Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has criticized Norway for arresting a Russian parliamentary employee last week, calling the espionage accusations against the man "propaganda."
"You have been brainwashed with propaganda. We want to understand what happened to our citizen," Lavrov said on September 25 while answering a Norwegian reporter's question on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York.
"Do you realize he was invited by the Norwegian parliament? Norwegian hospitality breaks all records," he added sarcastically.
Mikhail Bochkaryov was detained on September 21 at Gardermoen airport outside the Norwegian capital, Oslo, on suspicion of illegal intelligence activities.
Bochkaryov is an information technology adviser to the Russian parliament, and his behavior at a conference on strengthening cooperation between Europe's parliamentary administrations prompted officials to contact the intelligence service, according to Norwegian media.
Calling the case an example of "spy mania around Russia," the Russian Foreign Ministry on September 24 summoned Norway's ambassador to Moscow, Rune Resaland, to demand the immediate lifting of the “absurd charges” against Bochkaryov and his release.
The ministry said Bochkaryov is an employee of the upper house of Russia’s parliament, the Federation Council, and traveled to Norway at the invitation of the European Center for Parliamentary Research and Documentation to attend an international seminar.
Andrei Klimov, the deputy head of the Federation Council’s Foreign Affairs Committee, on September 25 suggested that Norway’s authorities had arrested Bochkaryov with the intention of swapping him with Norwegian citizen Frode Berg, who is facing espionage charges in Russia.
"It actually closely resembles kidnapping," Klimov said. "In reality, this practice may have a bad outcome. If someone's agent failed, it doesn't mean you should grab civilians for a future swap."
Berg’s lawyer, Ilya Novikov, told the TASS news agency that he does not rule out such a swap, but added, "It is too early to speak about it because no charges have been brought against the Russian, there has been no trial yet."
Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg has said the case was not political and was "a police matter that is being investigated."
Bochkaryov will be held in custody for two weeks due to the risk of destruction of evidence, Norwegian media reported.