackers targeted the email accounts of security policy researchers; a PST investigation later attributed the attack to Russia.Footnote40 Later the same year, a ‘Brazilian’ researcher was arrested at Tromsø university and charged with espionage. According to the PST, the researcher’s real identity was that of a Russian national.Footnote41 Open-source investigator Christo Grozev at Bellingcat, however, claims that the person is a GRU colonel.Footnote42

Another factor of note is Russia’s covert or overt attempts to gain access to advanced technology. While covert attempts are in the realm of industrial espionage, overt efforts involve attempted purchases of products or companies.Footnote43 According to the NIS and PST, there is a particular demand for Norwegian maritime and other advanced technology. This was exemplified by the Russian Trans Mash Holding’s attempt to buy the Rolls Royce Group subsidiary Bergen Engines in 2021.Footnote44 The Norwegian government prohibited the sale based on concerns that the company had strong ties to Russian authorities. It is believed that the acquisition of Bergen Engines, which specialises in manufacturing large ship engines for customers such as the Norwegian and US navies, would once again enable the construction of larger Russian naval vessels after losing access to such engines following its 2014 invasion of Crimea.Footnote45

Overall, Russian activity in the information and cyber domains appears to be part of a comprehensive approach, which includes disinformation and espionage, aimed at influencing government decision-making, undermining democratic processes, and acquiring otherwise inaccessible information and technology.

Military: Combining Old Concepts with New Approaches

Despite Moscow’s stated ambition of keeping tensions low in the Arctic, there are several examples of ways in which the Russian military is being used to signal disagreements with Oslo, especially since the 2014 degradation of political relations.

In 2015, Russia’s deputy prime minister, Dmitry Rogozin, made an unannounced visit to Longyearbyen in Svalbard despite being on Norway’s 2014 sanctions list of persons prohibited from entering the country.Footnote46 Furthermore, Chechen special forces affiliated with the Russian FSB’s Alpha group made a stopover in Longyearbyen in 2016, allegedly on their way to an exercise near the North Pole.Footnote47 Norwegian Svalbard policy clearly states that ‘all foreign military activity in Svalbard is prohibited and would entail a gross infringement of Norway’s sovereignty’.Footnote48 Such actions are highly problematic and pose severe challenges to the 1920 Svalbard Treaty by exploiting the grey zone in the treaty’s definition of ‘military activity’.

In 2017, a Russian defence report on threats to its national interests identified Norway as a specific threat by what the report described as Norway’s ‘unilateral revision of international agreements’, likely in reference to the Svalbard Treaty, and its move ‘towards establishing absolute national jurisdiction over Spitsbergen [Svalbard] and the adjacent 200 nautical mile boundary around it’.Footnote49 Additionally, Russian state-affiliated media outlets openly questioned the legitimacy of Norway’s claim to the archipelago, clearly seeking to inflame a revisionist debate.Footnote50

According to the treaty, Svalbard is not to be used for ‘war-like purposes’. Therefore, Norwegian military use of Svalbard is limited to essential and non-permanent activities (including Coast Guard visits and military aircraft conducting civil transportation and search-and-rescue operations).Footnote51 Since the mid-2000s, there has also been an annual visit by an RNoN frigate to the archipelago. This routinely draws criticism from Moscow; however, Russia’s 2021 MFA statement was particularly explicit:

[Oslo’s] next step in […] a series of consistent actions to include this territory in the sphere of national military construction […] which implies the use of the archipelago’s infrastructure in the military planning of Norway’s defence, including the reception of reinforcements from NATO allies. Coupled with the SvalSat satellite ground tracking station operating in the archipelago, technically equipped to perform dual-use tasks, the practice of using the [Longyearbyen] airport by Norwegian military transport aircraft, patrolling the Svalbard waters by Coast Guard ships – all these facts indicate an increase in the tendency of covert militarization of the archipelago by the Norwegian side’.Footnote52

Interestingly, the 2021 RNoN visit to Svalbard was followed by what appears to be a response by the Northern Fleet (NFLT). Although the NFLT has conducted annual ‘Arctic voyages’ for the past decade, the 2021 voyage deviated from previous years when the destroyer Severomorsk and two support vessels set course for the waters around Svalbard. The NFLT stated that the ships were sent to carry out ‘a set of measures aimed at protecting the interests of the Russian Federation in the Arctic’.Footnote53 According to a Norwegian Joint Headquarters spokesperson, such behaviour had not been seen before.Footnote54 Although the NFLT’s land component has suffered severe losses in Ukraine, its air and maritime component continues to create a considerable regional asymmetry.

