Opinion: Russian invasion of Ukraine could affect Norway’s pragmatic relationship with its northern neighbor

Photo: AP Photo / Emilio Morenatti

Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine last week was widely condemned by the world, Norway included. Norwegians looked on with a mixture of shock, horror, and despair as war stalked the streets of Europe again. Norway has often taken a pragmatic and nuanced approach to relations with its northern neighbor but the invasion of Ukraine could, however, signal the end to these relations often steeped in realpolitik.

Vladimir Putin, Russia’s President, pulled the trigger a week ago and ordered a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. In a rambling speech on Monday, February 21, Putin, who seems to have descended into delusional and paranoid fantasies about a warped view of history, outlined the case for war against the Ukrainian nation and people. The case for war was a mixture of lies, propaganda, and hatred. Put simply, he does not believe that Ukraine is a nation.

He then ordered the army to invade Ukraine, on the night of February 24, to help “protect” the Russian ethnic minority in the country. His reasoning was that there was a “genocide” against the ethnic Russians in Ukraine’s east and it was up to Russia …to stop that atrocity, that genocide of the millions of people who live there and who pinned their hopes on Russia, on all of us.”

Ukrainian resistance stiffens but Russia nears center of Kyiv

As the invading Russian army is approaching the streets of Kyiv, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (his family experiencing firsthand the violence of the Holocaust, making Putin’s accusations of “genocide” by the Ukrainian state even more repugnant) has cut a defiant figure refusing to flee and urging his compatriots to repel the Russian invaders.

Not all has gone the way of the Russians though. Desperately outgunned and outnumbered, the Ukrainians appear to be putting up stiff resistance. Though Western nations have promised a steady supply of arms, the Russian army is now approaching the center of Kyiv. It may only be a matter of time before brave Ukrainian resistance folds in the face of superior Russian numbers and arms.

Prime Minister Støre alongside Minister of Foreign Affairs Anniken Huitfeldt at a press conference earlier in the week. Photo: Javad Parsa / NTB

Norwegian PM led swift condemnation

A few hours after the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, on February 24, the Norwegian Government was united in both support of the Ukrainian people and scathing of the naked Russian military aggressiveness. Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre was quick to condemn the Russian invasion of a sovereign and peaceful country.

Støre, in a written statement to NTB, noted that “This attack is a serious violation of international law and endangers the lives of innocent people. The Russian authorities have full responsibility for throwing Europe into this very dark situation.”

He then called for Russia to “immediately stop its military actions and respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Sending a message of solidarity from the Norwegian government, Støre said that the Norwegian state and people “stand with the Ukrainian people in this dark time.” This message of solidarity with the Ukrainian people was echoed throughout the Norwegian parliament (Storting) by members of all political parties.

The actions of the government, after the initial condemnation, in the days afterward, however, shows that relations with Russia are poised delicately but the invasion may very well be a watershed mark resulting in a more assertive Norwegian foreign policy to its giant neighbor.

Norwegian government sought safety in numbers with multilateralism

In the days since the initial reaction, we can see that Norway has tried to achieve multilateralism as part of various collective international organizations. Norway alone possesses a smaller political and military reach than Russia but this difference is diminished as part of broad coalitions of like-minded countries.

Anniken Huitfeldt (AP), Minister for Foreign Affairs, was quick to call for an emergency session of the United Nations Security Council to discuss the Russian invasion as it began whilst Odd Roger Enoksen, Minister of Defense, was amongst the signatories of a joint statement, by Nordic Defence Ministers, condemning the war.

Though it is not part of the European Union, Norway has supported the EU-led sanctions enacted by the 28 member bloc. These are some of the most restrictive trade sanctions in history and Prime Minister Støre has confirmed Norwegian support for the sanctions that will target both the Russian economy and Putin and his inner circle.

The Russian invasion has also seen Norway solidify its commitment to NATO, sending 44 soldiers to a forward presence battle group in Lithuania. Questions had been asked through member countries, including Norway, as to the usefulness, effectiveness, and purpose of the military alliance as its withdrawal from Afghanistan saw the country, and Kabul, fall again in Taliban hands. Instead, Russia’s military aggression has seemingly recommitted Norwegian soldiers to the military alliance of 30 nations.

A Ukrainian soldier firing the sort of anti-tank rocket-propelled launchers Norway will send to the country reversing a six decade plus export ban. Photo: AP Photo / Vadim Ghirdać

Russian invasion forced six decade plus arms export policy reversal

The ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine has, in fact, seen two key government policies change. Months and months of a huge Russian military build-up, on the border that Ukraine shares both with Russia and Belarus, highlighted the seemingly herculean struggle that Ukraine’s armed forces, and its people, would have to face in order to repel the invaders.

There was much debate in Norway’s political circles about whether to send lethal weapons and arms to Ukraine. At the start of this week, Norway had only committed to sending Ukraine military protective equipment and that this did NOT make Norway a party to war. The government also announced it would send hundreds of millions of kroner in aid to Ukraine.

There was a feeling amongst some politicians that sending Norwegian weapons to Ukraine could provoke a military reaction from Russia on the border, of almost 200 kilometers, that it shares with this country. Bjørnar Moxnes, leader of the far-left Red Party (Rødt), warned against sending arms as geography has placed Norway “in a special position compared to a number of other countries because we border directly on Russia.”

