A changed security situation

Norway is facing a more serious threat environment now than it has in decades. As the war in Ukraine enters its third year, Russia is about to gain the military upper hand. The Russian military industry is running at full steam, and China, Belarus, Iran and North Korea are providing considerable materiel support. Russia is better positioned in the war than it was a year ago, and the Russian armed forces remain the main military threat to Norway’s sovereignty, its people, territory, key societal functions and infrastructure.

The relationship between Russia and the West is at a historic low point and can best be described as a clash of opposing values and security interests. The prospect of any genuine dialogue seems distant, and Russia’s policies towards the West and Norway are expected to become more unpredictable in the years to come. Thus far, Russia’s military conduct in the north has been restrained, but distrust of the West and of allied military activities in the Arctic could alter Russian military behaviour in areas close to Norway. This could increase the risk of misunderstandings, accidents and escalation.

Russia and China have a revisionist agenda in which they seek to reshape the international order to safeguard their own interests. These two countries share a belief that the United States is containing Chinese and Russian ambitions.

A less predictable neighbour
Russia refers to Norway as an ‘unfriendly country’ dictated by the anti-Russian policies of the great powers in the West.

The Russian authorities will seek to maintain those few remaining points of contact it has with Norway, such as Svalbard and the annual negotiations on fisheries. Nevertheless, Russia’s policies towards its neighbouring countries have become even more centralised. There are fewer bilateral points of contact between the countries, giving Russia less insight into Norway’s perspectives and policies. This, in turn, makes Russian policies towards Norway less predictable.

Russia has a continued interest in maintaining its presence and activity on Svalbard and a stated ambition to set up an international research and education centre at the former Soviet coal mining settlement Pyramiden. Russia could therefore choose to cooperate more with non-Arctic states on Svalbard.

Military positioning in the High North and Baltic Sea region
According to Russian military thinking, the High North and the Baltic Sea constitute a continuous area. With the NATO enlargement, one of Russia’s most important goals in the Baltic Sea has been lost, namely to preserve the region as a geographic and political buffer against the alliance. The enlargement reduces Russia’s military freedom of action in the region. For NATO, southern and central Norway have become more important for the ability to carry out operations in the Baltic Sea, which also means these areas have become more important to Russia.

At the same time, new Russian force dispositions could further alter the dynamics. The Kremlin has stated that it will respond to the NATO enlargement and plans to re-establish the Moscow and Leningrad military districts.

Russia’s behaviour in the Baltic Sea is somewhat confrontational, as it is in the Black Sea, and clearly aimed at allied activity. In the High North, Russia’s response to allied operations has mostly been reserved, though Russia is increasingly distrustful of allied activity in the north. This could lead to more belligerent Russian military behaviour and more persistent Russian intelligence operations.

Ghost town, monument with polar bear, Russian shield of the Trust Arktikugol, abandoned Russian mining settlement Pyramiden, Spitsbergen, Svalbard, Norway, Europe

Arctic powerplay
The Arctic is strategically important to both Russia and China. This region is especially important to Russia because of natural resources and the way Russia has shaped its nuclear deterrence capabilities. Defending the northern bastion and having access to the Atlantic will remain vital to Russia’s concept of security. Russia wants to be the dominant actor in the Arctic. At the same time, Moscow considers its position in the region to be more vulnerable than a few years ago.

Allied military activity in the Arctic and the High North has increased, while Russian authorities seek to counter political isolation by inviting in new actors on the civilian side, especially the BRICS countries. On top of Russia’s distrust of allied military activity, there is now a more complex set of actors entering the scene. This increases the risk of misunderstandings, accidents and escalation of conflicts.

Land forces from the Kola Peninsula have been redeployed to fight in Ukraine, significantly diminishing Russia’s land power on the Kola Peninsula. Following the attack on Ukraine, the Northern and Baltic Fleets have become more important to demonstrate Russia’s naval power in the north, as well as in the Atlantic and the Baltic Sea region. This means that the naval forces will have a more prominent role in Russia’s strategic and conventional deterrence and strategic communication towards NATO.

As Russia’s conventional land power is weakened, its strategic forces become more important. With its proximity to NATO’s core areas, the Northern Fleet has many of these in its possession.

China does not constitute a military threat to Norway, but it has an interest in establishing a political, economic and, in time, military foothold in the Arctic. Recent investments in polar capabilities, including icebreakers, have given China the opportunity to operate more independently in the region.

Developing the Northeast Passage for commercial traffic will save shipment time to European markets, reduce dependence on other traffic arteries and facilitate transport of raw materials. Chinese actors have shown an interest in developing infrastructure related to this shipping route in Norway as well.

The Arctic already plays an important role in China’s space programmes, both civilian and military. Beijing will continue to seek access to Arctic infrastructure in order to support its activities in space. Thus far, China has not conducted any military operations in the region, but developing the ability to carry out military operations is a long-term goal.

The intelligence threat to Norway
The sanctions and limited diplomatic presence in Europe have left Russia with fewer platforms for interaction and contact with the West. Access to information about Western and Norwegian affairs rely more on Russian intelligence and security services than before. These services have been mapping out Norwegian targets for years, directing their activities at many sectors in the digital and physical space. Russian actors seek information about Norwegian politics, energy, the High North, allied activities and defence. Russia is also interested in Norwegian technology in areas they themselves want to develop.

