Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg has forcefully rejected what she called “Cold War rhetoric” from Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev over the weekend. Just hours after leaving an international security conference in Munich, she blamed Russia for stirring up rising tensions between Russia and many other countries over the past two years.
“It was Russia that violated the Rule of Law (through its annexation of Crimea) and it’s Russia that has bombed Aleppo (in Syria),” Solberg declared at a board meeting of her own Conservative Party back in Norway on Sunday. Newspaper Aftenposten reported how she arrived at the meeting straight from the Munich Security Conference in Germany that was attended by national political leaders, foreign and defense ministers from around the world.
It was at that meeting that Medvedev, who as president of Russia was friendly and cooperative with his country’s Norwegian neighbour just a few years ago, claimed the world had entered a new Cold War. In his address at the conference, Medvedev claimed that Russia, “on almost a daily basis,” is called one of the worst threats either to Europe, the US or NATO. He cited other western leaders’ rhetoric that made him wonder “whether we are in 2016 or 1962.”
Solberg listened to Medvedev’s speech and flatly denied that a Cold War is gaining a grip on Europe. She conceded that some developments are indeed “worrisome,” but told news bureau NTB that the “situation we have today is because Russia broke the Rule of Law. It was absolutely necessary that (western countries) responded to that (by means of imposing economic sanctions against Russia, for example).”
Back home in Norway, Solberg went further. Aftenposten reported that Solberg suggested the Russian rhetoric is part of an attempt to create an erroneous picture of who is guilty of building security tensions. Her remarks are significant, since Norway and Russia (which share a border in the far north) have long enjoyed relatively good relations, even during the depths of the earlier “Cold War” that gripped the world for decades after World War II. Now those relations appear sorely tested.
“We’re standing in a more demanding security- and political situation than we have for a long time,” Solberg told party fellows. She called Medvedev’s new “‘Cold War’ … a characteristic that I don’t think applies,” adding that residents of Aleppo in Syria have been experiencing daily that what’s happening is much more than claims about a Cold War: “Bombs are dropping down on their heads!” Russia has justified the bombing as part of its attempt to halt the brutal terrorist group IS, while US and European leaders complain Russia is making the situation worse by continuing to back the Syrian government, which many hold responsible for creating and refusing to halt Syria’s devastating civil war that’s also set off the current refugee crisis.
Questioning Medvedev’s intentions
Solberg repeated that current tensions with Russia can be blamed on Russia’s own actions, not NATO’s, referring to Russia’s contested annexation of Crimea and its military intervention in eastern Ukraine. She characterized Medvedev’s statements in Munich as an attempt to shirk responsibility and make a geopolitical play. “That sort of rhetoric, we won’t go along with it,” she said.
She stressed to Aftenposten that questions must be raised as to why Medvedev said what he did, and met widespread opposition from many other international leaders from US Secretary of State John Kerry to NATO’s Norwegian chief, Jens Stoltenberg.
“He’s saying what he’s saying because he’s trying to make it all look like two equal parts,” Solberg told Aftenposten. “In his picture of the world, NATO has expanded,” noting that Russia’s ambassador to NATO had rhetorically asked where Russia’s European borders go. “Most of us know that the borders for Russia are Russia’s own borders. They have another picture.”
Guarding the north
That suggests an underlying belief that Russia under its authoritarian president, Vladimir Putin, is trying hard to re-establish at least some form of the old Soviet Union that collapsed in the early 1990s. Feeling threatened by NATO’s expansion, and perhaps backed into a corner, some analysts think Putin’s Russia is exerting its own brand of imperialism, or simply wants to be taken seriously as a refortified superpower.
Solberg told her Conservative Party colleagues on Sunday that instability in both the east and the south can affect Norway, stressing how strategically important the northern areas also are for Russia. It’s important NATO follow that closely along with Norway, she stressed.
“Our job is to make sure that the areas we are most concerned with, and that aren’t burning now, also get attention,” Solberg said. “because we know that a conflict that rears elsewhere can suddenly have an effect also in our areas.”