The Russian air force is also being used to relay Moscow’s dissatisfaction with Norwegian policy and has conducted several simulated strikes on Norwegian installations and vessels in recent years. In a 2018 speech, the former Chief of the NIS, Morten Haga Lunde, disclosed that Russia conducted three separate simulated airstrikes on Norwegian facilities and vessels in 2017.Footnote55 According to Lunde, the coercive air campaign began with nine aircraft conducting repeated simulated strikes on the NIS’s GLOBUS II radar in Vardø (Norway’s easternmost point). The incident was likely intended to signal Moscow’s discontent and frustration over the ongoing construction of the US-funded GLOBUS III radar on the site by 2022, suspecting that the radar would be part of a US early warning system.Footnote56

Two months later, 12 Russian aircraft simulated a strike on a maritime group consisting of naval vessels from Norway and other NATO member states, while participating in the anti-submarine Exercise EASTLANT in the northern part of the Norwegian Sea. According to Lunde, the Russian force consisted of MiG-31 interceptors, SU-24 multi-role aircraft and Tu-22M long-range strategic bombers.Footnote57 Exercise EASTLANT was also countered by an NFLT naval response, as is customary when NATO forces operate in the northern Norwegian Sea or the Barents Sea. The week after, nine Russian aircraft simulated strikes on the Norwegian Air Force’s air station in Bodø. The simulated attack took place during the Arctic Challenge Exercise, which involved fighter aircraft from several allied countries.Footnote58

Although Russian air force activity is routinely intercepted by Norwegian fighter aircraft on NATO Quick Reaction Alert (QRA), the actions described by Lunde were of a character that required a sharp response from the Norwegian authorities, stating that such behaviour is contributing to ‘a decline in confidence, predictability, and stability in the North’.Footnote59 Nevertheless, in early 2018, 11 Su-24 aircraft repeated their simulated strikes on the GLOBUS II radar (see ).Footnote60

Figure 1 Flight Patterns of 11 Su-24s Conducting Repeated Simulated Strikes on GLOBUS II in 2018

Source: The Norwegian Intelligence Service.

Figure 1 Flight Patterns of 11 Su-24s Conducting Repeated Simulated Strikes on GLOBUS II in 2018Source: The Norwegian Intelligence Service.

Figure 2 Russian PNT Jamming During Trident Juncture 2018

Source: The Norwegian Intelligence Service.

Figure 2 Russian PNT Jamming During Trident Juncture 2018Source: The Norwegian Intelligence Service.

Another emerging trend is the NFLT’s excessive use of maritime danger areas, referred to in Russian as ‘PRIPs’ (also commonly referred to as Notice to Airmen – NOTAMs).Footnote61 As these areas are used for anything from small-arms to submarine launched ballistic missile tests, they effectively become maritime exclusion zones. By the end of 2022, the Russian Western Arctic Sea Port Administration had issued 59 PRIPs, compared with 31 for 2021 and 11 in 2020.Footnote62 Military danger areas are usually intended to ensure the safety of the issuing authority and those who would otherwise have ventured into the given areas. However, there are indications that PRIPs are used both as a political signalling tool and as a military means for peacetime sea denial. As a political tool, PRIPs have been used to signal dissatisfaction with Norwegian and allied activity in the High North, such as during the NATO exercise Trident Juncture in 2018 and other exercises where Russia has announced disruptive PRIPs within the Alliance’s declared exercise areas.Footnote63 Russian PRIPs are also used as a military means in ways that serve its security strategy by creating temporary ‘geo-fences’ to block or canalise military activity away from areas or activities considered to be sensitive to Russia, such as by obstructing access to the Barents Sea or to observe weapons tests. Since 2014, Russia has also announced numerous PRIPs inside Norway’s exclusive economic zone without apparent military necessity.Footnote64 This practice also parallels Russian conduct in the waters and airspace around occupied Crimea.Footnote65

