Dozens of Norwegian properties are passing one after the other into the hands of the Russian Orthodox Church. The properties are also getting closer and closer to NATO military bases.
The Russian Orthodox Church seems to be particularly interested in acquiring real estate within walking distance of Norwegian military installations, with its latest acquisition being an old prayer house in Sereida, Bergen overlooking Haakonsvern. The property is very close to where the main base of the Royal Norwegian Navy and the largest naval base in the Nordic countries are located.
According to the local Registry, in 2016, the premises were acquired by the Parish of Theophany of the Moscow Patriarchate. In fact, the house of prayer is only three kilometers away from Haakonsvern.
Haakonsvern, outside of Bergen, is the Norwegian Navy’s most important port and traditional base, where frigates and submarines are stationed. Next to the naval base is the Naval Academy, which trains the officers of the Norwegian Navy.
The #Russian Orthodox Church is buying up buildings in #Norway with a view of military bases, writes Dagbladet. In recent years, the Church has purchased several properties, one of them has a full view of the country's most important naval base, Haakonsvern. pic.twitter.com/EHqmYbClu0
— NEXTA (@nexta_tv) October 19, 2022
Russian Church’s properties getting closer to NATO
The religious organization also operates the parish of the Holy Great Martyr Irene in Stavanger, which is roughly a fifteen-minute walk from the JWC – NATO Joint Warfare Center.
Additionally, the Russian Orthodox Church engaged in a property buying spree over a five-year period starting in 2017 in the Norwegian coastal region of Rogaland. It now owns a number of properties including Karmøy, Kleppe, and Bryne. The Kleppe property was bought by a church leader in 2017 while, in 2021, the parish house Nordbø in Karmøy was acquired.
The church also has a property in Norway’s capital called the Olginsky parish, where services have been held since 1996.
Furthermore, the Russian Orthodox Church owns significant real estate in the Kirkenes area just one mile from the Russian border. The parish of Saint Tryphon of Pechenga was acquired by the Russian Church in 2015 while the wider area is known for its close ties to Russia. Many Russians live on the Norwegian side of the border and develop commercial activities.
Russian-owned properties might be used for other purposes
Alfa Sefland Winge, a researcher in socially critical infrastructure and preparedness at Norway’s Naval Academy, said that Russian-owned properties close to NATO and Haakonsvern can be a problem.
“There may be a possibility that such buildings are used for something other than religious purposes,” Winge hypothesized. “But I have no basis for saying that it [is happening] here.” Nonetheless, she wonders why the Church moved from the city center to a less central place close to the naval base.
She added that “if you imagine the whole range of possible measures, then you can disrupt signals,…eavesdrop on signals,…control drones from there, [and] offer housing to people who map the area.”
“There is a wide range of geodetic activities and possible violations that can be performed from such a base,” she concluded.
Researcher and Russia expert Pål Kolstø at the University of Oslo stresses that the Church and its powerful leader, Patriarch Kirill, are known to be close to President Putin and the Kremlin.
However, Kolstø emphasizes that the relationship is more complicated. At times, there have also been conflicts between Patriarch Kirill and Putin. Nevertheless, during the Russia – Ukraine war, the Patriarch has strongly supported Russia’s efforts.
“The Russian Orthodox Patriarch in Moscow and the Bishop in Murmansk support Putin and have spoken out in [favor] of the war, with rather disturbing statements,” Kolstø maintained. “It is clear that the Church in Bergen is subject to the Moscow Patriarchate.”
Sanctions against Russian Orthodox Church
Personal sanctions have already been imposed on Patriarch Kirill for his support of the war in Ukraine. Some European countries are requesting that he be included in the EU sanctions list.
Following the news of partial mobilization in Russia, Patriarch Kirill urged Russians to go to the front and not be afraid to die. He also feels that the Russian military is fulfilling its “calling and duty to their homeland and society” by fighting Ukraine and that their acts are “comparable to self-sacrifice.” Moreover, he mentioned that whoever fights for Russia has a free ticket to paradise.
Norway has taken over most gas import needs for Germany and the EU after Russia’s Gazprom closed off the Nord Stream 1 pipeline indefinitely, enabling European countries to reach their winter energy targets.