Russia rocket accident likely had two explosions, Norway monitor says

FILE PHOTO: A view shows a board on a street of the military garrison located near the village of Nyonoksa in Arkhangelsk Region, Russia October 7, 2018. The board reads: "State Central Naval Range". Picture taken October 7, 2018. REUTERS/Sergei Yakovlev

OSLO (Reuters) – An explosion that killed five Russian scientists during a rocket engine test this month was followed by a second blast two hours later, the likely source of a spike in radiation, Norway’s nuclear test-ban monitor said on Friday.

The second explosion was likely from an airborne rocket powered by radioactive fuel, the Norsar agency said – though the governor of Russia’s Arkhangelsk region, where the blast took place, dismissed reports of another blast.

“The aftermath of the incident does not carry any threat,” the governor, Igor Orlov, told the Interfax news agency. “Everything else is yet another round of disinformation.”

Russia’s Ministry of Defence did not immediately respond to a request for comment when contacted by Reuters on Friday.

There has been contradictory information about the Aug. 8 accident near the White Sea in far northern Russia and its consequences.

Russia’s Defence Ministry initially said background radiation remained normal, while the state weather agency said radiation levels had risen.

Russia’s state nuclear agency, Rosatom, said on Aug. 10 the accident involved “isotope power sources” but did not give further details.

Rosatom has acknowledged that five of its workers were killed. Two military personnel were also reported to have been killed.

Norway’s DSA nuclear safety authority said on Aug. 15 it had found tiny amounts of radioactive iodine near Norway’s Arctic border with Russia, although it could not say whether it was linked to the Russian accident.

Norsar’s detection of a second blast was first reported by Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten on Friday.

“We registered two explosions, of which the last one coincided in time with the reported increase in radiation,” Norsar Chief Executive Anne Stroemmen Lycke told Reuters. She added that this likely came from the rocket’s fuel.

The second explosion was detected only by infrasonic air pressure sensors and not by the seismic monitors that pick up movements in the ground, she added.

(Reporting by Terje Solsvik, additional reporting by Tatiana Ustinova and Maria Kiselyova in Moscow; Editing by Ros Russell and Andrew Heavens)

Russia vows consequences after Norway invites more U.S. Marines

U.S. Marines test night optics during Advanced Naval Technology Exercise 2018 (ANTX-18) at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, U.S. March 20, 2018. U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Rhita Daniel/Handout via REUTERS

OSLO (Reuters) – Russia vowed on Thursday to retaliate for a plan by Norway to more than double the number of U.S. Marines stationed there.

Oslo announced on Tuesday that it would ask the United States, its NATO ally, to send 700 Marines to train in Norway from 2019, against 330 at present, and said the additional troops would be based closer to the Russian border.

“This makes Norway less predictable and could cause growing tensions, triggering an arms race and destabilizing the situation in northern Europe,” the Russian Embassy said in a statement on its Facebook page.

“We see it as clearly unfriendly, and it will not remain free of consequence.”

Oslo has grown increasingly concerned about Russia since Moscow annexed of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, while adding that it does not regard its much larger neighbor as a direct threat.

The U.S. Marines were scheduled to leave at the end of this year after an initial contingent arrived in January 2017 to train for winter conditions. They are the first foreign troops to be stationed in Norway since World War Two.

The initial decision to welcome the Marines had prompted Moscow to say it would worsen bilateral relations and escalate tensions on NATO’s northern flank.

On Wednesday, Russia’s Northern Fleet launched a large naval exercise in the Arctic Barents Sea. Later this year, Norway will host its biggest NATO maneuver in decades.

(Reporting by Camilla Knudsen and Terje Solsvik; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

Norway to invite more U.S. Marines, for longer and closer to Russia

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Marines, who are to attend a six-month training to learn about winter warfare, arrive in Stjordal, Norway January 16, 2017. NTB Scanpix/Ned Alley/via REUTERS/File Photo

By Gwladys Fouche

OSLO (Reuters) – Norway will ask the United States to more than double the number of U.S. Marines stationed in the country in a move that could raise tensions with its eastern neighbor Russia.

The government in Oslo has grown increasingly concerned about Russia following its annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Some 330 U.S. Marines were scheduled to leave Norway at the end of this year after an initial contingent arrived in January 2017 to train for fighting in winter conditions. They are the first foreign troops to be stationed in Norway, a member of NATO, since World War Two.

