Norway’s dilemma over Russia

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NEWS ANALYSIS/UPDATED: As conflict escalates between Russia on the one side and Ukraine and most of the rest of Europe on the other, the Norwegian government has so far come out solidly in favour of the acting government in the Ukrainian capital. As Foreign Minister Børge Brende pays his respects in Kiev, though, it’s not easy for him or other Norwegians to give up what have been relatively good relations with Russia, with whom the country shares a border in the vitally important far north.

Utenriksminister Børge Brende på Maidan-plassen i Kiev 6. mars 2014. Foto: A. Versto, UD

Foreign Minister Børge Brende with all the flower tributes to victims of the struggle against corruption and for independence in Kiev earlier this month. Brende has traveled back and forth to Kiev several times in recent months. PHOTO: Utenriksdepartementet/Astrid Versto

For Norway, the drama involving and, many believe, choreographed by Russia is one in which Norway never would have wanted to play a part. Russia and Norway have cooperated for centuries on so many issues, from trade in the far north to, more recently, border issues in the Barents Sea. Now, however, Norway faces the dilemma of being once again caught in the middle of a conflict between its western allies and neighbouring Russia, raising prospects of a new “cold war” that’s getting chillier by the day. Norway also sees a moral obligation to do what’s right, and can’t condone seeing a large and powerful country all but take over parts of a smaller and much more vulnerable one.

It’s no surprise that Norway has so far been following the lead of the European Union (EU), the US and, of course, NATO, of which it’s a member. Brende was at the Norwegian Parliament on Tuesday to propose that Norway also impose the same sanctions against Russia that the EU is, freezing bank accounts and denying visas to around 20 persons in Russia and Crimea. He won support and said later on Tuesday that Norway will adopt the same sanctions. Brende also condemned Russian President Vladimir Putin’s announcement in Moscow on Tuesday that Russia was annexing Crimea, saying that Norway will still view Crimea as part of Ukraine.

‘Standing together’
It marks the first time in many years that Norway is going along with direct punitive measures against its neighbour to the east, apart from the expulsions of a few Russian diplomats suspected of spying in the country. Some argue that the sanctions aren’t very tough, but Brende thinks they are, and promises more if Russia doesn’t back off.

“If there’s a further increase of Russian soldiers in eastern Ukraine, there will be more reaction,” Brende told newspaper Aftenposten on Tuesday. “It’s important that Europe stands together in its condemnation of Russia’s violations of the rule of law, and that’s what Europe has done. Now Norway will follow up the measures that the EU has initiated.”

There has been some criticism within Norway of the government’s position, with newspaper Bergens Tidende publishing a commentary by Russian historian Bjørn Nistad, in which Nistad questions the legitimacy of the acting government in Ukraine and accuses Brende of dealing with fascists in Kiev. The ministry called that “absurd” and referred to the commentary as “distasteful propaganda.” Brende maintains that Russia “has shown a total lack of willingness to respect the rule of law,” and it’s statements like that which are surprisingly strong for a Norwegian foreign minister.

King Harald of Norway visited soldiers from all of the Norwegian Army's battalions during winter exercise Cold Response 2014. Chief of Brigade North, brigadier Odin Johannessen, accompanied the King. These soldiers are from 2nd. Battalion.

King Harald. in Northern Norway to oversee major military winter exercises, admitted that “we’re all worried” about Russia’s military intervention in and around Ukraine. PHOTO: Forsvaret/Ole-Sverre Haugli

The level of tension and sheer proximity of the potentially explosive situation in Ukraine is clearly being taken seriously indeed in Norway, and making everyone nervous. Brende cancelled an important trip to the Middle East this week to stay home to deal with the situation, as King Harald headed for Northern Norway to oversee the major winter military exercises known as “Cold Response.” While there, the amiable monarch admitted to reporters that he’s worried about the situation in Crimea. “I think we all are worried about it,” King Harald told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK).

While Russian military representatives took part as guests in the Cold Response exercises this week, which involve 16,000 troops from 16 countries including the US, speculation was rising that another major military exercise involving Norway, Russia and the US in the Barents Sea, called “Northern Eagle,” would be cancelled. Since the US has frozen its bilateral military cooperation with Russia, because of Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine, Northern Eagle “probably won’t be conducted as planned in May,” Marita Isaksen Wangberg of the Norwegian Defense Ministry told news bureau NTB.

