A new survey shows that one out of every three Norwegians now fears potential acts of war. Police claim those fears “unnecessarily” rose Thursday, after a bomb threat lodged against a large gas processing plant on Norway’s west coast proved to be false, but questions remain about just how scared and prepared residents should be.
Thursday’s incident at the Nyhamna gas plant in Aukra, just northeast of Molde, set off a full evacuation of the sprawling facility that processes gas from the Ormen Lange and Aasta Hansteen offshore fields. The threat was phoned in Thursday morning and set off a full emergency response.
Both police, rescue services and soldiers from Norway’s home guard (Heimevernet) were on the scene, ferries to and from the island were halted and production was temporarily shut down. Police wouldn’t comment on the exact contents of the threat, but later linked it to the same man who rang in a threat against a Hurtigruten ship sailing in the area last week. He lives in Trøndelag and was arrested Thursday afternoon.
It only took around an hour before police could call off the emergency that “created unnecessary fears,” according to Aukra Mayor Odd Jørgen Nilssen. He acknowledged to state broadcaster NRK that the threat was serious and he’d begun setting up a local crisis team, but was clearly frustrated: “This sharpens our preparedeness, but it’s absolutley not anything we want.”
Local residents were already jittery after Norway’s oil and gas installations suddenly emerged as prime targets following the suspected sabotage of two pipelines in the Baltic Sea that used to send Russian gas to Europe. After Russia allegedly started using its gas as a weapon and cut off supplies in a move tied to its war on Ukraine, Norway has become the largest supplier of gas to Europe, making it more vulnerable to sabotage as well.
“No one wants a situation like this,” Jan Soppeland of Shell, which operates the gas plant, told NRK. “We’re glad this was cleared up so quickly and that production can now get back to normal.” Shell offered a debriefing for all employees, will use the incident as a lesson and examine the emergency response.
Other offshore workers have also been nervous, prompting Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre to fly out to the Sleipner platform to reassure workers. Espionage threats have swirled around offshore installations for years, but only recently have naval and air forces been sent out to patrol them and other critical land-based infrastructure now considered targets of anyone wanting to cut off Norway’s gas to Europe.
This week also brought news via satellite photos that Russia has now moved 11 strategic bomber aircraft to its Olenja base on the Kola Peninsula, only around 200 kilometers (120 miles) from the Norwegian border in the far north. Newspaper Aftenposten reported how the aircraft have the capacity to attack targets in the US and all of Europe with nuclear bombs.
The reported relocation of the aircraft from a base 720 kilometers southeast of Moscow comes just as Russia was about to begin announced military exercises over the Barents Sea this weekend. Asked whether they also indicate that Russia’s war on Ukraine has come closer to Norway, Lars Peder Haga of Norway’s Luftkrigsskolen (air force college) noted that “it’s never been far from us. Russian training patterns over the past decade suggest Russia sees a tighter strategic connection between military operations in the Baltic, the Black Sea and the northern areas.”
Haga also said the deployment and training with strategic bombers “are a form for nuclear deterrents,” and can be seen as part of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent threats of nuclear strikes. Professor Katarzyna Zysk at Norway’s Institute for Defense Studies agreed, telling Aftenposten that Putin may be trying to give his recent threats more credibility. The head of Norway’s defense intelligence unit E-tjenesten thinks the threats must be taken seriously, especially since Putin’s war is not going well for him: “We must listen to the Russians when they speak openly and threaten to use nuclear weapons,” said Nils Andreas Stensønes, a former chief of the Norwegian Navy. “They’ve moved a barrier by threatening that.”
Others downplay the threats, with Lt Col Geir Hågen Karlsen of the Naval War College (Sjøkrigsskolen) telling newspaper Dagsavisen that “Russia knows they would lose a war against NATO.” Autumn is also traditionally viewed as a time for military exercises and higher activity among Russian defense forces. Norway and NATO have also signalled more exercises, and a spokesman for Norwegian Defense Chief Eirik Kristoffersen said the Norwegian military was “monitoring the situation continually.”
Aftenposten editorialized this week that “Putin’s war has turned into pure terror,” pointing to all the attacks on Ukrainian cities and civilian targets that began on Monday. Several Norwegian defense experts believe Putin “seems desperate” by resorting to his nuclear threats and “terror bombing” of Kyiv and other civilian targets in Ukraine.
Despite years of cooperation between Norway and Russia in both countries’ northern areas, though, and repeated statements that Norwegian officials “condemn Putin, not Russians in general,” there’s a growing sense of nervousness. A recent survey conducted by research firm InFact for radio news station P4 Nyhetene found that 29 percent of Norwegian fear acts of war in Norway, while less than half (48 percent) do not. Women were more concerned than men and older Norwegians more concerned than younger.
Some think Norwegians, most of whom continue living life as normal and are back flying off on holidays abroad, aren’t taking the situation seriously enough. “It’s like the summer of 1939 again,” historian Asle Sveen told foreign correspondents in Oslo recently, referring to how Norwegians didn’t take the Nazi German threat seriously enough either before Germany invaded Norway on April 9, 1940. There have been other concerns that Norwegians “aren’t scared enough” right now, with Henrik Urdal of the Oslo-bsed peace research institute PRIO saying he’s been worried “for the past year.”
Psychologist Peder Kjøs acknowledges that the war is “coming closer” to Norway: “When the Home Guard is being called to duty, it’s not so strange that people get worried.” Kjøs told newspaper Dagsavisen, that he’s worried himself, but he urged Norwegians “to stay informed about the realities, so that you’re afraid of what you should be afraid of, and don’t go around being anxious for things you don’t need to fear.”
Atle Dyregrov, another psychologist specializing in crises, isn’t surprised younger Norwegians are much less worried than older, while Karlsen of the war college thinks Russia “is struggling more than enough with its war against Ukraine, so we are far from a war scenario here.”