Norway takes over as key link with West

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The Independent Online

The drama of the Russian submarine Kursk has highlighted how, since the end of the Cold War, Norway has taken over from Finland as the West's most important bridge with militarised north-western Russia.

The drama of the Russian submarine Kursk has highlighted how, since the end of the Cold War, Norway has taken over from Finland as the West's most important bridge with militarised north-western Russia.

Even before the collapse of Communism, Norway's position was unusual. Though it was the only European Nato member which shared a border with the former Soviet Union, a tacit agreement operated whereby the alliance kept no nuclear weapons there, nor stationed troops in positions that Moscow might regard as threatening.

Albeit belatedly, it is to Norway - and Britain - that Russia has turned to for help with the stricken vessel. The British rescue submarine is on standby at Trondheim, half way up Norway's west coast (it is unclear why the LR5 was not taken to Kirkenes, the airfield in touching distance of the Russian frontier and 150 miles from where the Kursk is lying).

After 1991, the prime Western concern about north-west Russia shifted from the possibility of direct military attack to the acute environmental hazards in the region - the Kola peninsula in particular - not only caused by naval nuclear waste but also the devastating pollution from nickel smelting and other industrial activities.

Oslo is now in the forefront of as yet unsuccessful Western attempts to reduce the environmental threat to northern Scandinavia. It is the only Western country with a consulate general in Murmansk. Bellona, the environmental agency in Oslo, also has an office there.Bellona is the West's greatest authority on Russia's Northern Fleet, whose submarines had been earmarked as the main component of a slimmed down Russian deterrent.

With Russia and the US, Norway has launched a pilot study to improve environmental security in the decommissioning of the estimated 80-odd nuclear submarines moored out of service at bases on the Kola peninsula.

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