PRIPs are also a source of economic loss for those who would otherwise use the sea for civil purposes, such as seasonal fisheries, commerce, air traffic to and from oil and gas platforms, and occasionally to the operation of the platforms themselves.Footnote66 While the practice adheres to international law and conforms to international notification requirements, it demonstrates a lack of regard for economic activities and regularly results in complaints from Norwegian fishery organisations claiming that the practice is violating Norway’s sovereign rights.Footnote67

On 19 February 2022, Russia activated the most comprehensive PRIPs since the Cold War, in conjunction with executing its delayed Grom (Thunder) strategic nuclear deterrence exercise.Footnote68 The PRIPs effectively closed off much of the ice-free parts of the Barents Sea, including large parts of Norway’s economic zone in the region. The PRIPs and the activity within them likely served several national security strategy ends. The exercise demonstrated the viability of Russia’s strategic nuclear deterrence assets, willingness to protect its national interests in the region by ensuring freedom of action and movement, and demonstrating Russian regional military hegemony. In relation to Norway, the exercise signalled a policy change by launching a nuclear-capable 3M22 Zircon hypersonic missile from inside Norway’s economic zone around Bjørnøya (Bear Island). But, more importantly, the exercise demonstrated resolve and the viability of its nuclear deterrence triad only days before its second invasion of Ukraine.

In other maritime incidents, Russian trawlers have been suspected of being involved in damaging vital seabed infrastructure. On 3 April 2021, the Lofoten Vesterålen (LoVe) underwater monitoring cable stopped working. The cable was a joint scientific venture between the Norwegian Institute of Marine Research (Havforskningsinstituttet) and the FFI, intended to monitor maritime acoustic activity. Investigations showed that 4.3 km of cable had disappeared from a location 3 km outside of Norwegian territorial waters and was later recovered 11 km from its original position. The subsequent police investigation concluded that several Russian trawlers had been engaged in trawling at the location and time in question, however, the case was later dropped.Footnote69

In another cable incident, one of the two communication cables between Svalbard and mainland Norway ceased to operate on 7 January 2022. The police investigation found that several of the same trawlers as in the previous incident were present in the area, but again, the case was dropped. Space Norway owns and operates the cable which serves as the primary communication line for the population on Svalbard and the Norwegian mainland.Footnote70

Although neither of the two cable incidents could be attributed to Russian state involvement, they show the vulnerability of seabed infrastructure, even to relatively simple interference. According to a 2018 study by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Russia has the world’s most developed force for seabed warfare, organised around its Main Directorate for Deep-Sea Research, capable of a wide array of missions, including tapping or severing undersea cables.Footnote71 According to the study, the Directorate interfered with the 2015 completion of the SweLit undersea power cable in the Baltic Sea, proving its capability and willingness to influence undersea infrastructure.Footnote72 Considering Norway’s extensive reliance on undersea infrastructure, especially in the offshore oil and gas sector, such disruptive warfare may represent a severe challenge to Norwegian and European interests, as seen in the 2022 Nord Stream incident where unidentified actors sabotaged the pipelines, rendering them inoperable.

Furthermore, Russia routinely disrupts Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) receivers in northern Norway as a means of political and military signalling. Such actions occur regularly and represent a severe problem by degrading the accuracy of the country’s position, navigation and time (PNT) dependent sectors.Footnote73 Conducting electronic warfare (EW) in peacetime may have catastrophic effects on PNT-dependent platforms, such as aircraft or ships.

The GNSS disruptions initially occurred most frequently from 2017 through the 2018 NATO exercise Trident Juncture and well into 2019. Despite voicing formal complaints to Russian authorities, the EW activity continued and compelled the Norwegian Department of Transportation to gather ‘undisputable evidence’, which concluded that the signal emitters were located on the Kola peninsula.Footnote74 Despite objections from the Norwegian MFA, Russia did not end the disruptive and coercive behaviour. Russia only ceased its GNSS disruption operations six months later, following further bilateral talks in June 2019.Footnote75

In the incident report on the 2017–2019 GNSS disruptions, the Norwegian Justice Department concluded that the loss of GNSS signals would affect the overall ability to effectively manage civil crisis response preparedness in northern Norway.Footnote76 From a military perspective, such low-cost EW can also degrade the effectiveness of high-tech precision-guided munitions (PGM) depending on GPS signals, reducing the overall deterrence effect of the Norwegian or NATO PGM inventory.Footnote77 The incidents also show the impact and cost such strategic signalling has across several sectors of Norwegian society, as it demanded a coordinated response from the Ministry of Transport, the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In 2022–2023, the EW activity resumed, increasing five-fold compared with 2017–2020, again causing problems for air traffic.Footnote78

Russia: A Challenge to Norwegian Interests and Options?

