Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre and the Norwegian government condemned Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision Monday evening to recognize the self-declared “people’s republics” of Luhansk and Donetsk in eastern Ukraine as independent countries. Norway called the decision a violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty, even before Putin also sought to legitimize an invasion of the entire country.
“Norway condemns the Russian decision,” declared Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt, a strong statement against Norway’ neighbour in the far north. Norway has actively supported efforts to resolve the conflict between Russia and Ukraine through diplomatic negotiations. Norway has long supported Ukraine, and joined sanctions against Russia following its highly controversial annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014.
Putin, however, seems determined to maintain a “sphere of influence” around Russia’s borders, not unlike what former Soviet states represented before the Soviet Union fell apart in the early 1990s. Russia lost its Soviet partners at the time and now seems determined to win at least some of them back, by force.
That’s firmly opposed by NATO, members of which now include several countries once dominated by Moscow. Norway is a founding member of NATO and “consistently supports Ukraine’s independence and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders,” Huitfeldt said.
Norway, currently a member of the UN Security Council, also supported an emergency meeting of the council following Putin’s declaration that in turn follows months of Russian troop build-up along Ukraine’s borders to Russia and Belarus. The build-up has raised tensions to a level not seen since the Cold War.
Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre, meanwhile, cancelled a planned trip to Sweden on Tuesday to travel instead to Brussels, where both NATO and the EU are responding to Putin’s remarks with condemnation and sanctions against Russia. The US is already poised to forbid any investments, trade or economic support from US citizens to anyone from or in Donetsk and Luhansk.
Støre was particularly concerned that Putin later Monday night reportedly said he’d be sending “peace-keeping” forces into Ukraine’s eastern regions. “That’s deeply troubling, we must wait until we get that confirmed,” Støre told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “In reality, that would be sending Russian forces into an area that the international community views as Ukraine’s territory.”
News bureau Reuters reported that Putin, meanwhile, justified his decision to send troops into Ukraine on historic grounds, calling Ukraine “an integrated part of our (Russia’s) own history.” He views eastern Ukraine as hisorically Russian land, and he claims the modern Ukraine was established by communist Russia during the Soviet era. Now, he claims, Ukraine is an “unsuccessful” country that was “stolen” from Russia, likening it to an American colony with a puppet government.
In a lengthy speech Monday night, Putin also demanded an immediate halt to all Ukrainian military operations in its eastern region, threatening reprisals from Russian forces if deemed necessary. One researcher at the Norwegian Institute for Defense Studies, Karen-Anna Eggen, told NRK it was all “a serious worsening on an already tense situation,” with Putin “going far to legitimize a Russian invasion of all of Ukraine.”
EU chief Ursula von der Leyen said the union will react with sanctions against Russia’s decision, claiming it violates international law and the Minsk agreement. Great Britain, no longer a member of the EU, responded to Putin’s declaration by confirming that it will also announce sanctions on Tuesday.
Norway will join in, Støre said. “It’s extremely serious when Russia now recognizes parts of Ukraine as separate republics,” Prime Minister Støre told news bureau NTB Monday night. “It’s a serious violation of the rule of law and an unacceptable attack on Ukraine’s territorial integrity.”