The initial decision to welcome the Marines irked Russia and Moscow said it would worsen bilateral relations and escalate tensions on NATO’s northern flank.

Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Soereide told reporters the decision did not constitute the establishment of a permanent U.S. base in Norway and was not targeted at Russia.

“There are no American bases on Norwegian soil,” she said, adding the decision had broad parliamentary support.

Oslo will ask Washington to send 700 Marines from 2019, compared with 330 presently. The additional numbers will be based closer to the border with Russia in the Inner Troms region in the Norwegian Arctic, rather than in central Norway.

The rotation of forces will last for a five-year period compared with an initial posting that ran for six months from the start of 2017, and then was extended last June.

In addition the U.S. want to build infrastructure that could accommodate up to four U.S. fighter jets at a base 65 km (40 miles) south of Oslo, as part of a European deterrence initiative launched after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Norway said the expanded invitation was about NATO training and improving winter fighting capability.

“Allies get better at training together,” Defence Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen told reporters.

Soereide told Reuters in April that Oslo did not see Moscow as a military threat and that the threat of war in the Arctic, NATO’s northern flank, was “low”.

But she said Oslo saw challenges in the way Russia was developing, not only militarily but also in the areas of civil society, the rule of law and democracy.

The Russian embassy in Oslo was not available for comment.

(Additional reporting by Nerijus Adomaitis; Editing by Terje Solsvik and Matthew Mpoke Bigg)

Finland is world’s happiest country, U.S. discontent grows: U.N. report

People enjoy a sunnny day at the Esplanade in Helsinki, Finland, May 3, 2017. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins

By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Finland is the world’s happiest country, according to an annual survey issued on Wednesday that found Americans were getting less happy even as their country became richer.

Burundi came bottom in the U.N. Sustainable Development Solutions Network’s (SDSN) 2018 World Happiness Report which ranked 156 countries according to things such as GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, social freedom, generosity and absence of corruption.

Taking the harsh, dark winters in their stride, Finns said access to nature, safety, childcare, good schools and free healthcare were among the best things about in their country.

 

FILE PHOTO: Finland's flag flutters in Helsinki, Finland, May 3, 2017. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: Finland’s flag flutters in Helsinki, Finland, May 3, 2017. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins/File Photo

“I’ve joked with the other Americans that we are living the American dream here in Finland,” said Brianna Owens, who moved from the United States and is now a teacher in Espoo, Finland’s second biggest city with a population of around 280,000.

“I think everything in this society is set up for people to be successful, starting with university and transportation that works really well,” Owens told Reuters.

Finland, rose from fifth place last year to oust Norway from the top spot. The 2018 top-10, as ever dominated by the Nordics, is: Finland, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, Netherlands Canada, New Zealand, Sweden and Australia.

The United States came in at 18th, down from 14th place last year. Britain was 19th and the United Arab Emirates 20th.

One chapter of the 170-page report is dedicated to emerging health problems such as obesity, depression and the opioid crisis, particularly in the United States where the prevalence of all three has grown faster than in most other countries.

While U.S. income per capita has increased markedly over the last half century, happiness has been hit by weakened social support networks, a perceived rise in corruption in government and business and declining confidence in public institutions.

“We obviously have a social crisis in the United States: more inequality, less trust, less confidence in government,” the head of the SDSN, Professor Jeffrey Sachs of New York’s Columbia University, told Reuters as the report was launched at the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences.

“It’s pretty stark right now. The signs are not good for the U.S. It is getting richer and richer but not getting happier.”

Asked how the current political situation in the United States could affect future happiness reports, Sachs said:

“Time will tell, but I would say that in general that when confidence in government is low, when perceptions of corruption are high, inequality is high and health conditions are worsening … that is not conducive to good feelings.”

For the first time since it was started in 2012, the report, which uses a variety of polling organizations, official figures and research methods, ranked the happiness of foreign-born immigrants in 117 countries.

Finland took top honors in that category too, giving the country a statistical double-gold status.

The foreign-born were least happy in Syria, which has been mired in civil war for seven years.

