Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre suddenly turned up at Ukraine’s Independence Day ceremonies in Kyiv on Thursday, and came bearing many gifts. While exact numbers remain unclear, Støre confirmed that Norway will follow other NATO allies in donating F16 jets to Ukraine, along with mine-clearance equipment and gas to ensure energy supplies.
Støre was warmly greeted by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky after an impromptu train ride from Poland (kept under wraps for security reasons) and a visit to a power station outside Kyiv that’s been bombed repeatedly by Russian forces. Ukraine’s energy minister reported six attacks on the power station last winter, apparently in an attempt by the Russians to freeze the Ukrainians into surrendering.
That didn’t happen and now Norway is donating NOK 1.5 billion worth of its North Sea gas to help maintain energy supplies as Ukraine continues to defend itself. The gas donations are part of a UN plan to raise USD 268 million to support Ukrainians through dark and cold winter months.
From there Støre’s entourage, which included several Norwegian journalists from media including state broadcaster NRK and newspaper Aftenposten, traveled on to Kyiv to take part in the Ukrainians’ 32nd Independence Day ceremonies since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. While thousands of Ukrainian refugees in Norway and elsewhere around Europe marked their Independence Day on August 24 as well, it took on special meaning since it also fell on the 18-month anniversary of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion on February 24, 2022.
Støre noted in his remarks in Kyiv that Norway, which has also suffered invasion (by Nazi German forces in 1940), can empathize with the Ukrainians over why independence is so important. “Independence day is a special day in my country, but in 2023 there’s no place where it’s as special as here,” Støre said.
Zelensky also seemed to borrow one of the Norwegian resistance fighters’ slogans during World War II, Vi Vil Vinne (We Will Win), during his own remarks: “We fight against the enemy, and we know what we can do. We know how we can win. And we will win.”
He’s long wanted figher jets to help in Ukraine’s battle to retain its independence. After the US finally allowed its allies to donate some of their US-made fighter jets to Ukraine, Denmark and the Netherlands confirmed donations of 19 and 42 respectively. On Thursday Norway’s neighbouring Sweden also indicated it may send some of its own domestically produced Gripen fighter jets, as long as its own defense was secured.
Norway had hesitated, however, with a commitment to send some of its newly retired F16s to Ukraine. Støre still wouldn’t say exactly how many F16s will be delivered, but both NRK and Aftenposten reported that a likely figures is somewhere between five and 10. Norway has already sold 32 of its F16s to Romania and another 12 to a US-based training group, leaving it with around a dozen after the entire fleet was replaced by new F35 fighter jets. Deliveries of Norway’s remaining F16s will depend on their condition and readiness.
Norway has, meanwhile, already committed to help train Ukrainian pilots to fly the F16s and that will take time. Criticism has flown that the jets should have been made available right after Russia invaded Ukraine, but donations hinged on the US approval that finally came this summer.
Aid to Ukraine has gone through a long process after Russia’s shocking invasion 18 months ago, with Norway clearly wanting to avoid any battles with its Russian neighbour in the north. Initial donations to Ukraine amounted to helmets and other protective gear, later evolving into anti-tank weapons, ammunition, anti-aircraft equipment and tanks last winter. It remains debatable whether fighter jets will actually enable Ukraine to prevail against its Russian invaders, but Støre made clear that Norway, its NATO allies and other democracies around the world think it’s most important to end this war on European soil.
Støre ended his whirlwind day in Ukraine with a visit to the renovated suburb of Butsja, scene of one of the worst massacres of local residents shortly after Russia invaded. He also visited a control unit for the Norwegian Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems (NASAMS) that Norway has donated earlier to help protect Ukrainian air space.
“Ukraine has an acute need for more military support and material support now,” Støre said. He said it “made a deep impression” on him to experience “the will and the ability the Ukrainians are showing to defend their country and their people. This war is also about Norway’s and Europe’s security, and we can never be indifferent to that.”
For an English version of Støre’s prepared remarks in Kyiv, click here (external link to the Norwegian government’s website).
The president of Lithuania, another former member-by-force of the collapsed Soviet Union, was also in Kyiv on Thursday and similarly hailed the Ukrainians for their bravery and willingness to defend their country. Now Lithuania is a member of NATO, and both he and Støre were keen to reinforce the message from NATO that Ukraine will receive support for as long as necessary.