Foreign Minister Børge Brende fears the escalating tensions in eastern Ukraine could develop into full-scale war. He said tougher sanctions against Russia may be needed, while other Norwegian politicians called for a halt to oil exploration work near the border that could potentially benefit Russia.
“I fear that we can face the same situation as in the Crimean Peninsula,” Brende told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Monday. “Then the Ukrainian soldiers will probably answer this time. It can end in a bloodbath in the heart of Europe. It is a very dangerous situation in Ukraine. I strongly hope we find a diplomatic solution. If we can’t, this ends in war. If Russia goes in through an intervention, there are 140,000 Ukrainian soldiers who will answer that.”
Brende cut short an official visit to the USA and Mexico this weekend after a fresh wave of violence broke out. On Sunday, Russian-speaking residents of Ukraine stormed public buildings and barricaded them off, sparking more fighting. Government buildings in at least 10 cities were occupied by Monday afternoon. The pro-Russian paramilitaries are increasingly referring to the “People’s Republic of Donetsk” and have made a flag symbolizing the republic. Brende returned home to take part in meetings on the Ukraine crisis and the threats posed by Russian troops.
“There are 40,000 Russian soldiers on the border and we see pro-Russian paramilitary activists who are kindling the conflict and have taken many buildings in the eastern parts of Ukraine,” Brende told NRK, but he stopped short of saying the paramilitaries were Russian. “The are well organized, many of them wear uniforms, many have very advanced weapons, but I think I will not go further than that.”
More meetings in Europe
On Thursday, Russian and Ukrainian representatives are due to meet in Geneva to begin talks. European and American delegates will also be at the negotiating table. Brende said Russia had to commit to pulling its troops back from the border and controlling the paramilitaries for the meeting to be a success.
France meanwhile called for an EU summit to discuss imposing stronger sanctions, which would build on the current financial penalties against some individuals, a bank and a gas company. Both the US and UK agreed stronger penalties were needed, with America suggesting the Russian finance, energy, mining, defense and industrial sectors could be targeted.
Brende agreed stronger sanctions to impact on the Russian economy may prove necessary. “If Russia continues to escalate the situation, it may be appropriate to impose restrictive economic measures,” he told NRK.
In Norway, some politicians called for a halt to oil exploration projects that Russia stands to benefit from, reported newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) on Tuesday. The leader of the parliamentary energy and environment committee, Liberal (Venstre) politician Ola Elvestuen, said Norway must strengthen sanctions against the Russian authorities, and ultimately be prepared to freeze several bilateral agreements.
“Because of the situation in the Crimean Peninsula we should wait with exploration along the border,” Elvestuen said. Norway and Russia share a boundary north of the arctic circle. “Here the find is expected to go over the national border. It is unclear how such a find would eventually be shared between Russia and Norway.”
The Conservative (Høyre) party’s parliamentary leader and energy and environment committee member, Nikolai Astrup, said Norwegian exploration work during the licensing rounds should continue as planned. “I think we should not let Russians decide Norwegian policy,” he told DN. “If we take a step back, then it will be to resign.”
Fellow committee member Per Rune Henriksen of the Labour Party (Arbeiderpartiet, Ap) agreed with Astrup. Henriksen said there were mechanisms for dealing with a resource find that stretched over the Russian border, but admitted allocation of resources following a discovery could be difficult when many licenses and owners were involved.