The flags of the five Nordic countries. Photo: Henry Montgomery/TT
The flags of the five Nordic countries. Photo: Henry Montgomery/TT

Nordic Council demands Russian "clarification"

The Nordic Council is demanding an explanation from Russia, after its St Petersburg office was asked to register as a "foreign agent" by the Justice Ministry in Moscow.

Denmark is currently chairing Nordic Council, and has reacted to the decision taken by the Russian authorities earlier in the week. 

"The Nordic Council has for 20 years had a mutual and good co-operation with authorities and organisation in North Western Russia. He hope this can continue. But it is unacceptable, that the authorities call the office a "foreign agent", said Carsten Hansen, Denmark's Minister for Nordic Co-operation in a press statement.

"We insist on a quick clarification of the office's status," he added.

According to the press statement from the Danish Foreign Office, published at the Nordic Council's website, the St Petersburg offices has over the past six months been the subject of "control visits" from Russian prosecutors, and its activities have been examined in the light of Russian laws on Non-Governmental Organisations. The conclusion of the prosecution authority is that the Nordic Council is carrying out "political activities" and therefore should be register as a foreign agent according to Russian Law.

Now, the Danish government, as chair of the Nordic Council, demands that Russia finds a speedy solution to the problem. The Swedish Foreign Office has also brought it up in direct contact with Russia, and the press secretary of Foreign Minister Margot Wallström tells Radio Sweden that discussions are "on-going" as to how the council should be classified.

The Nordic Council is made up of Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Iceland, as well as the autonomous entities of Åland, Faeroes and Greenland. It's offices abroad do not carry diplomatic status.

In 2013 the Russian Duma passed a legislation that requires non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that receive foreign grants and works with political issues to register as foreign agents.

"I can only say this is connected to the Nordic Council's social-political programme", says Marina Nikolayeva, spokesperson at the St Petersburg Prosecutor's Office, to Russian state broadcaster Voice of Russia.

On Friday, the Finnish newspaper HBL reported the Nordic Council have shut down operations in St Petersburg following the legal blow against their office. There are five other sub-offices in north-west Russia, which were led from St Petersburg.

Head of staff for the Council is Kenneth Broman, based in Denmark. He told HBL they had been planning a seminar on healthcare next week, but that has to be cancelled.

"We have to lie low, for the sake of our partner organisations, who now also risk being labelled as financing foreign agents," he told the paper.

In a statement on the Nordic Council website all the offices activities are put on ice, until further notice. The future of the St Petersburg office "will be decided based on the results of the negotiations between the Russian government and the Nordic Council".

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