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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

War news round-up: Parliament now united on arms to Ukraine

NOTE TO READERS: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year has had enormous consequences for the rest of Europe, also for Norway. The following rundown offers various reports about how Norway, which shares a border with Russia in the far north, is directly affected and how it’s responding to the ongoing war in Ukraine.

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NORWAY’S FAR-LEFT REDS PARTY HAS FINALLY DECIDED to support the ongoing delivery of weapons and other military equipment to Ukraine. The Reds had been the only party in the Norwegian Parliament to object to weapons support, equating it to active war-mongering, but Putin’s invasion pushed a solid majority of Reds’ members too far.

Reds leader Bjørnar Moxnes could smile after his far-left party also agreed to support Ukraine with weapons. From left, fellow Reds’ leaders Silje Kjosbakken and Marie Sneve Martinussen. PHOTO: Rødt/Ihne Pedersen

Debate was long and hard at the party’s annual meeting during the weekend, with most all of the party’s leadership supporting arms shipments to prevent a Russian victory over Ukraine. Members who traditionally have also opposed Norway’s membership in NATO argued strongly, though, against support for Ukraine in the form of weapons. “It’s akin to supporting NATO’s direct involvement in the war in Ukraine,” Marielle Leraand told newspaper Aftenposten. “The Reds are therefore no longer a party on the left side.”

By a vote of 107-74, a majority of her party colleagues nonetheless favoured weapon support, as long as it doesn’t include fighter jets or Norwegian soldiers. They agreed to take a new position on the issue, conceding that without all the weapon support so far, Ukraine would have fallen victim to a “chauvinistic, right-wing nationalistic Russian regime” that has “declared imperialistic ambitions.” Therefore, the party concluded, weapon support is “correct … in the fight for independence and peace, when Ukrainians ask for it.”

Party leader Bjørnar Moxnes was pleased and denied the party is now split. He stressed that his party has always supported Ukraine and condemned Russia’s invasion “from day one.” Leraand and around 60 others have decided to leave the party, but the defections don’t worry Moxnes either: “That’s not so many when we have around 14,000 members.”

It means that Ukraine can now more than likely count on unanimous support in the Norwegian Parliament for more weapons and ammunition in addition to training and humanitarian aid. A group of around 100 Ukrainian soldiers, for example, arrived in Norway this week for a month of training and restitution, to be followed by six more groups by the end of the year.

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The Reds Party isn’t the only Norwegian political party to radically change its position on defense issues since Russia invaded Ukraine. The Socialist Left (SV) has also backed away from its traditional opposition to NATO, and no longer wants Norway to withdraw from the defense alliance.

On the contrary, SV leaders have supported Finland’s and Sweden’s bids to join NATO. SV long preferred a defense alliance with Norway’s Nordic neighbours instead, but Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggression has changed that.

“The party’s ideals about peace couldn’t tolerate a war in Europe,” wrote political commentator Kjetil B Alstadheim in newspaper Aftenposten. SV has also gone along with weapon support for Ukraine, after the rest of Parliament scrapped decades of refusing in principle to export defense material from its large weapons industry to countries at war.

Party leaders, like those at the Reds (see above) have accepted that “things have changed in the world,” Alstadheim wrote, and that “there is no alternative to NATO now.”

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Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt called it “a very special day” when Finland’s flag was raised outside NATO headquarters in Brussels earlier this month. “It feels very historic,” Huitfeldt told news bureau NTB.

Norway’s Jens Stoltenberg, secretary general of NATO, also called it “historic” when he met reporters afterwards. Now the pressure is on Hungary and Turkey to finally approve Sweden’s membership, too. Both have dragged out the process, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan complaining that Sweden is sheltering Kurdish residents whom he claims are terrorists.

Huitfeldt told NTB that “we’re doing what we can to support Sweden in this situation. They fulfill all the criteria for NATO membership, which I will continue to stress.”

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Norway’s troubled Labour-Center government coalition has had to tolerate a lot of criticism lately, also over how it reacted to and handled the first phase of Russia’s war on Ukraine. The parliament’s control and disciplinary committee thinks the government was slow in its initial response to Ukraine’s calls for help.

The committee claims, for example, that it took the government 223 days to send off material to build temporary bridges to replace bombed ones, and that wounded Ukrainians haven’t been transported to Norway for medical treatment quickly enough either. Committee leader Peter Frølich of the Conservative Party blames a lack of coordination among government ministries, a lack of priorities and political action.

Newspaper VG even reported last fall that the government had stopped its transport of wounded soldiers to Norway for health care because of disagreement over whether they should pay for a portion of their threatment. “That was painful to even read,” editorialized newspaper Dagsavisen.

Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre of the Labour Party claims the opposition in Parliament is mistaken and that Ukrainians themselves have expressed gratitude for Norway’s humanitarian, economic and military aid. “But these are completely new assignments for us, and we’ve had to link civilian capacity to transport and delivery in a war zone. We’re working hard and learning all the time.”

At least Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has seemed pleased, especially with the delivery of tanks and NASAMS air defense systems. “Your country (Norway) has really done a lot for our soldiers so they can be strong on the battlefield,” Zelensky said on his government’s website last month.

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While some fear support for Ukraine can wane as Putin’s war drags on, public support remains high and most Norwegian media argue strongly in favour of ongoing aid. “We must give Ukraine all the support possible,” editorialized newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) recently, adding that Putin seems likely to continue his war on Ukraine despite huge losses if only to save himself, because defeat could mean the end of his regime.

“Putin is behaving like earlier authoritarian Russian power mongers, by using brutal fore to win international influence,” wrote DN. “That can’t be met with rational arguments, only force in return will make an impression.”

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For earlier news items about the consequences of Russia’s war on Ukraine in Norway, click here.

NewsinEnglish.no/Nina Berglund

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