OSLO (Reuters) – Norwegian security police told PST on Friday that 15 Russian diplomats expelled from Norway this week had tried to gather sources, intercept communications and buy advanced technology.
PST counterintelligence chief Inger Hoagland said at a press conference that the diplomats' real employers are the Russian special services agencies GRU, FSB and SVR.
"This reduces the Russian intelligence threat in Norway by steadily reducing the number of intelligence officers operating under diplomatic cover," Hoagland said of the deportation.
The move is the largest western expulsion of Russian diplomats in Norway and the latest since the start of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
According to the Norwegian Foreign Ministry, Norway's actions will lead to the dismissal of more than a third of Norway's approximately 40 Russian diplomats.
PST chief Doug Royel told Reuters the expelled diplomats, all men, worked in consular, trade and embassy offices of the Russian delegation in Oslo.
According to Hoagland, one of them tried to acquire advanced underwater technology for the GRU, Russia's military intelligence agency.
Rogel said Russian intelligence is particularly interested in Norway's defense sector, including how it provides military aid to Ukraine, as well as its oil and gas sector, which is now Europe's largest gas supplier.
According to him, Moscow wants Norwegian oil and gas technology because it cannot get it because of international sanctions, and now it is trying to get it through espionage.
NATO member Norway shares a border with Russia in the Arctic. Since the start of the war in Ukraine, security measures have been tightened, especially around oil and gas facilities.
On Friday, Russia announced that relations with Norway had suffered a "big blow" and that the Nordic country was "increasingly asserting itself as an enemy state of Russia".
Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said without elucidation. "These actions will not go unanswered, we will give a strong response."
In October, Norway arrested a suspected Russian spy, described as an intelligence officer with no official ties to the government, posing as an undercover agent.
Norway is investigating a series of drone surveillance of onshore and offshore oil and gas infrastructure following last year's Nord Stream pipeline explosions.
(Reporting by Gvladis Fouche Editing by Terge Solsvik, Peter Graff and Nick McPhee)