Russia also employs a high number of civilian ships for intelligence operations. These ships have lawful access close to Norwegian infrastructure and the coast of Norway. Uncovering whether civilian ships are carrying out intelligence activity in addition to their lawful undertakings can be a challenging task.

Chinese intelligence services operate all over Europe. Their activities include political intelligence and industrial espionage, and cyberspace is the main gateway. Chinese intelligence services use a combination of actions to keep their activities and objectives concealed, such as commonly available tools and digital infrastructure that conceal the actor.

Chinese services also have source handlers in Europe. Chinese diplomats, travel delegations, private individuals, businesses and special interest groups regularly carry out assignments on behalf of Chinese services. There are close links between Chinese intelligence services and Chinese corporate entities.

Beijing has the institutional resources and legal framework to use Chinese businesses and individuals for government purposes. All Chinese companies and individuals are required by law to assist China’s intelligence and security services.

Iran has an unremitting intention of targeting people opposed to the regime around the world. Tehran could also seek to attack Israel-affiliated targets across the world, especially in times of heightened tension between Israel and Iran. This means there is a constant risk of Iranian intelligence and security services orchestrating attacks against opposition figures, especially in countries that are vocal in their criticism of Iran or give residence permits to dissidents.

Norway is not a country of special interest to Iranian security services. However, this could change if individuals targeted by Iranian services travel to Norway, or if Norwegian policies are perceived as more hostile towards Iran.

Vulnerable value chains and infrastructure
Gaining access to critical infrastructure and value chains may be extremely valuable to foreign powers as it could expose sensitive information about individuals, political processes and technology. It could also be used to disrupt supply chains, identify vulnerabilities and ultimately carry out physical or digital sabotage.

When the production and distribution of essential goods are controlled by a handful of actors, supply disruptions and exploitation of market power become more likely. Usually, it takes a long time to establish alternative value chains, and existing dependencies will continue for several years. Dependencies can be exploited to exert political pressure, as can access to infrastructure.

The sanctions against Russia have made it harder for Russian actors to gain access to Western value chains and critical infrastructure. Currently, it is primarily Beijing that has the ability and will to pursue such a strategy.

It is part of China’s strategy to secure control of critical value chains and be a key player in both logistics and infrastructure. China dominates the extraction and refining of minerals for use in energy production, advanced technology and the defence industry. Norway has deposits of up to 20 types of minerals, both on land and on the ocean floor, which the EU has defined as critical raw materials because their supply depends on imports from China.

Within several areas of technology, Chinese manufacturers have acquired dominant market shares, often supported by direct or indirect government subsidies. In some cases, there are virtually no alternatives to the Chinese providers of technology components.

Beijing will adjust its reactions to Western restrictions in order to avoid that the West accelerates the establishment of alternative value chains. At the same time, Chinese authorities seek to influence European countries in order to provide access for Chinese actors and maintain economic cooperation with China.

Vulnerable petroleum and internet infrastructure
Currently, Norway is a key supplier of gas to Europe. Norwegian gas fields and terminals are directly connected to receiving countries in Europe through a vast pipeline network. A significant share of the gas consumed in Germany, UK, Belgium and France comes from Norway. The gas infrastructure could be subject to accidents, physical sabotage and destructive cyberattacks. Damage to Norwegian petroleum infrastructure would harm both Norway and the receiving countries in Europe.

Russia has been mapping Norwegian critical oil and gas infrastructure for years. This mapping is still ongoing, both physically and in the digital domain. The acquired knowledge could become important in a conflict situation.

The same applies to European underwater infrastructure, which for instance Europe’s internet traffic depends on. Russia has previously demonstrated its will and ability to harm critical infrastructure in situations of conflict. Even before the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Russia attacked Ukrainian telecom and industrial control systems through cyber operations.

Chinese interest in Norwegian infrastructure projects
In larger projects, Chinese state and private companies often act in consortiums. With overlapping ownership interests, the Chinese state is represented throughout the entire value chain. Chinese companies frequently use subcontractors which also have ties to the Chinese government.

Chinese companies have long showed an interest in Norwegian tenders, for instance for building infrastructure. The development seen in large ports is one example of how physical and digital infrastructure are merging, blurring the lines between logistics and telecom. This could make supply chains more vulnerable.

Chinese investments in European ports have increased over the past years, and government-controlled companies play an important part in this development. Companies tied to the Chinese government have majority ownership of at least one container terminal in more than half of the world’s international ports.

The jostle for knowledge, ownership and technology
There is a continuous risk that Western technology ends up being used for military purposes in Russia, China, Iran and North Korea. Intricate ownership structures and complex supply chains are used to circumvent Western export regulations. Knowledge derived from international research cooperation is also used for military purposes.

In both Russia and China, there is growing government control of business interests. Moscow has forged closer ties with private businesses. Beijing has been exercising active government ownership for years, steadily increasing its shares in Chinese companies and implementing stricter legislation requiring companies and individuals to support the objectives of the party-state. The authorities in both countries exert pressure on business leaders.

