Oslo police felt obliged to offer the Russian Embassy some protection on Thursday. Demonstrations are expected through the weekend, after Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine in the early morning hours.
“I’m so angry that I just had to do something, so I came here,” one Norwegian woman who was among the first to arrive told newsinenglish.no. “We have a voice and should use it.”
She didn’t want to be identified, but was part of a small group of protesters who described themselves as Norwegians acting on their own initiative. They carried modest banners with anti-Russian slogans such as “get your dirty hands off Ukraine,” also some directed at Putin after casualty reports began to mount.
“We want to let Russia know that the Norwegian people condemn this attack on Ukraine,” said another protester, but he didn’t want to be identified either because of “how Russia operates.”
Massive condemnation already
Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre of the Labour Party, his predecessor and head of the opposition in Parliament Erna Solberg of the Conservatives, and a long string of other Norwegian officials had already been condemning both Putin’s first moves into Ukraine and then Putin’s invasion all day long. While one of the protesters claimed Russians “are not welcome in Europe any more,” though, Støre insists they are, also in Norway. As his foreign minister Anniken Huitfeldt had stated earlier this week, Norway “condemns Putin, not the Russians” and wants to maintain its “good neighbour” policy in the far north, where Russia and Norway share a border.
Støre conceded at a press conference on Thursday that “Russia’s authorities are making this difficult, and we must react.” He quickly added that “it’s important for me to stress that we are not reacting against the Russian people. Those from Russia and Ukraine who are here in Norway should feel safe. We are reacting against an authoritarian regime that has no respet for the values that for us are fundamentally tied to democracy, freedom, the rule of law and other countries’ sovereignty.”
Norway’s reaction to the Russian invasion of Ukraine is coming through its membership in the NATO defense alliance and standing together with the European Union, even though Norway is not a member of the EU. Norway is ready to go along with new economic sanctions against Putin, his government and many of the wealthy men who’ve been supporting him. Norway is also increasing its economic support of Ukraine by NOK 250 million, boosting humanitarian aid and political support, and contributing towards keeping the Ukraine crisis on the agenda at the UN Security Council, of which Norway is currently a member.
‘Many Norwegians feel uneasy today’
“Together with other member countries, Norway is working on a resolution that condemns Russia’s actions, its violation of the rule of law and its violation of the UN pact,” Støre said. Norway won’t be sending military support to Ukraine, since Ukraine is not a member of NATO, but is responding to a request from Ukraine’s ambassador in Oslo for more financial aid.
Støre said Norway, “in line with NATO’s routines,” was also beefing up its own defense forces’ “awareness and preparedness. We have good plans laid for that.” NATO has also taken steps to “protect member countries that need allied support to take care of their own security.” More NATO troops, for example, are being sent to former Soviet-dominated countries but are, Støre stressed, “only defensive in nature” and part of “well-planned” NATO measures.
Despite all the assurances of a united condemnation of Russia’s invasion and attacks on Ukraine, and Europe’s own united defense, Støre said he realized that “many Norwegians feel uneasy today. Some are afraid, and I understand that.” It’s been 82 years since Norway was invaded itself by an authoritarian regime (Nazi Germany) led by a man (Adolph Hitler) who used rough and demeaning language similar to that used by Putin during the past few days. Norway suffered through a five-year occupation, only to ironically enough by liberated in the far north by Soviet Russian forces that crossed the border in late 1944, pushed out the Nazis, and later retreated.
Norway is forever grateful for that, but now can’t accept how Putin crossed a line on Thursday that isn’t, according to Støre, just an invasion of a democratic Ukraine but “an attack on the free, democratic Europe.” Norway has also joined its allies in condemning Belarus and its own dictator, who’s long been beholden to Putin and allowed Russian forces to attack Ukraine from Belarus’ territory to the north.
Støre claimed “there is no doubt,” though, that “Russian authorities have the full and complete responsibility for what’s a new era for Europe and European security. Norway stands together with our allies in NATO and our partners in the EU and UN with a demand that Russia immediately halt the attack and seek a peaceful solution.”