The Barents-cooperation amidst geopolitical tensions : a discourse analysis of Norwegian experiences
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The Barents-cooperation, a multilateral cross-border collaboration including Norway and Russia, currently finds itself surrounded by an increased geopolitical tension. Recent years have seen a deteriorating relationship between the West and Russia, especially after the annexation of Crimea in 2014. The increased tension has also impacted the Norwegian-Russian relationship. In 2015, the Norwegian defense minister at the time Ine Eriksen Søreide acknowledged that increased geopolitical tension between the West and Russia had become the ‘new normal’. Yet, the Barents-cooperation has sustained its cross-border activity. In this thesis, I analyze interviews I have conducted with practitioners in the Barents-cooperation. In context of their interaction with Russia, I explore how they experience the geopolitical tensions that surrounds the cooperation. I conduct this exploration by applying a discourse theoretical approach. This allows me to analyze how the practitioners link geopolitical tension to the Barents-cooperation, what tensions are experienced, and how they reflect on themselves, other relevant actors, and possible challenges to the cooperation. I highlight empirical observations emerging from the interviews and find that practitioners in the Barents-cooperation use political tensions to articulate and revive justifications for the collaboration. The informants represent the Barents-cooperation as an increasingly important facilitator for dialogue between Norway and Russia – constructing it as a counterweight to interstate tensions. As the informants reflect upon political events and developments in recent years, my analysis reveals the politics of the Barents-cooperation and how it becomes a tool from which the practitioners articulate opinions, values, and ambitions.