COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Russia will soon decide about the freeing of a Norwegian citizen serving a 14-year sentence for espionage in Russian jail, Sergey Lavrov, the country’s foreign minister said, Friday.
“Frode Berg has been convicted of espionage and has sought pardon. The pardon has been considered,” Lavrov told reporters in Norway. “It wouldn’t take long to reach that decision.”
Berg, a retired border inspector, was arrested in Moscow in December 2017 on espionage charges for collecting information about Russian nuclear submarines.
Lavrov was attending a commemoration in Kirkenes, north of the Arctic Circle, marking the liberation by Soviet troops 75 years ago of northern Norway. The ceremony was also attended by Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg and Lavrov’s Norwegian counterpart, Ine Eriksen Soereide, among others.
Kirkenes is the hometown of Berg, who denied spying for Norway but was convicted in April.
On Thursday, an official Russian commission recommended a presidential pardon for Berg, saying the recommendation had been sent to President Vladimir Putin.
"We wish to have Frode Berg back home. That we have said from the beginning and that we have told it to the Russian authorities," Eriksen Soereide said.
Prosecutors asserted that Berg was caught with documents he had received from an employee of a military facility who was shadowed by Russian intelligence.
Berg's lawyer has called him a victim of a setup.
For years, the 63-year-old Berg had been a well-known figure in the Russian-Norwegian border area, taking an active role in cultural and humanitarian exchange projects.
Berg's release likely will be tied to a similar move in Lithuania, where authorities decided several weeks ago to advance spy swap procedures with Russia. On Tuesday, Lithuania's Seimas, or Parliament, gave its initial backing to an amendment to Lithuanian laws allowing the president to pardon people convicted for spying.
Vilnius could hand over two Russian nationals who had been working for Russia's main intelligence agency. The first was sentenced in 2017 by a Lithuanian court to 10 years in prison for spying while details about the second person remain unknown.
In return, two Lithuanian citizens who both were sentenced to 12 years in 2016 for spying in Russia could be released.
The Soviet army entered neighboring Norway, then occupied by Nazi Germany, in October 1944, and Kirkenes was the first Norwegian town to be liberated.
Liudas Dapkus in Vilnius, Lithuania, contributed to this report.