Russia, Iran and North Korea all have strong expertise in certain technology areas of military application. Nevertheless, China is on a different level in terms of having broad expertise.

Norwegian research and development communities are targets of industrial espionage
Norwegian research, development and production of technology are of continuous interest to foreign actors. Companies that produce communication systems, maritime systems and navigation technology are of particular interest. Chinese actors developing military technology have shown an interest in Norwegian enterprises that develop and manufacture advanced navigation systems and how these systems are made.

Knowledge derived from technical-scientific research can often be used for military development purposes. Gaining access to and training on how to use instruments and equipment for testing and production is in many cases of as much interest as theoretical knowledge. International research and development cooperation remains an arena that provides access to sensitive information. There are several examples of Chinese and Iranian researchers with ties to Norwegian universities also working for actors in their home countries who are involved in development and production of military technology.

At-risk research areas include semiconductor and sensor technology, materials technology, cryptology, cyber security, biotechnology and artificial intelligence.

Russia circumvents sanctions and acquires military technology
The Russian arms industry is now tailored to support and continue the war in Ukraine at full pace. Russia still relies on Western technology to maintain and develop some of its military capabilities, including components and spare parts for maintenance of systems that Russia bought from the West before the invasion. Western components are also used in Russian-made systems.

Despite Western sanctions and tightened export restrictions, Russia still manages to get its hands on critical technological components. Russian procurement networks operate more covertly than before. They have also removed some restrictions on which types of components may be used in military systems.

This means that a wider range of Norwegian enterprises could be subject to Russian acquisition attempts than before the invasion. Russian actors are particularly interested in obtaining Norwegian-made maritime technology and sensor technology.

In an effort to acquire technology, Russian actors have established a large number of new companies in Europe and Central Asia. New ownership structures and more complex supply chains make it difficult to determine whether Russia is the end user. Using European intermediaries is appealing because of the EU single market.

Russia is trying to broaden the influx of technology and therefore uses Chinese suppliers to acquire technology which they previously bought from the West. China is already exporting a wide range of technologies to Russia.

China circumvents restrictions through military-civil fusion
The military-civil fusion strategy is a means to strengthen China’s military power. This strategy blurs the distinction between the two sectors and reduces the effect of Western barriers on technology exports to China.

Chinese investments in European tech companies have diminished in recent years, partly as a result of global economic uncertainty and restrictions on Chinese economic activity. Meanwhile, because of the technological rivalry with the United States, interest in the European market is increasing. Restrictions affecting China’s microchip industry could in turn diminish China’s ability to compete with the West on advanced computing power, which is crucial to further develop artificial intelligence. Acquisitions and investments in Western microchip technology and computer centres may offset the challenges.

Chinese actors seek access to Norwegian technology and knowledge in order to exploit opportunities under water, in polar areas and in space. They are also interested in cryptology, nuclear technology and biotechnology, fields that have both military and civilian areas of application.


Norway as a target of political influencing

Norwegian politics and public debate are subject to Russian influence activity
Influence operations are part of Russia’s information warfare. The public debate on defence and security policies, Arctic and Svalbard policies, energy and environmental policies and not least Western and Norwegian attitudes to the war in Ukraine are particularly vulnerable to Russian influence activity.

Singling out specific target groups on social media for pro-Russian messages and disinformation is a typical method. Another course of action is to plant different theories and lies about a specific matter in order to erase the truth and undermine people’s trust in the authorities and national media.

Increased vigilance in the Western population combined with greater distrust of Russian intent have made it harder for Russian influence actors to succeed. Extremist and anti-government groups that use informal media are currently more exposed to Russian influence activity than society at large.

Pro-Russian ‘hacktivists’ have carried out denial-of-service attacks against Norwegian targets. This could sow doubts about the ability of Norwegian institutions to provide services. This activity has so far had limited effect beyond attracting public attention. New denial-of-service attacks against Norway by pro-Russian actors operating on behalf or in support of Russia are likely to occur in the year to come.

A challenge to European cohesion
The Putin regime strives to erode Western support to Ukraine. Tools previously used by the Kremlin include cyber operations, influencing elections, provoking waves of refugees and halting oil and gas supplies. In addition, Russia nurtures its relations with certain countries and political movements in Europe to undermine European cohesion.

Russia promotes a narrative that the West has compromised the security situation in the Nordic region. The situation that occurred at the border with Finland in autumn 2023, when hundreds of migrants were transported to Finnish border posts, is an example of how Moscow may try to influence the situation in the Nordic and Baltic regions.

China: economic power and co-opting
China’s most important influencing tool is to use its economic power and informal sanctions on trade. These tools are used to pressure people, organisations, companies and governments into acting and expressing themselves in accordance with Chinese interests.

Furthermore, Chinese influence actors are stepping up their activity in cyberspace, especially with covert activity on social media and websites. The activity on Western social media is becoming more sophisticated.

Having influential people promote China’s agenda, so-called ‘elite co-opting’, is another much used influencing strategy in Europe. Local proxies have more credibility than the Communist Party of China’s own representatives.

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