Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg adopted a tougher tone towards Russia as she arrived for the NATO summit meeting in Wales on Thursday. She’s worried about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s nationalism and she’s not alone, as Russia’s recent aggression against Ukraine dominated the meeting’s agenda.
Many, Solberg included, hope that her predecessor as prime minister of Norway, incoming NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, can ease tensions between Russia and NATO. Stoltenberg has met Putin on several occasions and his appointment as the new NATO boss was well-received in Moscow when it was announced. Solberg hopes Stoltenberg, who’s widely viewed as a well-liked leader, can contribute to a new and better climate of cooperation between Russia and NATO. That may well be why Stoltenberg was seemingly hand-picked for the job by highly respected German Chancellor Angela Merkel, also known for having a calm and reassuring tone.
“Every new secretary general and any shift of leadership contributes towards new entryways for discussions,” Solberg told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “That may be what we need now, and maybe we’ll get a different tone from Putin towards NATO.”
She noted, though, that more will be needed to solve the crisis in eastern Europe. “We can’t underestimate the strength of the Russian nationalism that Putin stands for,” Solberg told NRK on its popular early morning radio program Politisk Kvarter. “It doesn’t matter as much who is secretary general of NATO as how the leadership around Putin reacts. That’s why it’s also important with goal-oriented sanctions, to weaken the support for their nationalistic line.”
Solberg also stressed that neither NATO or Norway, which shares a border with Russia, “can sit still in the boat” and simply accept Russia’s actions against Ukraine. “We can’t let a country stand there without support from other countries when a huge neighbouring country in fact annexes a part of the country,” Solberg said. “Russia is contributing to acts of war inside Ukraine by supporting the separatists. At the moment there are military personnel tied to Russia on the ground in Ukraine. I believe it would be completely wrong not to show support for Ukraine, by helping and modernizing the Ukrainian military.”
Then she softened her tone a bit, saying that “still, the most important things we can do will be at the political level, to get Russia to pull back and stop supporting the separatists.”
Stoltenberg was scheduled for a cameo appearance at the NATO summit in Cardiff, Wales where he was to be formally introduced, but he won’t take over until October 1. Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the outgoing secretary general from Denmark, has made it clear he remains in charge and Stoltenberg has been careful not to steal the spotlight.
Rasmussen, who has said that Russia’s intervention in Ukraine has posed “the most serious threat to the security of Europe since the Cold War,” also believes that the crisis must be solved politically. Even though Ukraine is getting support from NATO allies to strengthen its own defense, he made it clear NATO won’t engage in military action on Ukraine’s behalf. “There’s a difference between being a member of NATO and not being a member,” he said, noting that Ukraine is not a NATO member even though it’s now expressing a desire to become one. “We have faith in a political solution.”