Norwegian Arctic resident held in Russia comes home in Cold War-style swap with Norway and Lithuania

Frode Berg, a retired border guard from Kirkenes, on Norway's Arctic border with Russia, had been held since 2017.

By Andrius Sytas, Reuters - November 15, 2019
Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda listens to Director of the State Security Department Darius Jauniskis in Vilnius, Lithuania November 15, 2019. (Andrius Sytas / Reuters)

VILNIUS — Russia freed two Lithuanians and a Norwegian on Friday in return for two Russian spies held in Lithuania, in a Cold War-style spy swap that brought several high-profile espionage cases to a close.

“The exchange took place at one of Lithuania’s border posts at midday,” Lithuania’s counter intelligence chief, Darius Jauniskis, told a news conference.

The Norwegian, Frode Berg, a retired guard on the Norwegian-Russian border, was brought to Norway’s embassy in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius and turned over to Norwegian authorities.

“We are so happy right now,” his daughter, Christina Berg, told Reuters by text message.

“We have been waiting for this for two years now,” said Oeystein Hansen, a member of a support group in Berg’s hometown of Kirkenes in Arctic Norway, told Reuters by phone. “It is very good for all the parties, the local community, the family, the Norwegian nation.”

Berg was arrested in Moscow in 2017 and convicted of gathering intelligence on behalf of Norway. He pleaded not guilty.

Coming home

“We are happy that Frode Berg is now coming home to Norway as a free man,” Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg said in a statement.

One of the two freed Russians, Nikolai Filipchenko, was detained in 2015 and sentenced in 2017 to 10 years in jail for spying and crossing a state border using a forged document, the Lithuanian general prosecutor’s office told Reuters.

He holds the rank of lieutenant colonel in Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), it said.

The other freed Russian is Sergej Moisejenko, detained in 2014 and sentenced in 2017 to 10-1/2 years for spying and illegal possession of weapons, the prosecutor’s office said.

Filipchenko had targeted the Lithuanian president’s security staff with the aim of bugging the presidency’s office and home. Moisejenko had sought information about Lithuanian and NATO armed forces, according to local Lithuanian media reports.

The two freed Lithuanians are Jevgenij Mataitis and Aristidas Tamosaitis. Both had been jailed by Russia on spying charges. They were on their way to their families, said Lithuanian authorities.

Mataitis, who holds Russian citizenship, was sentenced to 13 years in prison in Russia in 2016 for betraying his country by spying, Russia’s TASS news agency reported, citing a statement from the FSB, the Russian security service.

He was passing military information, including state secrets, for six years while serving as a captain in the Russian armed forces, TASS said.

Tamosaitis was detained in Russia and 2015 on spying charges and was sentenced in 2016 behind closed doors to 12 years in prison, according to Lithuania’s ambassador, quoted in a report by Lithuanian news agency BNS at the time.

Additional reporting by Tom Balmforth in Moscow, Nerijus Adomaitis and Lefteris Karagiannopoulos in Oslo; Writing by Gwladys Fouche in Oslo.