Opinion: As the Russian invasion of Ukraine drags on, is the Støre government focusing too much on war?

Volodymyr Zelenskyy - Norwegian parliamentPhoto: Heiko Junge / POOL / NTB

With Russian forces seemingly bogged down in their attempt to capture Kyiv, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelinskyy has addressed the Norwegian Storting seeking more weapons and speaking of the close historical and cultural ties between Ukraine and Norway. The Støre government has been quick to lend a few kroner and weapons to the Ukrainians but will this come at an expense of investment in Norway?

Storting charmed by Zelinskyy’s address that showed a wealth of Norwegian historical and cultural knowledge

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed a full session of the Storting this week, becoming only the third person (Winston Churchill was the first – not a bad role model for a leader of a country facing existential destruction to follow in the footsteps of) to be granted this high honor. His address – which drew standing ovations, many a tear, and a rare feeling of solidarity throughout the Storting – showed how image and publicity have become the latest battleground in this age of social media.

There is no doubt that Zelenskyy and his team went to great lengths to do their research and homework before this address. For the average Norwegian on the street, the links between Norway and Ukraine – cultural and historical – are not exactly self-evident. Yet Zelenskyy charmed the Storting with a sweeping overview of Norway and Ukraine’s shared history, from the foundation of the Kievan Rus to Ukraine’s small part in the liberation of Nazi-occupied Norway. He also made mentioned the beloved barnetog and Norway’s awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize every year.

Storting just the latest stop on the Zelenskyy charm offensive

This was a leader who has done the global rounds, his address was tight, smart, charming, and emotional. Aside from the shared history lesson, Zelenskyy pleaded for more weapons, to stop Russian ships docking in Norwegian ports, and the imposition of more sanctions against the Russian economy and Putin’s cronies.

Zelenskyy was a leader whose grit, determination, and refusal to flee as Russian tanks rolled over the border a month ago have been truly inspirational. His address to the Storting was just the latest plea for foreign aid and assistance which has seen him address the halls of power everywhere from Capitol Hill to Canberra. Like Churchill some 70 odd years before, Zelenskyy’s address to the Storting showed a leader at the top of his game, a master of the oral arts, spellbinding Norway’s politicians with his smart and savvy charm offensive.

Jonas Gahr Støre
The Prime Minister announced a NOK 14.4 billion “crisis package” for the effects of the war in Ukraine. Photo: Stian Lysberg Solum / NTB

A mix of economic, military, and humanitarian responses

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine started, the Større government has been swift in its response. It has joined other (mostly) Western nations in imposing the most severe economic sanctions seen in recent times targeting both Putin and his cronies specifically and the Russian economy generally. Unfortunately, Russia’s huge reserves of fossil fuels have somewhat mitigated any financial hit so far.

The Støre government has also made two shipments of arms – M72 anti-tank weapons, to help Ukraine stop the Russian tanks rolling all the way to Kyiv – with the last shipment of arms numbering 2,000. Zelenskyy did ask NATO nations, among them Norway, to provide airplanes for Ukraine to us or to enforce a “no-fly zone” but this request has, so far, been politely shirked by Norway and the other NATO countries.

Ukrainian refugees fleeing war and persecution have seen red tape cut to allow them to resume their lives here in the safety of our country. Cities, towns, and villages throughout Norway are now in the process of helping these refugees pick up the pieces of their lives left back in Ukraine.

Norway has also increased its short-term commitment to NATO forces in countries that border Russia (such as Lithuania) and has announced its intentions to support whatever strategic measures are agreed upon during the next NATO summit this June in Madrid.

The government was not joking when it announced a big splash of cash

The big news, though, was a huge splash of cash that the Prime Minister announced on April 1 after President Zelenskyy’s address to the Storting. The Government announced a huge NOK 14.4 billion “crisis package” as a result of the Ukraine crisis. Of this, more than half (NOK 7.1 billion) will aid the police, UDI, and municipal authorities to help handle the process of Ukrainians seeking asylum in this country. The defense forces will receive NOK 3 billion with a further NOK 2 billion promised to strengthen defense capabilities and infrastructure in the north of the country.