Overall, when considering Russia’s coercive campaign in the diplomatic, information and military domains in the timeframe 2014–2023, it is clear that Moscow’s security policy objectives are related to the Svalbard archipelago, US and NATO forces operating on or out of the Norwegian mainland, and opposition to the 2014 and 2022 sanctions policy. It is also clear that Russia seeks to gain access to otherwise inaccessible security policy related information and advanced technology.

As described, these objectives are pursued through covert, ambiguous or openly coercive sub-threshold activities, and range from official statements, disinformation campaigns, and espionage, to hacking, cyber attacks and military force demonstrations, with the aim of gaining access to government or corporate information, influencing decision-making, and compelling Oslo to comply with its foreign and security policy objectives. However, these activities have been somewhat irregular in both time and intensity.

Russia’s sub-threshold activities towards Norway may be viewed from two different perspectives. On the one hand, they could be seen as evidence of a confident Russia seeking to assert its influence and achieve its objectives by any means necessary. On the other hand, the activities may also be considered as acts of desperation, resulting from a failure to achieve its goals through cooperative and peaceful means. Regardless of the perspective taken, it is clear that Russia’s efforts have succeeded in degrading the relationship between the two nations.

Whether or not Moscow has achieved any of its desired outcomes, its increased risk acceptance and violations of the international rules-based order have created the impression that the Russian bear is wounded, which makes it more dangerous and unpredictable than ever before. ◼

Additional information

Notes on contributors

Runar Spansvoll

Runar Spansvoll is a Commander (OF3) in the Norwegian Armed Forces. Unless otherwise stated, the views presented in this article are solely those of the author and do not represent those of institutions or organisations with which the author is associated.


1 .President of the Russian Federation, ‘Ukaz Prezidenta Rossijskoj Federacii ot 26.10.2020 # 645 “O Strategii razvitija Arkticheskoj zony Rossijskoj Federacii i obespechenija nacional’noj bezopasnosti na period do 2035 goda”’ [‘On the Strategy for the Development of the Arctic Zone of the Russian Federation and Ensuring National Security for the Period up to 2035’], 26 October 2020, <>, accessed 27 April 2023, p. 16.

2 .Nettavisen, ‘Solberg: Russland lot migranter strømme på for å teste Norges respons’ [‘Solberg: Russia Allowed Migrants to Pour in to Test Norway’s Response’], 23 September 2021, <>, accessed 27 April 2023.

3 .Norwegian Directorate of Immigration, ‘Tall og fakta 2015’ [‘Numbers and Facts 2015’], 25 February 2016, pp. 12–13, <>, accessed 27 April 2023.

4 .Brian Whitmore, ‘Belarus Dictator Weaponizes Illegal Migrants Against EU’, Atlantic Council, 30 June 2021, <>, accessed 20 September 2022.

5 .Atle Staalesen, ‘Norway’s Celebration of the Svalbard Treaty was Followed by an Ardent and Coordinated Response from Moscow Media’, Barents Observer, 2 July 2020, <>, accessed 29 April 2023; Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ‘On Russian Reservations Towards the Svalbard Treaty’, 4 February 2020, <>, accessed 29 April 2023.

6 .Mathieu Boulègue, Russia’s Military Posture in the Arctic – Managing Hard Power in a “Low Tension” Environment (Lodon: Royal Institute of International Affairs, 2019), p. 27; see also Thomas Nilsen, ‘Russia Complains of Norwegian Navy’s Visit to Svalbard’, Arctic Today, 15 November 2021, <>, accessed 4 March 2022.

7 .Olav Riste, ‘Isolasjonisme og stormaktsgarantier’ [‘Isolationism and Great Power Guarantees’], 1991, pp. 23–30, <>, accessed 29 April 2023.

8 .The Russian Embassy in Oslo, ‘Om anløp av amerikanske atomubåter til Tønsneshavn ved Tromsø’ [‘On American Nuclear Submarines to Tønsneshavn near Tromsø’], 18 May 2021, <>, accessed 29 April 2023.