Meanwhile, the Norwegian military just took delivery of a new vessel that’s undergoing further technical enhancements for use as a surveillance ship by Norway’s military intelligence unit, E-tjenesten. The vessel “will be an imporant part of E-tjenesten’s work in the northern area,” its top military chief Kjell Grandhagen said last week. That means the ship will be used to spy on Norway’s Russian neighbours just like Grandhagen says they’re spying on Norway.

In far northern Norway, near the border to Russia, road signs are written in Russian as well as Norwegian because of all the Russians living, working and traveling there. Since Russia went into Crimea to secure Russians living there, the country could do the same in Norway if it perceived or concocted similar threats. PHOTO:

In far northern Norway, near the border to Russia, road signs are written in Russian as well as Norwegian because of all the Russians living, working and traveling there. Since Russia went into Crimea to secure Russians living there, the country could do the same in Norway if it perceived or concocted similar threats. PHOTO: Berglund

Bernard Duncan Lyng, a military veteran and former security and preparedness chief at Statoil, agreed with Grandhagen recently in Tromsø newspaper Nordlys that Norway’s proximity to Russia, the development of Russian society and Russia’s military power and interest in the northern areas make it critical for Norway to watch Russia closely. He worries that Svalbard, which is controlled by Norway under an international treaty but where Russia also has a physical presence, could, for example, become Norway’s “Ukraine syndrome.”

That’s because Russia has claimed that it’s gone into Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula because of a need to protect Russians living there. If that argument is carried further, it may envision similar threats and do the same on Svalbard, or even in Norway’s eastern county of Finnmark, where Russians and Norwegians now freely travel in the border area where even many road signs are also written in Russian. Some may scoff at the prospect, but in Norway’s far north, the concerns are real.

Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg (right) and Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev are said to have generally good relations, The sunny weather they enjoyed when meeting on Monday turned into rain and wind on Tuesday, but they continued bilateral talks after the Barents Summit with a planned boat ride on a research vessel, review of search and rescue operations and then a "working lunch" and wreath-laying at the Russian War Memorial outside Kirkenes. Their meeting was to end at the Russian-Norwegian border crossing late Tuesday afternoon. PHOTO: Utenriksdepartementet

The friendly smiles, promises of cooperation and warm handshakes between former Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg (right) and Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev at the Barents Summit in Kirkenes just last summer suddenly seem like a long time ago. PHOTO: Utenriksdepartementet

Debate is thus brewing over whether defense budgets should be increased given Russia’s sabre-rattling and military escalation in and around Ukraine. While European military forces have been slimmed down, Russia has been building its military muscle, and some Baltic governments now see Russia as a threat. More than 20 years of goodwill, reconciliation and even friendly relations between Russia and its European neighbours seems to have been wiped out in a matter of weeks because of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s determination to maintain control over Ukraine. As commentator Per Kristian Haugen wrote in Aftenposten last week, no country with a border to Russia, including Norway, can quietly watch Russia simply take over part of another neighouring country. Those willing to allow an annexation of Crimea by Russia are quickly being reminded of Germany’s annexation Czechoslovakian territory in 1938, and what that led to.

Asked whether Brende expected that Russia would suddenly emerge as such an enormous foreign policy problem when he took office just five months ago, Brende replied that “I hadn’t foreseen such violations of international law and lack of respect for territorial integrity. But I had to quickly learn to deal with such daily violations in Syria.”

Brende claims he and other EU leaders are working hard to avoid another Cold War with Russia, noting that the coming weeks and months will be of great importance as the drama plays out. “When countries cooperate, we all win,” Brende told Aftenposten. “The alternative is that we can all be losers.” Berglund

  • Geir

    This is preposterous. While Putin’s aggression and Ukraine’s revolution is well discussed, I still have yet to meet anyone who supports either Putin or think this was a revelutsjon started by the United States.
    Except in the debate field on the internet.

