Persona non grata

Last Wednesday while travelling through Borisoglebsk border crossing point Thomas Nilsen learnt he had been denied entry to Russia for five years. The pro-Russia journalist from Norway was refused entry as the person considered to be a threat to national security.

The entry ban that the Barents Observer editor straightly highlighted in his web-outlet has evoked a wide public response. The Russian Journalists' Union has not yet commented upon the incident they learnt about from SeverPost, neither did the recognized journalistic community Barents Press drew up their consolidated position so far. Though there are several reasons of the incident that can be indicated so far.

Reason 1: Counter-measures of counter-intelligence

Last week Thomas Nilsen, editor of Barent Observer Independent had a meeting with the Russian Consul General in Kirkenes, though his question why he had been denied entry remained unanswered.

"He cannot give definite reasons why I was refused entry to Russia as a person posing threat to national security for the next five years," wrote the journalists, who now became persona non grata, in his Facebook.

According to Thomas Nilsen, the Consul General told there are thousands of Russians denied access to EU including journalists, so Russia has to take counter measures.

Strikingly, Nilsen has a five-year Russian visa and accreditation by the Russian Consulate that has not prevented border guards to refuse him entry to Russia at the Borisoglebsk border crossing point last Wednesday.

In Norway Thomas Nilsen is considered to be an expert for Russia who has been writing about joint Russian-Norwegian projects and cross-border life for over a decade. Last Wednesday he was travelling to Murmansk with a delegation from the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Danish Parliament. The journalists was going to cover that working visit in his media outlet.

Reason 2: Russian-language version

For many years Thomas has been editor of the famous in both Russia and Norway two-languages media BarentsObserver founded by the Norwegian Barents Secretariat, though in 2015 he was dismissed. Nilsen rejected to submit to the pressure from the web outlet's owners that practically abondoned the principle of press freedom and tried to consolidate new regulations in the outlet's charter. Such decision of the BarentsObserver's founders was largely due to the political sutiation and attitudes to Russia.

Thomas with his small team took a stand against the founders and initiated a new project "The independent Barents Observer".

At first the outlet had no Russian-language version but in late 2016 supported by the Norwegian MFA it was ultimately launched. The web media newsinenglish.no has already assumed that the entry ban might be due to the fact that the Russian authorities cannot control the contents of the web outlet.

"There have been rumours that the Russian authorities are thus trying to destroy the Russian-language news service they cannot control," states the outlet.

Reason 3: Too good relations

The Mayor of Kirkenes and the Head of Sør-Varanger commune Rune Rafaelsen told in his interview to NRK that he had been shocked by the incident.

"Thomas Nilsen and BarentsObserver were pioneering cooperation in the Barents region. The entry ban is a completely wrong descision of the Russian authorities, since Nilsen was a valuable brick in building competence and expertize on both sides of the border," said Rune Rafaelsen.

Nilsen wasn't the first undesirable Norwegian in Russia. In September the Norwegian businessman, Director of Ølen Betong Atle Berge was denied entry to Russia, likewise researcher Julie Wilhelmsen from the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs.

Although, the latest news proved the relations between the two countries to be improving.As was reported in February, the Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs Børge Brende will for the first time during the last three years pay a visit to Russia aiming to attend the IV International Forum "The Arctic - Territory of Dialogue" that will be held in Arkhangelsk on March 29-30. In early March 2017 the Norwegian Consulate General informed on coming into force of theredrafted Norwegian-Russian agreement on visa-free travelling for the border area residents that has been extended to the entire territory of Sor-Varanger.

SeverPost has no official comments of the FSB Border Directorate on the incident so far.

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