9 .Nilsen, ‘Russia Complains of Norwegian Navy’s Visit to Svalbard’; The Norwegian Government, ‘Norway Signs Supplementary Defense Cooperation Agreement with the United States’, 16 April 2021, <>, accessed 29 April 2023.

10 .Hilde-Gunn Bye, ‘Lavrov: We Do Not have Relations with NATO, but We have with Norway’, High North News, 26 October 2021, <>, accessed 8 February 2022.

11 .Tass, ‘Kabmin utverdil perechen’ nedruzhestvennyh Rossii stran i territorij’ [‘The Cabinet of Ministers Approved the List of Countries and Territories Unfriendly to Russia’], 7 March 2022.

12 .NRK, ‘UD: Delelinjeavtalen inneholder ingen klausul om oppsigelse’ [‘Ministry of Foreign Affairs: The Delimitation Agreement Contains No Clause On Termination’], 5 July 2022, <–-delelinjeavtalen-inneholder-ingen-klausul-om-oppsigelse-1.16028229>, accessed 30 April 2023.

13 .Norwegian Intelligence Service (NIS), ‘Fokus 2022’ [‘Focus 2022’], 11 February 2022, p. 39, <>, accessed 29 April 2023.

14 .Antony J Blinken, ‘Taking Action to Expose and Disrupt Russia’s Destabilisation Campaign in Ukraine’, US Department of State, 20 January 2022, <>, accessed 18 February 2022.

15 .NIS, ‘Fokus 2022’, p. 34.

16 .Ibid., p. 8; Police Security Service (PST), ‘Nasjonal trusselvurdering 2022’ [‘National Threat Assessment 2022’], 24 January 2022, pp. 8–14, <>, accessed 3 August 2022; National Security Authority (NSM), ‘Risiko 2022’ [‘Risk 2022’], 11 February 2022, p. 17, <>, accessed 29 April 2023.

17 .PST, ‘Nasjonal trusselvurdering’, pp. 8–14, and NSM, ‘Risiko 2022’, p. 17.

18 .Eskil Grendahl Sivertsen et al., ‘Hvordan gjøre samfunnet mer robust mot uønsket påvirkning i sosiale medier’ [‘How to Make Society More Resilient Against Unwanted Social Media Influences’], in FFI-report 21/01237, Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (FFI), 9 June 2021, p. 31, <>, accessed 28 April 2023.

19 .Ibid.

20 .Ibid.

21 .Ibid.

22 .Tonje Grimstad et al., ‘Ansatte ved Russlands ambassade sendes ut fra Norge: – En trussel mot Norge’, [‘Employees of the Russian Embassy are being Expelled From Norway: ‘A Threat to Norway’], NRK, 13 April 2023, <>, accessed 30 April 2023.

23 .Lesley Kucharski, ‘Russian Multi-Domain Strategy Against NATO: Information Confrontation and U.S. Forward-deployed Nuclear Weapons in Europe’, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory: Center for Global Security Research, pp. 2–3.

24 .Ibid.

25 .Atle Staalesen, ‘Moscow Lashes Out Against Oslo, But Courts Norwegian Population’, Barents Observer, 23 November 2020, <>, accessed 23 February 2023.

26 .The Russian Embassy in Oslo, ‘Om anløp av amerikanske atomubåter til Tønsneshavn ved Tromsø’.

27 .Henrik Lied, ‘Norske marineskip ble manipulert inn i russisk farvann’ [‘Norwegian Warships Manipulated into Russian Waters’], NRK Beta, 25 September 2021, <>, accessed 29 April 2023.

28 .Ibid.

29 .NRK Beta, ‘Innsyn Falsk AIS’, [‘Access to Information on False AIS’], September 2021, <>, accessed 28 April 2023.

30 .Ibid.

31 .President of the Russian Federation, ‘Ukaz Prezidenta Rossijskoj Federacii ot 31.07.2022 # 512 “Ob utverzhdenii Morskoj doktriny Rossijskoj Federacii”’ [‘Decree No. 512 of the President of the Russian Federation, 31 July 2022, On the Approval of the Maritime Doctrine of the Russian Federation’], pp. 2–10, <>, accessed 31 July 2022.

32 .The Russian Embassy in Oslo, ‘Om avdukningen av minnesmerket over sovjetiske flygere I Norge’ [‘About the Unveiling of the Memorial to Soviet Pilots in Norway’], 7 October 2021, <>, accessed 17 February 2023.