    • Tom Just Olsen

      I have yet to meet anyone supporting USA & EU in this matter. John Kerry’s ‘it is immoral to invade another country’, was met with only sarcastical laughter. The Russians have a wide support among Norwegians in general. Strange, he?

      • Robert Neve

        Doesn’t surprise me. Given your opinions I have no doubt you only hang out with other close minded anti us people. Besides it’s not like Norway has a good record at standing up to such people does it? **cough** Nazis **cough**

        • Geir

          Yes, the record is pretty damn good. The fleet of trading ships in WW1 and 2 cept the ally’s army going. The resistance in Norway sunk many ships, stop the nazi nuclear bomb and sabotages the troop movement from Norway to Normandy. Also there were shitloads of intel.

          In modern day we are the only one standing up to China, we are a key player in the Burma/Myanmar transition. And last but not least, we are one of americas best friend in the whole world <3

          • Interrogative

            Damn fine Spitfire pilots too; RAF 132 (Norwegian) Wing.
            Chocks away old chap !

      • Interrogative

        I don’t really understand why you are so negative towards our American cousins.
        They helped to defeat the Germans who occupied Norway during WW2; supplied equipment and expertise as part of your membership to NATO during the Cold War; and even found oil for you in the 1970’s….

        That’s gratitude for you.

        • Robert Neve

          Well technically the Russian’s helped us in WW2 as well. Ironic then they have now taken on the role and unfortunately this is one European bully the modern Britannia can not deal with.

          • Interrogative

            Well quite. As Britain (and it’s Commonwealth partners) couldn’t have defeated the Germans without our American cousins also.
            Hence we have NATO, which has done a pretty good job (but not perfect) of keeping the peace in Europe for the last 70 years.
            NOT the EU, as awarded by the inept muppets at the Nobel Peace Prize Committee in 2012.
            We will see how this plays out.

        • Tom Just Olsen

          Many countries helped us defeat our invaders; the Germans. Also Soviet Union.
          We have expressed gratitude for USA’s contribution. Like buying several hundred fighter jets since WWII, rockets, bombs, radars etc. We have bought – and holds, 88 B $ of US Treasury Bills. By this contribution to keeping the US$ up. Not any nation i know of have bought that much T-Bills per capita. Hardly any of our old allies have been showered with our gratitude as just USA.
          Number one winner of the race to utilize the wealth at our continental shelf, – besides the Norwegian State, were American oil companies. As you point to; oil companies were standing in line to get access.

      • Geir

        What you are saying is not true. It is only a fact in some internet comment fields, usually the ones about immigration. You can try saying taht you support Putin out loud, and then see what kind off looks you will get…

    • inquisitor

      If you don’t know anything about the US, Germany and France working behind the scenes to create a problem in Ukraine then you best start studying up.

      It was no accident that Nuland wanted an international IMF banker puppet installed in a leadership position and then offer Ukraine IMF loans. Enslaving a sovereign nation to the IMF so the west can control its natural resources and assets.

      Putin is not a good guy, but he did rightly defend his interests during a non-democratic, violent coup financed by western manipulators.

  • Robert Neve

    Or perhaps this time we should deal with the aggressor before he has half of Europe under his boot heel? If we let Russia do exactly what Hitler did for exactly the same reason (ethnic Germans in his case) then we will end up back in 1939. And then there won’t be Russia on the eastern front to split the army and nukes will be involved.

  • harrier

    It’s not Russia and the Russians it’s their pompous idiot leader that is taking them back in time to a far uglier time. Yes just a sneakier form of Hitler without the stash. The arrogance of a leader who’s Olympics reeked of false bravado while all the while planning his coup. Didn’t someone else hold an Olympics and then proceed to try and take over the world. Hummm.

    • Tom Just Olsen

      “the Russians it’s their pompous idiot leader…”

      Well. Sure. – The same can be said about US leaders, of which, quite a few are war criminals even. It is NATO that is expanding. Not Russia.

  • inquisitor

    America is being run by political psychopaths and will lead it to ruin.

    • Raympnd L Ingrey

      I take it you are refering to the republican Party that has yet to admit that they are still in the 19th Century and wish Obama was a slave. The USA is the dumbest English speaking nation on this Earth

      • inquisitor

        I am referring to radicalized neo-conservatives and neo-liberals bribed by corporate money and campaign contributions.