“The most striking finding of the report is the remarkable consistency between the happiness of immigrants and the locally born,” said Professor John Helliwell of Canada’s University of British Columbia.

“Although immigrants come from countries with very different levels of happiness, their reported life evaluations converge towards those of other residents in their new countries,” he said.

“Those who move to happier countries gain, while those who move to less happy countries lose.”

(Reporting By Philip Pullella; Additional reporting by Reuters television in Finland; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

Norway-Russia relations to deteriorate following U.S. Marines’ base extension: Russian embassy

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Marines, who are to attend a six-month training to learn about winter warfare, arrive in Stjordal, Norway January 16, 2017. NTB Scanpix/Ned Alley/via REUTERS

OSLO (Reuters) – Norway’s decision to extend the presence of U.S. Marines on its soil will worsen relations with neighboring Russia and could escalate tensions on NATO’s northern flank, the Russian embassy in Oslo told Reuters on Saturday.

Some 330 Marines will be stationed in Norway until the end of 2018, the government said on Wednesday, doubling the length of what was initially billed as a one-year trial period.

The deployment last January to practice winter warfare and cross-country skiing, and to participate in joint exercises, marked the first foreign troops to be stationed in the NATO member country since the end of World War Two.

“We consider that this step contradicts Norwegian policy of not deploying foreign military bases in the country in times of peace,” the Russian embassy wrote in an statement to Reuters.

It further “makes Norway (a) not fully predictable partner, can also escalate tension and lead to destabilization of the situation in the Northern region,” it added.

Norway has downplayed the significance of the deployment, emphasizing the training element and denying that the arrival of Marines was an act directed against Russia. The U.S. troops are stationed some 1,500 km (900 miles) from the Russian border.

“A high level of regular allied presence creates a stabilizing state of normality in times of peace, which contributes to deterrence and defence,” Norwegian Defence Minister Ine Eriksen Soereide said in a June 21 statement.

The center-right minority government’s decision received broad support from Norwegian opposition parties, but was criticized by the far left.

“The deployment … shows the government being more concerned by being well-liked by the Americans and in NATO than by conducting responsible security policy,” Lars Haltbrekken of Norway’s Socialist Left Party told public broadcaster NRK.

(Reporting by Nerijus Adomaitis, Gwladys Fouche and Terje Solsvik; Editing by Toby Chopra)

Norway unseats Denmark as world’s happiest country

General view of a small harbour and snow-capped mountains in Bals-Fiord, north of the Arctic Circle, near the village of Mestervik in northern Norway.

By Patricia Reaney

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Norway displaced Denmark as the world’s happiest country in a new report released on Monday that called on nations to build social trust and equality to improve the wellbeing of their citizens.

The Nordic nations are the most content, according to the World Happiness Report 2017 produced by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), a global initiative launched by the United Nations in 2012.

Countries in sub-Saharan Africa, along with Syria and Yemen, are the least happy of the 155 countries ranked in the fifth annual report released at the United Nations.

“Happy countries are the ones that have a healthy balance of prosperity, as conventionally measured, and social capital, meaning a high degree of trust in a society, low inequality and confidence in government,” Jeffrey Sachs, the director of the SDSN and a special advisor to the United Nations Secretary-General, said in an interview.

A girl stands on her hands near Vang, Norway. Svein

A girl stands on her hands near Vang, Norway. Svein Nordrum/NTB Scanpix/via REUTERS

The aim of the report, he added, is to provide another tool for governments, business and civil society to help their countries find a better way to wellbeing.

Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, Finland, Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Sweden rounded out the top ten countries.

South Sudan, Liberia, Guinea, Togo, Rwanda, Tanzania, Burundi and the Central African Republic were at the bottom.

Germany was ranked 16, followed by the United Kingdom (19) and France (31). The United States dropped one spot to 14.

Sachs said the United States is falling in the ranking due to inequality, distrust and corruption. Economic measures that the administration of President Donald Trump is trying to pursue, he added, will make things worse.

“They are all aimed at increasing inequality – tax cuts at the top, throwing people off the healthcare rolls, cutting Meals on Wheels in order to raise military spending. I think everything that has been proposed goes in the wrong direction,” he explained.

The rankings are based on six factors — per capita gross domestic product, healthy life expectancy, freedom, generosity, social support and absence of corruption in government or business.

