The article addresses old ‘west-east discourses’ and how they continue to develop in the high north, and, not least, in the Norwegian petroleum debate. Adopting a discourse analytical perspective the author shows how environmental safety is used as an argument in favour of Norway producing oil in the Barents Sea at the earliest possible moment. This is only feasible if a connection is made in the public mind between Russia and the environment. These views, it is argued, stem from ideas about Russia that gained currency after the demise of the Soviet Union. While they perhaps have less to do with Russia's petroleum industry and environmental performance today, they nevertheless have a strong impact on how challenges in the high north and Arctic region are perceived. And, perhaps even more importantly, they define freedom of action and available options. In this paper all references to government departments refer to those of Norway.