Norwegian media have discovered that defense personnel from Norway and Sweden were renting cottages owned by Russian elites during March’s Nordic Response exercise.

The Nordic Response exercise, aimed to strengthen NATO’s northern flank defense, took place between March 3 and March 14 with 20,000 NATO troops from 13 nations participating. It was coordinated from the Norwegian town of Bardufoss. The base and cabins were in the vicinity.

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Norwegian news outlet TV2 confirmed the Russian ownership of the cabins, where some Russian political elites, including Murmansk Mayor Igor Morar and Russian politician Viktor Saygin, a man with ties to the Russian military, have owned cabins around Bardufoss since 2010 and 2009 respectively.

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TV2 also published a report that detailed the political background of Morar and Saygin.

Another Norwegian news outlet, Nordlys, reported that Norwegian and Swedish military personnel were among the tenants during the NATO exercise, citing comments from the general manager of the mountain village, Ole-Johan Pedersen.

Sofia Kalmeborg, spokeswoman of the Armed Forces of Sweden, told Swedish media TT that they were unaware of the cabins’ ownership during the rentals and there were no official procedures in place to verify the property ownership.

Norwegian police's security service (PST) told TV2 that authorities were aware of the Russian ownership of those cabins and were conducting an investigation to establish the exact circumstances without further elaboration.

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However, PST has acknowledged the risks posed by Russian intelligence and said its military and allied military activity in Norway are a “particularly vulnerable intelligence target.”

“We point out that foreign states, including Russia, buy property in order to gain insight into Norwegian conditions which may come at the expense of Norwegian security interests.

“Access to properties can give Russian intelligence services access to information they would not otherwise have,” Inger Haugland, head of counterintelligence in PST, told TV2.

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The Norwegian military told TV2 that espionage remains a concern, but who’s staying at the property is of more significance than who owns them.

“What is important to us is to know who is staying in these properties and what they are doing. Are they spying on us, or trying to influence us? We have followed this for many years, and have taken the necessary measures when necessary,” said Eystein Kvarving, communications manager for the Norwegian Armed Forces.

Norway is one of the founding members of NATO, while Sweden – whose relations with NATO date back to 1994 – joined the alliance officially on March 7, when the Nordic Response exercise was in process.

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