“The lowest countries are typically marked by low values in all six variables,” said the report, produced with the support of the Ernesto Illy Foundation.

People stand on the roof of the Opera House, with buildings of The Barcode Project in the background, in Oslo, Norway

People stand on the roof of the Opera House, with buildings of The Barcode Project in the background, in Oslo, Norway August 2013. Svein Nordrum/NTB Scanpix/via REUTERS

Sachs would like nations to follow United Arab Emirates and other countries that have appointed Ministers of Happiness.

“I want governments to measure this, discuss it, analyze it and understand when they have been off on the wrong direction,” he said.

(Reporting by Patricia Reaney; Editing by Alistair Bell)

Norway pledges $10 million to counter Trumps global anti abortion move

Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg, attends the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland,

OSLO (Reuters) – Norway has joined an international initiative to raise millions of dollars to replace shortfalls left by U.S. President Donald Trump’s ban on U.S.-funded groups worldwide providing information on abortion.

In January, the Netherlands started a global fund to help women access abortion services, saying Trump’s “global gag rule” meant a funding gap of $600 million over the next four years, and has pledged $10 million to the initiative to replace that.

Sweden, Denmark, Belgium, Luxembourg, Finland, Canada and Cape Verde have all also lent their support.

“The government is increasing its support for family planning and safe abortion by 85 million Norwegian crowns ($10 million) compared with 2016,” Prime Minister Erna Solberg said.

“At a time when this agenda has come under pressure, a joint effort is particularly important,” he said in a statement.

Last month, Trump reinstated a policy requiring overseas organizations that receive U.S. family-planning funds to certify they do not perform abortions or provide abortion advice as a method of family planning.

(Reporting by Gwladys Fouche; Editing by Louise Ireland)

Hundreds of U.S. Marines land in Norway, irking Russia

OSLO (Reuters) – Some 300 U.S. Marines landed in Norway on Monday for a six-month deployment, the first time since World War Two that foreign troops have been allowed to be stationed there, in a deployment which has irked Norway’s Arctic neighbor Russia.

Officials played down any link between the operation and NATO concerns over Russia, but the deployment coincides with the U.S. sending several thousand troops to Poland to beef up its Eastern European allies worried about Moscow’s assertiveness.

Soldiers from Camp Lejeune in North Carolina landed a little after 10 am CET at a snow-covered Vaernes airport near Trondheim, Norway’s third-largest city, where temperatures were reaching -2 degrees Celsius (28 degrees Fahrenheit).

U.S. troops are to stay in Norway for a year, with the current batch of Marines being replaced after their six-month tour is complete.

A spokesman for the Norwegian Home Guards, who will host the Marines at the Vaernes military base, about 1,500 km (900 miles) from the Russian border, said the U.S. troops will learn about winter warfare.

“For the first four weeks they will have basic winter training, learn how to cope with skis and to survive in the Arctic environment,” said Rune Haarstad, a Home Guard spokesman. “It has nothing to do with Russia or the current situation.”

In March the Marines will take part in the Joint Viking exercises, which will also include British troops, he added.

The Russian Embassy in Oslo did not immediately reply to a request for comment by Reuters on Monday. It questioned the need for such a move when it was announced in October.

“Taking into account multiple statements of Norwegian officials about the absence of threat from Russia to Norway we would like to understand for what purposes is Norway so … willing to increase its military potential, in particular through stationing of American forces in Vaernes?” it told Reuters at the time.

A spokeswoman for Norwegian Ministry of Defence also said the arrival of U.S. Marines had nothing to do with concerns about Russia.

However, in a 2014 interview with Reuters, Norway’s Defence Minister Ine Eriksen Soereide said Russia’s annexation of Crimea showed that it had the ability and will to use military means to achieve political goals.

(Reporting by Nerijus Adomaitis, editing by Terje Solsvik, Gwladys Fouche and Dominic Evans)

Freak lightning storm kills 323 reindeer in Norway

Dead wild reindeer are seen on Hardangervidda in Norway, after lightning struck the central mountain plateau and killed more than 300 of them,

OSLO (Reuters) – A freak lightning storm has killed 323 reindeer in a remote mountainous area of Norway, officials said on Monday.

Dead animals were found lying on top of each other, many with their antlers entangled, after the thunderstorm on the Hardanger plateau in southern Norway on Friday.