33 .Jade McGlynn, ‘Moscow is Using Memory Diplomacy to Export its Narrative to the World’, Foreign Policy, 25 June 2021; Allan Klo, ‘Tror Russland bruker krigsminnesmerker for å påvirke nordmenn’ [‘Believe Russia is Using War Memorials to Influence Norwegians’], NRK, 31 October 2021, <>, accessed 29 April 2023.

34 .NSM, ‘Risiko 2022’, p. 26.

35 .Ibid., pp. 7–14.

36 .Ibid., p. 19.

37 .Norwegian Parliament, ‘Innstilling fra justiskomiteen om redegjørelse av justis- og beredskapsministeren om falske basestasjoner’ [‘Recommendation from the Justice Committee on the Account of the Minister of Justice and Public Security about False Transceiver Stations’], 5 May 2015, <>, accessed 17 March 2022.

38 .Jan M Olsen, ‘Norway Intel: Russians Likely Behind Parliament Hacking’, Associated Press, 8 December 2020, <>, accessed 15 March 2022.

39 .Marius H Larsen, ‘Regjeringen beskylder Russland for datainnbrudd på Stortinget’ [‘The Government Accuses Russia of Hacking into the Norwegian Parliament’s Computer Network’], Forsvarets Forum, 13 October 2020, <>, accessed 29 April 2023.

40 .Øyvind B Skille, ‘Russland skal stå bak dataangrep mot nordområde-forskere’ [‘Russia Behind Computer Attacks Against Security Policy Researchers’], NRK, 28 February 2022, <>, accessed 17 March 2022.

41 .Anne Skifjeld et al., ‘PST sikter spionmistenkt i Tromsø: Mener de har hans russiske identitet’ [‘PST Charges Spy Suspect in Tromsø’], NRK, 28 October 2022, <>, accessed 27 February 2023.

42 .@christogrozev, ‘Bingo! He was registered at the address of the dormitory of the GRU academy. Which means he’s no less than a colonel! Great job, Norway - you’ve caught yourself a colonel from the GRU’, Twitter post, 28 October 2022, <>, accessed 22 February 2023.

43 .PST, ‘Nasjonal trusselvurdering 2022’, p. 10.

44 .NIS, ‘Fokus 2022’, p. 21.

45 .Ibid.

46 .Thomas Nilsen, ‘Russian Defence Report Lists Norway’s Svalbard Policy as Potential Risk of War’, Arctic Today, 4 October 2017, <>, accessed 14 March 2022; Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ‘Forskrift om restriktive tiltak mot personer som anses ansvarlige for underslag av offentlige midler, samt personer som anses å ha deltatt i menneskerettighetsbrudd i Ukraina’ [‘Regulations Relating to Restrictive Measures against Persons Deemed Responsible for Embezzlement of Public Funds, as well as Persons Deemed to have Participated in Human Rights Violations in Ukraine’], 9 May 2014, <>, accessed 7 February 2022.

47 .Trude Pettersen, ‘Chechen Special Forces Instructors Landed on Svalbard’, Barents Observer, 13 April 2016, <>, accessed 3 March 2022.

48 .Norwegian Government, ‘Meld. St. 32 (2015-2016) Svalbard’ [‘Government Report no. 32 to the Parliament (2015-2016) Svalbard’], 11 May 2016, p. 21, <>, accessed 27 February 2023.

49 .Alexandra Djordjevic, Ivan Safronov and Dmitriy Kozlov, ‘Geopolitika v pomoshh’ snabzheniju’, [‘Geopolitics to Help Supply’], Kommersant, 3 October 2017, <>, accessed 29 April 2023.

50 .Alexander Khrolenko, ‘NATO Gets All Hot and Bothered for Norwegian Archipelago, Russia Says Stay Out’, Sputnik News, 20 April 2017, <>, accessed 14 March 2022.

51 .Norwegian Government, ‘St. Meld. 22 (2008-2009) Svalbard’, [Government Report No. 22 to the Parliament (2008-2009) Svalbard], 17 April 2009, p. 23 <>, accessed 12 May 2023.

52 .Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ‘Kommentarij oficial’nogo predstavitelja MID Rossii M.V.Zaharovoj v svjazi s norvezhskoj voennoj aktivnost’ju na arhipelage Shpicbergen’, [‘Comment by MFA Spokesperson Maria Zakharova on Norwegian Military Activity in the Spitsbergen Archipelago’], 12 November 2021, <>, accessed 29 April 2023.

