The Norwegian government has joined NATO’s condemnation of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military intervention in Ukraine and its escalation during the weekend. Foreign Minister Børge Brende called it “a very dangerous situation” and said Russia has violated Ukrainian sovereignty by placing “considerable” numbers of armed military personnel on and around Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.
Brende, who landed back in Norway on Monday after meetings with leaders in Singapore and Myanmar (Burma) over the weekend, said Russia is now “obligated” to answer Ukraine’s urgent request for “dialogue.” He added that “the next few days will be decisive” in order “to resolve the crisis without the use of violence.”
There was some relief Monday that Putin reportedly had agreed to an initiative for such dialogue launched by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. A crisis mood nonetheless prevailed after Russia’s initial “sabre rattling” over Ukraine’s efforts to form a new government, which is unlikely to be as conciliatory towards Russia as its former one, escalated to what many called an occupation by Monday.
‘Must respect territorial integrity’
Brende told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Monday morning that Russia must respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity. After a weekend that also saw locally resident Ukrainians and Russians demonstrating against Russia’s military intervention and escalation in the rain outside Norway’s parliament in Oslo, Brende said that Russia bears “heavy responsibility” for relieving tensions in Ukraine. Prime Minister Erna Solberg also went on national TV Sunday evening to call for both Russian and Ukrainian leaders to “calm down” and start talking.
Norway is a member of NATO and shares a border with Russia in the far north, putting the country once again in a challenging position. While Norway is expected to follow NATO’s lead, the country also is keen to maintain good relations with its Russian neighbour. Norwegian leaders both in the new conservative government and the former left-center government have, however, repeatedly expressed mounting concerns over what appears to be Putin’s increasing lust for power and alarming degree of authoritarianism.
Brende, in a statement issued through the Foreign Ministry on Sunday, claimed that Russia’s military intervention and escalation in southeast Ukraine is a violation of the rule of law and UN conventions to which Russia has agreed. He stressed that Ukraine is “an important NATO partner and a neighbour to several NATO members. Norway also has a long history of ties to Kiev back to Viking times.
‘Violating fundamental agreements’
“Through its military actions and threats of further use of military power, Russia is violating fundamental agreements it has made through the UN Charter, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), The Council of Europe and the NATO-Russian Council, Brende said. “It is an important signal that NATO has expressed full support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.”
Russia has responded that it felt a need to protect ethnic Russians living in Ukraine. Putin is also keen to protect its strategically important military bases on the Crimean Peninsula, and clearly wants to maintain some sense of control over Russia’s neighbouring countries, not least as a buffer to the EU.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, meanwhile, is desperately trying along with other EU and NATO leaders, to avoid what some fear could be an all-out war in Europe, as Putin’s armies attempt to intimidate Ukrainians and threaten to spark more violence. Some Norwegian defense officials worried that Russian forces led by Putin were looking for an excuse to start shooting, which could come in the form of what Russian leaders likely would attempt to justify as a response to a single act of violence by a Ukrainian.
Sverre Diesen, Norway’s former defense chief, thinks Russian leaders ultimately wants to avoid the actual use of military force, realizing it would be an international public relations disaster and, at the very least, spark sanctions against Russia. “There is, though, no doubt that they’re able to use military force if the choice is between that and watching all of Ukraine slip out of the Russian sphere of influence,” Diesen told NRK.
Putin reportedly has agreed, however, to Merkel’s proposal to take part in a “contact group” for Ukraine that would be led by the OSCE. That’s an international group that was heavily involved in trying to restore stability after years of war in the Balkans, and was headed by a former Norwegian foreign minister, Knut Vollebæk.