07 September 2020

The Russian-Norwegian relations in a spy story

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A few months ago, the most popular newspaper in Norway, “Aftenposten”, was claiming that it has discovered that three diplomats from the Russia’s embassy to Oslo were actually GRU members, the Russian military intelligence service.

Image source: profimedia

The Berg case was still…fresh. Frode Berg, former worker at the Kirkenes border, nearby Norway’s border with Russia, was arrested in Moscow, in 2017, after an operation of the FSB, accused for espionage and convicted to 14 years of prison. Berg came back to Norway, being freed along with two Lithuanians, in a prisoners’ exchange with two Russian citizens who were also imprisoned in Lithuania.

In February 2020, Frode Berg, accused for espionage, got 4,3 million krones from the Norwegian state as a compensation, which was regarded as authorities’ recognition of responsibilities. We were asking, then, if that was the beginning of a new cold war. Now, is happening again: Norway has expelled a Russian diplomat after accusing him of espionage. The Foreign Affairs Ministry of the Russian Federation has reacted accordingly and called a Norwegian diplomat a persona non grata.

Once upon a time…

… a Norwegian citizen, who was arrested by the Norwegian police, after meeting a Russian intelligence officer in a pizzeria in Oslo.

Harsharn Singh Tathgar, an Indian Norwegian, is accused for revealing classified information to foreign authorities, and if he is to be found guilty, he could get up to 15 years of prison for undermining the national interests.

After Tathgar was arrested, Norway stated that it has expelled a Russian diplomat, suspected for espionage or, diplomatically speaking, for being involved in “actions that are incompatible with his status and role as a diplomat” (the spokesperson of the Norwegian Foreign Affairs Minister, Trude Maaseide).

This diplomat is actually Aleksandr Stekolscikov, the assistant of the trade attaché at the Russian Embassy from Oslo. The Norwegian Security Service of the Police (Politiests sikkerhetstjeneste, PST), says that Aleksands Stekolscikov is an intelligence officer, he was declared persona non grate and given 72 hours to leave the country.

Stekolscikov is assumed to have paid a huge amount of money to the espionage suspect Harsharn Singh Tathgar for information he provided him about different technological development projects he was working on with many clients of the DNV GL company.

On his turn, one of the senior Norwegian diplomats from Moscow was expelled from Russia: Jan Flæte.

Flæte is a counselor of Norway’s embassy from Moscow and he was previously a main counselor in a communication unit of the Norwegian armed forces.

In a twitter post, the PST confirmed the arrest of Harsharn Singh Tathgar: “The man is accused of providing information to a foreign state, which could have affected fundamental national interests”.

Who is Harsharn Singh Tathgar, the man whose lawyer, Marrianne Darre-Naess, has stated for the Norwegian newspaper NTB that he admitted the relation with Stekolscikov, but he denied his involvement in committing the crime?

His Linkedin description says: “Good afternoon, I am Harsharn Singh Tathgar! During my career, I have implemented products, technologies and ultimate methodologies for businesses development, focusing on reducing the possible risks and additional costs. I believe in encouraging the long-term relations to identify and provide new possible opportunities. I am qualified in personnel’s performance improvement by offering counseling, guidance and support. I have strong abilities in making decision and solving the necessary issues to identify the opportunities to reduce costs”.

The 50 years old man, Harsharn Singh Tathgar, lives in Norway since 1997, when he moved here to finish his PhD studies in recycling and materials’ technologies at the University of Science and Technology in Trodheim.

In the past, Harsharn Singh Tathgar, was development research director at the Umoe Solar and general director, president of the administration council at the Clean Silicon As company… which does not have any employees and, in 2011, got the a prize for innovation worth of 200.000 krones for producing silicium.

When he was arrested, Harsharn Singh Tathgar was working for the DNV GL, a risk management and quality management, created in 2013, after the merger of two companies in the field – Det Norske Veritas (Norway) and Germanischer Lloyd (Germany).

Together with Bureau Veritas and American Bureau of Shipping, DNV GL is one of the three major companies in the certification activity, a “key player in strategic innovation and risk management for several other industries including renewable energy (particularly in wind and solar), oil and gas, electric power generation and distribution, petrochemicals, aviation, automotives, finance, food and beverage, healthcare, software and information technology”.