Though Norway is facing a series of issues and problems – electricity prices are through the roof, the country is grappling with the economic stranglehold that fossil fuels have on the economy, there is a sluggish transition towards a “green economy,” there appears to be some lingering effects of the coronavirus and let’s not even mention the recent political scandals involving members of the Storting and the current Secretary-General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg – the war in Ukraine is the only political agenda in town.

Norwegian parliament - Storting
The Norwegian parliament (Storting). Photo: Ole Berg-Rusten / NTB

It shouldn’t take a crisis to make government work this efficiently…

Given Norway’s proximity to Russia – it is the only Western NATO country that borders Russia – it is not surprising that the war in Ukraine has consumed all of the political oxygen in this country. What is surprising is when faced with a crisis – how effective governments can be. In the blink of an eye, municipalities, the police, and the UDI have all been granted money – albeit to deal with the influx of Ukrainian refugees but all have been asking for increased funding for years. It should not take a crisis for bureaucratic red tape to be cut, refugee applications to be streamlined and municipalities granted money to aid in refugee resettlement.

There is no doubt that Norway should support Ukraine – economically, militarily, and with as much humanitarian aid as possible – but one wonders where these extra billions of kroner are coming from? Though Norway is blessed with a firing economy and ridiculously low levels of unemployment – post-pandemic – taxpayers’ money is not endless. We have to ask ourselves what will the economic cost of this pivot toward defense spending be?

An economy that is booming…but not necessarily for everyone

The Norwegian economy and society have now emerged from the effects of the global pandemic which saw huge swathes of the country shut down, locked in, and/or unemployed. As of April 1, 20,000 people (a sizeable figure in a relatively small country like Norway) have just lost their unemployment benefits as government pandemic-related financial support dried up. This figure will rise to almost 27,000 by May.

The economy is also showing signs of overheating. Inflation – whether due to global logistical issues or the price of petrol – appears to be rising more than anyone in the government, or Norges Bank, wants. One only has to go to the local grocery store to see how everyday items seem to get more expensive almost weekly. Is this the time to be flicking off the switch of financial aid for those vulnerable 27,000 members of society? Surely the government has a bit of cash to support these people?

There is actually more on the political agenda than just Ukraine

Norway should use all its economic, military, and humanitarian muscle to aid Ukraine and the Ukrainian people. The government’s swift response of support is an admirable gesture to aid, in the words of President Zelenskyy, a country that has common values with this one. This current focus on the Ukraine crisis should not be allowed to distract the government from other issues which may not be as exciting but are nonetheless important – the cost of living, securing cheap energy, a transition towards a greener and more sustainable economy, etc.

The government is doing an admirable job supporting Ukraine and the Ukrainian people. Yet they should not lose sight of the fact that there is more on the political agenda than just war.

Source: / #Norway Today / #NorwayTodayNews

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Norway Today unless specifically stated.

About the author:

Jonathan is a lover of the written word. He believes the best way to combat this polarization of news and politics, in our time, is by having a balanced view. Both sides of the story are equally important. He also enjoys traveling and live music.

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1 Comment on "Opinion: As the Russian invasion of Ukraine drags on, is the Støre government focusing too much on war?"

  1. This impressive article dissecting Volodymyr Zelensky’s “charm offense” is obviously written by someone who has a very in-depth understanding of modern media and how they (including social media) can be used.
    Jonathan’s description of Volodymyr’s perfectly tailored televised addresses raises the question of who is authoring them and where, since neither V. nor his staff would have the time under the circumstances.
    And Jonathan fairly points out V.’s great personal courage.
    However, J. should not be supporting Norway sending more weapons into this tragedy.
    There have been 2 cautionary columns even on war-eager neocon Washington Post, no less – by Anthony Fabiola and senior WaPo editor&columnist David Ignatius – urging the Ukrainians to get realistic and accept some loss of territory, so the war/holocaust can end.

    Returning to the power of the image of the war being displayed to Norwegians and Westerners generally, Donald Trump was ready to bomb anyone, when he was shown photos of dead children, even if false.

    And whether we believe it or not, the Russian people believe they have been under attack by the West ever since 1999 when NATO moved east breaking our promise and our illegally forced, Kosovo bombing war, and so they see this as a war of self-defense – a “pre-emptive war” like we proclaimed after suspicious 9/11 with infinitely less justification.

    In any case, thank you for your (otherwise) very excellent, perceptive article, Jonathan.

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