KIRKENES, Norway – Frode Berg volunteered in a soup kitchen in rural Russia. He helped arrange an annual cross-border pageant and ski race. His congregation supported a brand new church in a Russian city simply over the boundary line that divides East from West.
Then the Russians arrested him and accused him of being a spy.
That an espionage thriller is unfolding right here on the Arctic frontier confounds residents who did not anticipate to be swept up within the confrontation between Russia and the West. On the snowbound shore of an icy fjord, a 3-decade experiment in constructing cross-border ties unbiased of geopolitics now hangs within the stability.
Nobody on this Barents Sea port city, a 15-minute drive from the Russian border, appears to know why the police arrested Berg, a sixty two-yr-previous retired border inspector, close to Moscow’s Purple Sq. in December. His legal professionals say Berg stands accused of mailing envelopes with money and spy directions addressed to a Moscow lady named Natalia and now faces a nearly sure espionage conviction.
“I can assure you that he’s not a spy,” stated Kirkenes Mayor Rune Rafaelsen. “What I am questioning is, has somebody used him?”
The case has acquired scant worldwide consideration, partially as a result of the Norwegian authorities has resisted the entreaties of Berg’s pals to convey extra public strain to bear on the Kremlin. However it has jolted Kirkenes, the place residents say that Berg personified this distant area’s efforts to foster bonds even after geopolitical tensions spiked in recent times.
Did Russian spies arrange Berg to impress a world incident with Norway, a entrance-line member of the North Atlantic Treaty Group? Did Norwegian intelligence use Berg as an unwitting courier in an operation gone improper? Or – in a state of affairs that Berg’s buddies categorically rule out – did he really lead some type of double life?
“He appeared to be a pleasant man,” stated Arve Henriksen, a Kirkenes port agent who focuses on Russian shoppers, amongst them the 9 crab fishing boats within the harbor outdoors his workplace window. “However then once more, who actually is aware of anyone when it comes right down to it?”
On Friday, a Moscow decide prolonged Berg’s jail time period for a further three months as Russia’s investigation of him continues. After the listening to, as Norwegian journalists lobbed questions at him, Berg gripped the bars of his courtroom cage and insisted he had been trapped.
“I really feel actually misused,” Berg stated, referring to unidentified…