“We’ve never had anything like this with lightning,” Kjartan Knutsen of Norway’s nature surveillance agency said, adding there were sometimes isolated cases of sheep or reindeer struck down.

Reindeer tend to group together when in danger. It was unclear whether the herd had been killed by a single lightning bolt or several.

Hardanger was extremely wet on Friday, helping conduct lightning.

“The high moisture in both the ground and the air was probably an explanation for why so many animals died,” Olav Strand, a senior researcher at the Norwegian Institue for Nature Research, wrote in a statement.

Experts flew in by helicopter to take samples of the dead reindeer, amid a rising stench of decay, as part of a project to monitor elk and deer for diseases. Five of the 323 animals were found alive but badly injured and were shot by wildlife officials.

It was unclear what would happen to the bodies. One option is to leave them to decay.

“It’s part of the natural ecology, this is far from where people live,” Knutsen said. Hardanger has about 12,000 reindeer and hunters are allowed to shoot 2,000 a year for their meat.

(Reporting by Alister Doyle; editing by Andrew Roche)

To deter refugees, Norway readies fence on ex cold war border

Two migrants on bicycles cross the border between Norway and Russia in Storskog near Kirkenes in Northern Norway

By Alister Doyle

OSLO (Reuters) – Norway is putting up a steel fence at a remote Arctic border post with Russia after an influx of migrants last year, sparking an outcry from refugees’ rights groups and fears that cross- border ties with the former Cold War adversary will be harmed.

The government says a new gate and a fence, about 200 meters (660 feet) long and 3.5 meters high stretching from the Storskog border point, is needed to tighten security at a northern outpost of Europe’s passport-free Schengen zone.

For decades, the Nordics have enjoyed the image of being a reliable haven for asylum seekers.

But the erection of the fence, at a spot where 5,500 migrants mainly from Syria crossed into Norway last year, reflects a wider shift in public attitudes against refugees.

This is seen too in Sweden, Norway’s neighbor, which was once touted as a “humanitarian superpower”, but is setting up border controls this year and has toughened asylum rules.

Refugee groups and some opposition politicians say Norway’s fence will deter people fleeing persecution and is an unwelcome echo of the Cold War in a region where relations have generally flourished since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

The fence will be erected in the coming weeks, before winter frosts set in, to make it harder to slip into Norway via a forest. Workers have so far done some preparatory work, clearing away old wooden barriers put up to control reindeer herds.

“The gate and the fence are responsible measures,” Deputy Justice Minister Ove Vanebo told Reuters, defending the move.

Both Moscow and Oslo have cracked down on the Arctic route, one that a few refugees found less risky than crossing the Mediterranean by boat, since last year’s inflow of migrants.

So far this year, no one has sought asylum via the northern frontier, according to the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration.

“I can’t see a need for a fence. There are too many fences going up in Europe today,” said Rune Rafaelsen, the mayor of the Soer-Varanger region which includes the border, told Reuters, pointing to barbed wire in nations such as Hungary.

Russia still maintains a fence the length of the 196 km frontier with NATO member Norway, sometimes several kilometers back from the dividing line. It has not complained about the Norwegian plans to build a fence.

But Rafaelsen, of the opposition Labour Party, said the region had made great progress in improving civilian ties since an Iron Curtain divided Norway from the Soviet Union and he, and others, saw the plans for a fence as a backward step.

“We’ve an obligation to be a country people can flee to,” said Linn Landro, of the Refugees Welcome group in Norway. “The fence sends a very negative signal, including to Russia because it says that ‘we don’t trust you’.”

Norwegians and Russians in the region can visit visa-free for short trips. About 250,000 people crossed the border last year, a decline from recent years but to be compared with just 5,000 a year in the Cold War.

Norway’s border Commissioner Roger Jakobsen said a weak rouble has made Norway more costly for Russians, road repairs have made crossings harder and ties have cooled after Norway and other Western nations imposed sanctions after Moscow annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region in 2014.

He doubted the fence would be a new deterrent and said there had been no complaints from Russia. “We shouldn’t make a storm in a teacup out of it,” he said.

(Reporting By Alister Doyle; Editing by Alistair Scrutton and Richard Balmforth)