Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says a decision “will come soon” on whether to pardon a Norwegian man convicted of espionage and sentenced in April to 14 years in prison.
Frode Berg was "condemned for espionage and has asked for a pardon. It has been assessed and the answer will come soon," Lavrov told a news conference on October 25 following talks with his Norwegian counterpart, Ine Eriksen Soereide, in Kirkenes, Norway.
If Berg is pardoned, Lavrov said, he would be allowed to return to Norway.
Lavrov visited the small Norwegian Arctic city to help mark the 75th anniversary of its liberation by the Red Army from the Nazis during World War II. The city is some 15 kilometers from the Russian border.
Berg, a retired former inspector on the Norwegian-Russian border, was found guilty and sentenced on April 16 after a trial held behind closed doors at the Moscow City Court.
Berg, 63, was detained in Moscow in December 2017 by the Federal Security Service (FSB) and accused of seeking classified information relating to Russian nuclear submarines.
He pleaded not guilty to charges of espionage on behalf of Norway.
A lawyer for Berg, Ilya Novikov, said after the sentencing that his client would not appeal the sentence but would submit a plea for pardon after it comes into force.
A Russian commission on October 24 recommended that President Vladimir Putin pardon Berg, igniting hopes that he could be released as part of a spy swap.
A banner with Berg’s picture and the words "Help Frode Home!" was hung on a building overlooking the square where official ceremonies took place in Kirkenes.
While in Norway, Lavrov called on NATO member Norway to help normalize relations between the Western military alliance and Russia.
Russia’s relations with the West have deteriorated in recent years, highlighted by tensions over Moscow’s aggression toward Ukraine, its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, interference in foreign nations’ elections, and other issues.
The West has also accused Moscow of being behind the March 2018 nerve agent attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the English city of Salisbury. Moscow denies involvement.