Turkey and Russia pose ‘complications’

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Norway strives to be a peacemaker around the world, but has complicated relations of its own with such countries as China and neighbouring Russia. More “complicated” relations, according to an internal foreign ministry report, have emerged lately with Turkey but Foreign Minister Børge Brende claims they’re being addressed.

“Turkey is at a crossroads,” Foreign Minister Børge Brende declared in his own annual address to Parliament on Tuesday. He couldn’t spend much time on bilateral relations with specific countries in his already lengthy speech, but Turkey was accorded several lines because of the important if increasingly controversial role it plays in the refugee and Middle East crises.

Cooperating amidst alarm
After years of improving relations with the European Union and other western democracies, Turkey’s authoritarian president has alarmed his countries’ allies with his crackdowns on political opposition, demonstrators, the courts and journalists. Norwegian leaders, not least Brende, have been called upon to put pressure on the Turkish government to act more democratically and tolerate criticism.

Brende noted how Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan have been bearing the greatest burdens during the refugee crisis. They’ve taken in millions of people fleeing Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, and deserve ample support. Turkey, Brende said, is at a crossroads as it faces huge challenges with increased levels of conflict and violence and pressure on human rights.

“Europe is completely dependent on good cooperation with Turkey, in the short term because of the migration pressure, in the longer term because we need a stable Turkey as an important regional player in an extremely unstable area,” Brende said. Turkey is also “NATO’s southern flank,” he noted, “and Europe must engage itself and support Turkey in today’s demanding situation.” He ominously noted that the most “critical phase” of the refugee crisis “may lie before us, if the stream of refugees through Turkey and Libya doesn’t abate.”

At the same time, Brende insisted, “we are expressing clear political expectations to Ankara.” He has said earlier that he’s expressed Norway’s concerns to his Turkish counterparts over their crackdowns on freedom of the press, justice and human rights within Turkey.

Russian relations
Russia commanded more of Brende’s attention, as it usually does for any Norwegian foreign minister but especially now as it “continues to orient itself away from democratic and liberal values,” he said. He described a Russia that’s become “more unpredictable, with a great will to surprise and take foreign policy risks.” Brende stressed how Norway has condemned Russia’s violation of international law in Ukraine, “and we will continue to stand together with our allies and like-minded partners on the reactions to Russia’s conduct in Crimea and Donbass.” Norway, he said, will continue to support Ukraine’s reform efforts both politically and financially.

Norway is also worried about Russia’s “steadily more offensive military support to Assad” in Syria through its “massive bombing of opposition groups” that have resulted in large numbers of civilian casualties, while “we have seen fewer attacks against (terror group) IS, which the entire world community agrees on fighting.”

The situation is made more complicated by the tensions between Russia and fellow NATO ally Turkey, Brende noted, adding that it was important to keep tensions from mounting further either through rhetoric or actions.

Brende then reverted, however, to how important it also is remain on good terms with Russia as its northerly neighbour. “We want a good neighbourly relationship with Russia,” he said. “Norway will be predictable, consistent and clear towards Russia. We will promote cooperation and contact where we have common interests and we will continue to stand up for our values, principles and interests.” That applies especially in the northern areas, he said, the recent  arrivals of thousands of refugees traveling through Russia “has been a demanding challenge.” He claimed they’d “found solutions,” illustrating how both Norway and Russia are best-served with stability around their shared border.

While military cooperation has been suspended following Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, Brende noted now Norway and Russia are still cooperating on border and coastal patrol, fisheries management and search and rescue operations. The two countries also signed an agreement regarding “practical procedures” for warning of any nuclear incidents.

A few words about China
As for China, which topped Brende’s agenda when he took over as foreign minister in the fall of 2013, it only warranted a few mentions in Brende’s lengthy address. Diplomatic relations between Norway and China froze in 2010 over China’s angry reaction to the awarding of a Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, and Brende was determined to mend them. More pressing crises quickly became a higher priority, and relations haven’t thawed much since.

Brende referred in his address to China’s economic “growing pains” and to “superpower rivalries” that can make it difficult to achieve international agreement on solutions to conflicts “from Syria to the South China Sea.” While it’s “easy to understand” how newly rising superpowers “want more influence in the world,” he said the “multilateral system must reflect the world in 2016,” not 1945.

“We’re closely following economic development in China, in the hopes the country won’t make a ‘hard landing’ that would have consequences all over Asia,” Brende said, adding later that “it is in Norway’s interests to normalize the bilateral relation with China.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund