AP International

Expelled Russian diplomats are spies, Norwegians say

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — A senior Norwegian spy agency officer said Friday that ”the intelligence threat from Russia is not gone, but significantly reduced” after Norway expelled 15 Russian diplomats on suspicion of spying.

“We are sure that they are intelligence officers,” said Inger Haugland, head of the counterintelligence unit with the Norwegian Police Security Service, known as the PST. “We believe that the measure taken yesterday was a good and important measure.”

On Thursday, Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt said the diplomats were suspected of spying while working at the Russian Embassy in Oslo.

Haugland said most of the 15 diplomats were working either as spy handlers or intercepting telephone and data traffic. She said they were employed either by Russia’s civilian spy agency, the FSB (Federal Security Service) or by the GRU, which runs military intelligence.

Haugland described them as “specialists” but declined to give further details or say whether they had left the Scandinavian country.

“Russian intelligence will continue to operate in Norway because Norway is important to Russia,” she said.

Dag Røhjell, a senior officer with the PST, declined to comment specifically on how long the Norwegian authorities had known about the alleged activities of the 15 diplomats, but pointed at two sectors of special interest to Russia: defense and oil.

“It is about what Norway contributes to Ukrainian defense capability and energy supply to Europe,” Røhjell told reporters. “We will contact businesses that we know the 15 intelligence officers have had contact with.”

Norway, a NATO member, has a 198 kilometer-long (123-mile) border with Russia in the Arctic.

In neighboring Sweden, a person was arrested at the largest refinery company in the country on suspicion of corporate espionage, the prosecution authority said Friday. Swedish media said the suspect was a Russian woman. The case was shrouded in secrecy.

Graphic novels are displayed for sale at a bookstore in New York City on Sunday, October 8, 2023. On Tuesday, the Commerce Department releases U.S. retail sales data for September. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)
Graphic novels are displayed for sale at a bookstore in New York City on Sunday, October 8, 2023. On Tuesday, the Commerce Department releases U.S. retail sales data for September. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)

Dani Backteg, a spokesman for Preemraff, an oil refinery in Goteborg, western Sweden, told The Associated Press that the person arrested Thursday afternoon, was “an employee of one of our subcontractors.” He referred to the police for further comment.

Sweden’s security service also said it was a police matter. Police gave no comment.

Preem is the largest oil refinery in Sweden, with two plants on the west coast. It accounts for 80% of the country’s refinery capacity.

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