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Friday, May 20, 2022

Norway braces for ‘an historic test’

An unusually united Norwegian Parliament strongly supported Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre’s proposals on Friday to significantly boost Norway’ defense forces and its civilian preparedness. The country also, Støre warned, may need to take in as many as 100,000 refugees from Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre, addressing Parliament on Friday about what’s needed to deal with an increasingly unpredictable neighbour, Russia. PHOTO: Stortinget

With Russia now showing itself to be an unpredictable and brutal neighbour, Støre’s government is seeking and likely to get an extra NOK 3.5 billion (USD 400m) to strengthen its military defense and its civil defense in 2022. He said Norwegian forces need more money for everything from ammunition and weapons to better cooperation with other countries.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine three weeks ago will demand lots of extra and new response measures from Norway, Støre said in an address to Parliament Friday morning.

“We are facing a more unpredictable and aggressive Russian regime,” Støre said. “Our neighbour Russia is exerting massive military power against civilians, and shows few signs of using diplomatic channels.” He added that “we know that this crisis can put us to an historic test.”

Earlier this week his government announced plans to take in 30,000 Ukrainian  refugees. By Friday morning the number had risen to 100,000: “We’re working with measures to handle challenges we see coming,” Støre said, now also with “an extraordinary situation with up to 100,000 refugees. That’s not probable, but we must have plans and be prepared because it can happen. Then we’ll have to consider accommodating them in warehouses, halls or tent camps, options we normally don’t use.”

Norway and Russia have long co-existed as good neighbours in the far north, even during the Cold War. Putin’s sheer behaviour in recent weeks, however, along with his harsh and surprisingly crude language, indicates a major change in his approach and his regime, members of which appear too terrified to oppose him.

It’s Putin’s willingness to resort to direct attacks on civilians, and bomb everything from residential apartment buildings to schools and hospitals in Ukraine, that’s most worrying, and forcing Norway to adapt to a new reality. That means, according to Prime Minister Støre, more investment in the Norwegian Navy (Sjøforsvaret), the Army (Hæren) and the home guard (Heimevernet). “We will sail more with all the Navy’s vessels, and we will strengthen our abilities within surveillance and awareness in the north,” he declared. “We will also strengthen the police’s ability to uncover and confront intelligence threats.”

Støre also held a press conference after his historic address to Parliament on Friday, when he asked and will receive more funding to also deal with the crisis in Ukraine. PHOTO: SMK

The government is also asking for an extra NOK 500 million to strengthen civil defense and security at the local level, from Norway’s biggest cities to small local communities. As previously warned, the government also expects more digital attacks against both public- and private sector organizations. Støre therefore wants to strengthen Norway’s ability to prevent, ward off and handle digital attacks. “We will come back to the Parliament with an assessment of digital security this autumn,” Støre said.

He added that it’s important to strengthen Norway’s ties to Finland and Sweden further, no matter how important Norway’s NATO membership is. He said NATO has called in the leaders of all member countries for a summit next week, to discuss the war in Ukraine and the alliance’s response.

Støre is also acutely aware that businesses and local governments in Norway’s northernmost region of Finnmark now face much tougher times ahead. A decline in the cross-border contact that had led to cooperation and mutual benefits between Norway and Russia in a variety of areas now threatens the local economy. One large ship repair yard that had lots of Russian fishing boats as customers is already having to lay off workers because the Russian firms no longer can pay their bills, in turn because of economic sanctions. The government thus proposes more support funding, especially for eastern Finnmark, and is already allocating NOK 50 million for businesses hit hardest by the sanctions.

‘Strong support in this room’
Støre said that he sensed “strong support in this room (the Parliament),” also for the need to support Ukraine and Ukrainian refugees. “It’s a great strength for our country, that we are unified in crisis times,” he said.

His proposals and appeals were well-received. The Conservatives’ Erna Solberg, leader of the opposition in Parliament, also stressed how important it was for the Norwegian Parliament to stand together now.

“The situation we’re in now demands that we stand together, that we do our best, that we mobilize the best resources,” Solberg said from the podium after Støre’s address. “I can guarantee the government that we will contribute with good proposals, good ideas and our experience in handling crises.”

Audun Lysbakken of the Socialist Left Party (SV), which has long opposed NATO membership, was also quick to declare support for Støre’s minority left-center government coalition. It generally relies on SV for support.

“I want to praise the government for taking a clear stand in solidarity with the Ukrainian people,” Lysbakken said “It’s good that we’re now arranging transport for Ukrainian refugees in Moldova.”

Neither Solberg nor Lysbakken could resist the chance to offer a bit of criticism, though. Lysbakken claimed that Norway “must also evaluate methods” for taking in its share of other refugees, while Solberg commented that Norway is among countries in Europe reacting latest to Ukraine’s pleas for help.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund

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