53 .Thomas Nilsen, ‘In a Surprise Direction NFLT Grouping Sails West of Svalbard on Annual Arctic Voyage’, Barents Observer, 18 August 2021, <>, accessed 14 March 2022.

54 .Ibid.

55 .Thomas Nilsen, ‘Russian Bombers Simulated an Attack against this Radar on Norway’s Barents Sea Coast’, Barents Observer, 5 March 2018, <>, accessed 6 January 2023.

56 .Ibid.; NIS, ‘Oppgradering av GLOBUS-systemet’ [‘Upgrading the GLOBUS system’], 10 June 2022, <>, accessed 29 April 2023.

57 .Nilsen, ‘Russian Bombers Simulated an Attack against this Radar on Norway’s Barents Sea Coast’.

58 .Ibid.

59 .Ibid.

60 .Thomas Nilsen, ‘11 Russian Fighter Jets Made Mock Attack on Norwegian Arctic Radar’, Barents Observer, 12 February 2019, <>, accessed 14 March 2022.

61 .National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, ‘Pub. 180 Sailing Directions Arctic Ocean’, 2020, p. 177, <>, accessed 28 April 2023.

62 .Western Arctic Sea Ports Authority, ‘PRIP Murmansk’, <>, accessed 2 January 2023.

63 .Jack Watling, ‘NATO’s Trident Juncture 2018 Exercise: Political Theatre with a Purpose’, RUSI Commentary, 20 November 2018.

64 .Kristian Åtland, Thomas Nilsen and Torbjørn Pedersen, ‘Military Muscle-Flexing as Interstate Communication: Russian NOTAM Warnings off the Coast of Norway, 2015–2021’, Scandinavian Journal of Military Studies (Vol. 5, No. 1, 2022), pp. 63–78.

65 .UAWire, ‘Russia Closes Airspace over Crimea and Parts of Black Sea’, 20 April 2021, <>, accessed 30 April 2023.

66 .Thomas Nilsen, ‘Russia Issues the Largest-ever Warning Zone in the Norwegian Part of the Barents Sea’, Barents Observer, 15 February 2022, <>, accessed 26 February 2022.

67 .Ibid.; Bård Wormdal, ‘Fiskere fortviler over russisk storøvelse’ [‘Fishermen Despair Over Russian Exercise’], NRK, 15 February 2022, <>, accessed 25 February 2022.

68 .The Kremlin, ‘Uchenie sil strategicheskogo sderzhivanija’ [‘Strategic Deterrence Exercise’], 19 February 2022, <>, accessed 25 February 2022.

69 .Benjamin Fredriksen, ‘Kabelmysteriet’ [‘The Cable Mysteries’], NRK, 26 June 2022, <>, accessed 2 January 2023.

70 .Alf R Jacobsen, ‘Kabelbruddet til Svalbardmysteriet løst’ [‘The Cable Break to Svalbard: Mystery Solved?’], 16 February 2022, <>, accessed 9 March 2022.

71 .Andrew Metrick and Kathleen H Hicks, ‘Contested Seas: Maritime Domain Awareness in Northern Europe’, CSIS, 2018, p. 7; H I Sutton, ‘5 Ways the Russian Navy Could Target Undersea Internet Cables’, Naval News, 7 April 2021, <>, accessed 11 March 2022.

72 .Ibid.

73 .Norwegian Ministry of Transport, ‘Rapport fra arbeidsgruppen GNSS/ GPS-forstyrrelser innen luftfart’ [‘Report From the Working Group On GNSS/GPS Interference in Aviation’], 19 December 2019, p. 3, <>, accessed 28 April 2023.

74 .Ibid., p. 6.

75 .Ibid.

76 .Ibid., p. 13.

77 .Roger N McDermott, Russia’s Electronic Warfare Capabilities to 2025: Challenging NATO in the Electromagnetic Spectrum (Tallinn: International Centre for Defence and Security, 2017), p. 14.

78 .Stian Strøm, ‘Kraftig økning av GPS-jamming over Finnmark’ [‘Sharp Increase in Jamming Over Finnmark’], NRK, 24 February 2023, <>, accessed 25 February 2023.