They were on their feet even before he started speaking, and especially when Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky finished his short and straightforward address to the Norwegian Parliament on Wednesday afternoon. Members of Parliament gave him a lengthy standing ovation, just after Norway sent even more weapons to his war-torn country.
Claiming that “our hearts are bleeding” for the people of Ukraine who’ve been suffering from “the brutality and tyranny” of their Russian neighbour, the parliament’s president, Masud Gharahkhani, welcomed both Zelensky and Ukraine’s ambassador to Norway’s national assembly. Gharahkhani noted that it was an “historic” event: Only twice has the leader of another nation been invited to address the Norwegian Parliament: the former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in 1948, and now Zelensky, speaking by video link.
The Ukrainian leader got right down to business, noting how his country is being attacked “on the soil and on the sea” and claiming that the Russian invaders see “no prohibited targets, they attack everything.” He also warned of how mines are now drifting in the Black Sea, posing a major threat to all vessels from cruiseships to commercial and military vessels. Zelensky, clearly well aware that Norway is a shipping nation, appealed to its maritime soul that stretches back to Viking times. He reminded his audience that the “Norse” and Ukrainians had close family and even royal ties more than 900 years ago.
“We (Norway and Ukraine) don’t have common borders,” he said, “but we do have a common neighbour.” Russia and Norway share a border in the far northeast that has led to unique cooperation in the past, even during the Cold War. Not now.
Zelensky had three specific requests: more anti-aircraft missiles and other weapons to help Ukraine “also defend your freedom,” tougher sanctions especially within maritime equipment that could be strengthened “on a weekly basis,” and more production and distribution of natural gas to further reduce Europe’s reliance on Russian gas. He also wishes Norway would close its ports to Russian vessels, a difficult request because of longstanding agreements between Russia and Norway that regulate fishing and apply to joint search and rescue missions.
Despite the ongoing warfare that already has forced more than 4 million Ukrainians to flee their homeland, their president is already looking ahead to the time when the war will end and Ukraine will need massive investment to rebuild. He asked Norway to contribute to reconstruction efforts, to help clear away mines on land and at sea, to help care for and rehabilitate traumatized war victims and restore landmarks.
Zelensky ended his 20-minute address by stating that he and his Ukrainian government colleagues also plan, when the war is over, “to borrow one of your beautiful traditions:” having children, instead of the military, march in an annual parade to celebrate their country’s independence. It was a reference to Norway’s cherished 17th of May celebrations on Constitution Day, and it hit home. “We will invite you to come watch,” and stand together, Zelensky said, before the parliament burst into another lengthy standing ovation.
Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre, sitting front and center at the Ukrainian president’s address, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) afterwards that it made “a strong impression,” also that Zelensky himself is “still sitting upright after five weeks of bombing,” and looking to the future. Støre could state that Norway had just shipped off 2,000 more anti-tank defense weapons, similar to those shipped earlier, and that his government “would evaluate” sending more.
Norway has no intention of closing its harbours to Russian vessels, though, because of previous agreements in place and support for them in Parliament. Norway is, however, sending more emergency funding for health care in Ukraine. “We have stretched ourselves far,” Støre said, a reference to how Norway has never before provided weapons to any parties at war. Russia’s attack prompted an exception to the rule, which Zelensky acknowledged with gratitude on Wednesday. “We are grateful, especially for the armaments,” he said. “You have made historic steps.” Now, he claims, more are needed.
“The future of Europe and the entire continent is being decided now,” Zelensky said. “We have to stand together to stop the aggression of the Russian Federation.”