Yet as the week progressed, the Norwegian government reversed its position and decided to send 2,000 M72 anti-tank weapons. This breaks official government policy, first enacted in 1959 and adhered to ever since, regardless of which party held the reins of power in Norway, that banned the export of weapons to countries at war/on the brink of war.

Pragmatic and burgeoning economic relationship cast aside

The Russian invasion also saw the Norwegian government back EU-led sanctions – both broadly targeting the Russian economy and specifically going after the top echelons of Russian power. The Norwegian decision to severely restrict, divest or halt altogether trade with Russia goes against an extremely pragmatic and nuanced financial and economic relationship between the two countries since the Russian invasion of Crimea in 2014.

Norway may not be as heavily reliant on Russian oil and natural gas as some of its E.U neighbors but the fact remains that an economic relationship has been severely fractured, once which though it may have been based on pragmatism had been burgeoning in recent years.

Trade between the two countries had been increasing from the onset of earlier 2014 sanctions up until 2019, the last year before the pandemic drastically affected the Russian economy. In 2019, Russia had a trade surplus of NOK 14.33 billion whilst Norwegian exports were up almost a quarter (23.1%) from the previous year. Economic activity centered around the Arctic regions with some joint ventures mostly focused on the fishing and energy industries.

border Russian Russia
The Arctic border between Norway and Russia in Kirkenes (NOR) and Storskog (RUS). Photo: Vidar Ruud / NTB scanpix

Norway’s backing of EU sanctions means prioritising national security over profit

The Russian trade surplus was mainly due to oil and natural gas exports but this source of income will be heavily restricted as Norway has suspended Russian oil and gas companies from any further activity in the Norwegian market. Moreover, Equinor, Norway’s state-owned multinational energy company, has announced that it has halted all new investments in Russia and will start pulling out from its joint ventures in the country as soon as possible.

This nation’s central bank, Norges Bank, which oversees a USD 1.3 trillion sovereign wealth fund, has announced its intentions to exit and divest from Russia as soon as possible. According to The Financial Times, the fund was managing about NOK 27 billion worth of Russian funds at the end of the 2021 financial year. This equated to about 0.2% of the fund’s total assets – a small number for Norway but a significant number for the Russian economy which has been ravaged by economic sanctions.

Invasion of Ukraine a new low point in tense recent relations

Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine will surely be the nadir of relations between Russia and Norway. These relations were, to put it mildly, in a downward spiral in recent years. The Norwegian Police Security Service (PST) has identified Russia as being a major threat to national and economic security in recent years whilst Russia was believed to be behind a recent cyber attack on the Storting. Add to this the busting of a spy ring which saw a Russian diplomat expelled and the case of Frode Berg’s 14-year jail sentence, in Russia, on trumped-up espionage charges and you can see a deterioration in relations of late.

There there is no doubt that the decision by the Norwegian Nobel Committee to jointly award the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize to Russian journalist and editor, Dmitry Muratov along with Filipino journalist Maria Ressa. Muratov is a rare breed in Putin’s Russia, one of the very few truly independent media voices left in the country. He has used his newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, to investigate, report and criticize the corruption, undemocratic nature, and cronyism that underpins Putin and the Russian elite.

So even before a single Russian tank rolled over the border into Ukraine, it appeared that the relationship between Russia and Norway was at its lowest point since the collapse of the Soviet Union three decades ago.

Ukrainian refugees in a temporary shelter at a railway station. Photo: AP Photo / Markus Schreiber

Refugee intakes and best to remember 1905

So as relations between Russia and Norway freeze over, spare a thought for those affected by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The government has announced that it will take in Ukrainian refugees based on a fair share between European countries.

Some have already been lucky enough to escape the war and arrive safely in Norway and there is no doubt that as the war drags on, Norway may well do more to help resettle these innocent people whose lives have been destroyed by Putin’s decision to invade their country. As Ukraine is torn apart by war, Europe will again face a refugee crisis not seen since 2015.

So as the relations between the two countries have deteriorated from a once pragmatic and nuanced relationship to reach a new low point, it should be worth remembering October 30, 1905. This was the day, four days after Norway had achieved independence, that it established relations with the then Russian Empire. Norway had chosen to establish relations with Russia ahead of other larger, politically more important, or culturally closer nations. In the hundred or so years since, relations have ebbed and flowed but the importance of Russia to Norway, even just from a strategic point of view, has remained constant.

The invasion of Ukraine, by Russia, means that Norway will have to end its once pragmatic relationship with its northern neighbor. As the tanks rolled over the Ukrainian border, there was a definite paradigm shift in Norwegian attitudes and policies towards Russia.

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.

Source : #Norway Today / #NorwayTodayNews

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1 Comment on "Opinion: Russian invasion of Ukraine could affect Norway’s pragmatic relationship with its northern neighbor"

  1. This tragedy – holocaust – could have completely avoided if we the West had instead let the Russians *have* their Monroe Doctrine like peace and security treaty, but Biden&Blinken refused … for reasons I am suspecting I have described elsewhere.

    Putin and the Russians did NOT want this war, but in the absence of a fair treaty … and Munich-/Europeans-emboldened Zelensky’s intimation that Ukraine would be open to having nuclear weapons which specifically triggered them … we left them with no other option … after the 2014 coup and what NATO has done elsewhere.

    (If anyone is wondering why I am so active on the boards about this, I have 2 great kids over here and 2 back in the States I want to keep alive and happy. So stopping World War 3 has been my other hobby, all the way back to when I was first a father in Alaska in the 1970s.)

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