DNV GL is, according to its description, the “the most important classification society in the world and a recognized counselor for the maritime industry, a technical counselor of the oil and gas industry. It provides testing, certification and counseling services for the entire energy chain, being one “of the world’s leading certification bodies, helping businesses assure the performance of their organizations, products, people, facilities and supply chains” and, also, a world-leading provider of digital solutions for managing risk and improving safety and asset performance for ships, pipelines, processing plants, offshore structures, electric grids, smart cities and more.

DNV GL has confirmed that Harsharn Singh Tathgar is working for the company, at one of its entities dealing with oil and gases, specialized in 3D print and materials’ technology. Tathgar is elaborating new directing lines for the certification of products made with the 3D print for their utilization in the oil and gas industry.

DNV GL also stated that, although Harsharn Singh Tathgar is coordinating an industrial 3D print project, he does not have the security authorization and does not work for the defence industry projects, the Norwegian armed forces or other government agencies.

However, also DNV GL has stated, for the Dagens Næringsliv, that Tathgar has worked with up to 50 companies which were his clients, among them being Kongsberg Maritime, a unit of the defence contractor Kongsberggruppen, specialized in providing position, surveillance, navigation and mechanization systems for the commercial fleet and offshore installations.

Kongsberg Maritime Communications Director, Anette Bonnevie Wollebæk, has confirmed DNV GL's collaboration with Kongsberg Maritime on development projects involving Harsharn Singh Tathgar.

According to Aftenposten, DNV GL has several Russian customers and important connections with the Russian business community.

The diplomatic war ...

The Russian embassy protested against what it said was a violation of the immunity of a diplomat "detained by the PST for no reason during a meeting with a Norwegian citizen". The embassy also said that Norwegian law enforcement forces searched the Russian diplomat and "law enforcement officers did not give him the opportunity to contact the embassy or summon an employee of the consular department to the scene of the incident".

For Moscow, the expulsion of his diplomat is an "unfriendly" act that will affect Russian-Norwegian relations, with Russian officials claiming that the "destructive line" adopted by the Norwegian authorities will "inevitably" lead to a "negative atmosphere in the bilateral relationship".

Claiming that Stekolscikov is "completely innocent", Russian officials summoned Norway's ambassador to Russia, Rune Resaland, to a meeting at Russia's Foreign Ministry, after which the RIA news agency announced that Jan Flæte would be expelled.

The deputy chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Council of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Dzhabarov, considers that the United States is behind the decision to expel the Russian diplomat.

On their turn, Norwegian diplomats called the expulsion of their compatriot, who has a higher rank than Stekolscikov, "completely unfounded", adding in a statement to the national radio and television station NRK that "the Norwegian diplomat did not violate any rules and acted fully in diplomatic operations”.

What could be behind this story ...

The Institute for Global Threats and Democracies Studies (IGTDS) says that the recent arrest in the Norwegian capital could be part of a wider action against European officials who have issued authorizations for the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.

According to a material created by IGTDS, DNV GL is linked to the Nord Stream 2 project: it verifies the compliance certificates of the DNV-OS-F101 underwater pipeline to the offshore standard for gas pipelines.

 “Nord Stream AG engineers and DNV GL experts work closely together to develop a pipeline integrity management system and to verify and monitor its operation and maintenance”.

In November 2019, DNV GL has extended the certificate of conformity to the offshore standard for underwater pipelines DNV-OS-F101 for the Nord Stream gas pipeline for the seventh time.

The Nord Stream Pipeline was designed and built in compliance with DNV GL’s international certification standard DNV-OS-F101. During the commissioning of Line 2 in October 2012, DNV GL issued the first certificate confirming the compliance of the Nord Stream Pipeline with the requirements of said standard. Over the following years, Nord Stream AG engineers and DNV GL experts have been working closely together to develop the Pipeline Integrity Management System (PIMS), as well as to verify and monitor its operation and maintenance procedures.

Why would the Oslo authorities arrest a DNV GL employee accused of links to Russian intelligence services?

Moscow may be interested in information about the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. But most likely, according to the Institute for Studies on Global Threats and Democracies Studies, Russia's secret services are interested in 3D technology for the oil and gas industry, which, according to DNV GL, could allow access to digital models for immediate printing, rather than maintaining physical inventories of spare parts and/or waiting for them to be made and transported on a platform or ship.

