These funds will enable Norwegian researchers together with Russian and other international partners to map developments in Norway’s largest neighbouring country, and to study the interests that other players, particularly key countries in Asia, may have in the northern areas.
The funding will be administered by the Research Council of Norway under the research programme Russia and International Relations in the Northern Areas (NORRUSS). The primary objective of the programme is to generate knowledge of relevance to Norwegian foreign policy and the expansion of international relations in the northern areas, and of relevance to Norwegian-Russian relations within trade and industry, the political sphere, the public administration and civil society.
Bilateral research cooperation between Russia and Norway has long traditions over a broad field of areas; marine research, environmental research, polar research, and energy research. (Photo: Shutterstock)
Wide-ranging research on Russia
“Up to now the NORRUSS programme has focused nearly solely on research in and about the northern areas. The new funding will enable us to carry out broader-based research on Russia, thereby enhancing Norway’s knowledge about conditions in Russia in general. One of our key targets is to promote research on the main trends in Russian society and politics,” says Nils Morten Udgaard, chair of the NORRUSS programme board.
NOK 45 million of the overall funding is being allocated under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ funding scheme for project cooperation with Russia. This funding is earmarked for humanities and social science research projects on Russia involving collaboration between Norwegian and Russian institutions.
“Priority will be given to research that generates knowledge about political, economic and social trends in Russia today, as well as about the impact of this research on policy development and decision-makers.”
Key thematic areas will include the development of the Russian economic system, judicial system and democracy and governance.
Strategic expertise on issues related to the northern areas
NOK 60 million of the overall funding is being allocated under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Barents 2020 initiative. Of this amount, NOK 45 million is earmarked for developing Norway’s long-term, strategic expertise on issues related to the northern areas, based on network-building with international research groups.
Nils Morten Udgaard is chair of the NORRUSS programme board.
The remaining NOK 15 million will be awarded to a Research Institution-based Strategic Project addressing the interests of China, Japan, South Korea and India in the northern areas. The project will include research on security and energy-policy interests and interests linked to the opening-up of new shipping routes in the Arctic, in addition to climate and polar research.
Mr Udgaard points out that the NORRUSS programme has already incorporated the previously independent, five-year Research Institution-based Strategic Project “Geopolitics in the High North, Norwegian Interests” (GEOPOLITIKK-NORD).
“The new project mapping Asian interests in the northern areas will take an approach similar to that of the GEOPOLITIKK-NORD project. It is not, however, a direct extension of that project,” he explains.
Launched in September 2008, the GEOPOLITIKK-NORD project is headed by the Norwegian Institute for Defence Studies (IFS) and has a budget of NOK 25 million. The project is comprised of eight sub-projects which are studying Norway’s relationships with Russia, the EU and the US, as well as addressing topics in the areas of energy, climate, the Law of the Sea and Norwegian interests in the High North.
Similar to intelligence work?
Compiling an overview of interests resembles intelligence activities to a certain extent. Where is the line between research and intelligence?
“The research funded by the NORRUSS programme is not immediately politically sensitive, and the programme steers clear of purely military research questions. All research results are openly accessible,” states Mr Udgaard. “In fact,” he adds, pointing out how beneficial it may be to have an outsider’s view of conditions in Russia, “I believe some of the programme’s results will be of significant interest to the Russians themselves.”
The new funding will enable us to carry out broader-based research on Russia, thereby enhancing Norway’s knowledge about conditions in Russia in general.
Timeframe and focus
The NORRUSS programme board is in the process of drawing up a new work programme as a basis for future funding announcements. The first funding announcement is planned issued for the April application deadline. The thematic focus of the call for proposals has not yet been finalised, nor have the requirements relating to international research cooperation.
“We are concerned with promoting cooperation with Russian institutions as well as with leading research groups in the West specialising in research on Russia and the northern areas, but we have not yet decided whether it will be mandatory for projects to incorporate such cooperation to be eligible for funding,” says Mr Udgaard.
Mutual trust is essential
What is the greatest challenge Norway has encountered in its research cooperation with Russia?
“Building mutual trust regarding the credibility of social science research has been our primary challenge. Only when such trust has been established can we benefit from each other’s findings. Access to data is not really a problem. There is a large amount of Russian sociological and economic data openly available,” he says.
Participating in joint European cooperation with Russia
The Research Council is an active participant in ERA.Net RUS, a joint European project whose aim is to coordinate Russian research efforts more closely with those in the European Research Area (ERA). Norway’s participation is funded by the Ministry of Education and Research.