  • lloyd pirl

    I am not Norwegian but so what! I am very surprised that there are Norwegians who think the usa is as bad as Russia. how could they be so off base. the us considers Norway as a strong ally. there are more Norwegians of Norwegian decent in the us then living in Norway and many of them fought to help free Norway from Germany. if it came to it I believe they would fight Russia for the same reason.
    forgive the spelling and grammer at 80 and recovering from a stroke.

    • Tom Just Olsen

      I am surprised – that you are surprised.
      Fine that you consider us a strong ally. But Norway is a free country. People here are free. They can mean what they like without being considered ‘unpatriotic’.
      We don’t want to fight Russia. That would mean armageddon. We want to live in peace. Go wage your wars elsewhere.
      (Excuse my English. Norwegian is my mother tongue).

    • Virgin Pacific.Inc

      What you read is only peoples opinion. I am Norwegian and Norway do not look at USA the same as Russia.Norway is a free country. People here are free. They can mean what they like without being considered unpatriotic. We have more freedom then 90% of countries.

  • Вилидымир Гоунюк

    Being from a former Eastern Ukraine (Donetsk, Donbass region – exactly where this war is being waged right now) may I put my 5 cents? Russia does NOT have plans to claim a part of Norway’s territory (or any other European countries territory), and Putin is NOT a new Hitler with plans of annexations. Your news twist things in favor of Ukrainain gov and you never hear the other side. Well, here it is. We, former Ukrainian citizens of Crimea and South Eastern Ukraine HATE the state Ukraine has turned into and we are going to take it apart. We went through a forced ukrainization – ukros have closed our schools, moved Russian literature classes into “foreign” section, cut hours of Russian lang. for our children to 2 hours a week (mind you, ALL our cities are 100% Russian speaking, this is our ONLY native language). Than Americans have have staged this revolt in Kiev that has started as an anti-corruption and pro-EU and finished as an anti-Russian. CIA chief Biden was sitting in Ukr presidents chair, McCain was running around Maidan square in Kiev like a mad dog, Nuland said “fuck EU”, American “private” military companies have trained snipers and terror tactics – this is Americans who made ukros to call the whole population of South Eastern Ukraine “terrorists” – for them the whole world is made of terrorists. Crimea with its 2 mln population was always Russian, for centuries – and ukros started forced ukrainization there too, their slogan was Krim (Crimea) will be either ukrainian or depopulated”. In Kiev ukro ultra-nationalists took over the pro-EU revolution, ran around with shields that had 88 on them (eighth letter of German alphabet is H, 88 means Heil Hitler), played Horst Vessel at Kiev city council building all winter, have torch marches etc. – they copy German Nazis of 1930s – Germany is not a Nazi country today, Ukraine is quickly becoming one, and Europe wholly supports this junta “government”. And we watched all that. That’s why when Putin set the Referendum in Crimea, people there have overwhelmingly voted for separation and ripped all Ukrainian flags overnight and that’s why that “annexation” went without a single shot fired – Crimea’s population expelled Ukraine from their land and joined Russia immediately, they still have fireworks of joy every weekend. Now we, South East of former Ukraine have started our revolt. We had our own referendum on may 11th, we said to Ukraine and its American masters “go fuck yourself” and now we’re fighting a war with them. Russia helps us with some weapons, but this is NOT Russia – this is us, people of Donbass are fighting against Ukrainian junta and their army. This has nothing to do with any other country, we hate Ukraine and we want out of it, forever. American people don’t realize that their country became a world’s top terrorist organization – few hundred of people make giant money from US “defense” budget of 600 bln, USA starts wars and revolts, arms one side or the other or sends army there and those people supply this army – every cruise missile launched cost $655 000. Ukraina is only part of it, one of US main goals – ruin supply of Russian gas to Europe and replace it with their liquid shale gas, Joe Biden’s (CIA chiefs) son has just received license from Ukrainian gov. to extract the shale gas in my area too, in Donbass – if Ukraine took this area back. But it will not. Sorry, there is not enough space here to tell everything but at least try to logically filter the news you receive from your media.