3D printing has emerged as one of the key enabling technologies in driving industrial productivity. Over the years, 3D printing technology has become prominent in different industries and has significantly influenced automotive and aerospace manufacturing.

In the Oil and Gas sector, some of the technology's applications include manufacturing spare parts on site, testing new product designs and simplifying inventory management to save costs.

              The key benefit of 3D printing technology lies in reducing the time it takes               to produce complex prototypes. 3D printers can also lower the time               required to manufacture functional products for use in operations.

3D printing technology can address this issue by enabling companies to manufacture parts on a need basis. Oil and Gas companies will see a reduction in the overall costs spent on supply chain management by using 3D printing as a mainstream manufacturing technology, which would help them to enhance operational efficiency and foster growth.

The reality behind the story ...

The Nord Stream 2 pipeline, with a 55 billion cubic meters of gas capacity per year, will double the capacity of the first pipeline, Nord Stream 1, which transports gas from Russia to Western Europe.

Gazprom (majority) and several European companies are participating in the Nord Stream 2 project, including Wintershall and Uniper (Germany), Shell (Netherlands), Engie (France) and OMV (Austria).

The initial project completion deadline was the first half of 2020, but from the beginning, Nord Stream 2 faced many obstacles.

For example, the project got the green light only for crossing he Danish waters at the end of October 2019, which generated major delays. Another obstacle has been the new EU regulations on natural gas transmission, which require decoupling production from distribution activities. Also, several European states - Ukraine, Poland and the Baltic countries - oppose Nord Stream 2, and the United States has resorted to justified sanctions by supporting Kiev in the conflict with Russia.

In late December 2019, President Donald Trump enacted a law (part of the U.S. Defense Budget Authorization Act 2020) that imposed sanctions on companies involved in building Nord Stream 2, blocking assets and revoking the American visas for gas pipeline entrepreneurs.

An immediate consequence: the main subcontractor of the Nord Stream 2, AG consortium, the Swiss-Dutch company Allseas, suspended activities aimed at locating pipelines.

In July, Mike Pompeo announced that the Nord Stream 2 project would fall under a law passed in 2017 by Congress, Countering America's Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which initially included an exception for the Russian pipeline.

Thus, the State Department published the updated guide on section 232 of the CAATSA, which authorizes the imposition of sanctions on companies that support Russian pipelines, eliminating the exemption for Nord Stream 2 and TurkStream.

Separately, on July 23, 2020, the U.S. Senate passed its version of the National Defense Authorization Act 2021, which includes an amendment extending sanctions in connection with the Nord Stream 2 and TurkStream projects. The amendment is based on a bill previously introduced by Senators Ted Cruz and Jeanne Shaheen, entitled Protecting Europe’s Energy Security Clarification Act of 2020, which sought to extend existing sanctions.

Of the approximately 1230 kilometers of Nord Stream 2, from Ust-Luga in Russia to Lubmin in Germany, 160 kilometers of the pipeline are still unfinished in the Danish area.

As Allseas stopped working on the pipeline, in December, Russia could try to complete the pipeline using its own ships.

Directly targeted by the new sanctions proposed in the US is also the post-completion certificate of compliance of the pipeline with the applicable standards.

Det Norske Veritas (DNV-GL) is an independent verifier in charge with the pipeline inspection and compliance certification.

Even if a Russian company could theoretically certify such compliance, it could not be considered as an independent third party verifier.

Thus, if Det Norske Veritas is subjected to sanctions… Nord Stream 2 will not be able to be completed.


What could have Tathgar offered to the Russian intelligence services?

No one knows.

But Tathgar's responsibilities make it clear that he has been involved in both advanced 3D printing research and the associated licensing requirements.

At the same time, Tathgar's access to DNV GL's networks probably provides access to information related to Nord Stream 2.

On LinkedIn, Harsharn Singh Tathgar's self-presentation continues: "I am able to promote exceptional overall performance by revitalizing low-performing areas and capturing new growth opportunities.

My expertise consists in the successful development and implementation of strategic processes, growth-oriented plans and production initiatives ...

Please do not hesitate to contact me for any ideas, comments or questions related to my work - I am always interested in making new professional acquaintances”.

In the following period, however, Tathgar will not be available for contact.