They’re not getting as much as recommended or requested, but Norwegian defense officials can at least look forward to a 20 percent increase in their budget for next year. It will help Norway meet its commitments to NATO and Ukraine, and boost security in a troubled world.
Roughly a third of the additional NOK 15 billion in defense spending will need to cover price- and wage growth, reports newspaper Aftenposten, while the other NOK 10 billion will be split between more aid for Ukraine and a strengthening of defense at home. After years of cutbacks and base closures, Norway now needs more highly trained personnel and facilities to meet new security demands after its neighbouring Russia invaded Ukraine last year.
High on the list of a defense commission, which sought at least twice what the government proposes in its new state budget, are more naval vessels and improved air defense systems. Defense Chief Eirik Kristoffersen has also issued new demands including more helicopters, but what’s most needed are soldiers and other well-trained personnel to operate everything from new fighter jets to ships, and help train Ukrainians. This weekend’s attacks on Israel further set the world on edge, as conflicts range from the Pacific to the Atlantic and in between.
The Russian missiles that killed more than 50 Ukrainians last week in a new wave of aggression have confimed the need for ongoing aid to Ukraine even as attention shifted to the Middle East. Norway has also committed more billions from its Oil Fund to help Ukraine in a manner that won’t overheat its own economy. The new state budget presented on Friday intends to tap a total of NOK 410 billion from the Oil Fund, less than the 3 percent of its total assets that’s allowed to balance the budget. Total defense spending will account for 1.8 percent of GNP, closer to NATO’s demand of 2 percent.
As concerns rise that some countries’ support for Ukraine may be waning as Russia’s war drags on, it’s not in Norway. It still ranked fifth in the world for support to Ukraine based its economic, humanitarian and military commitments, according to a new list from the Kiel Institute, behind EU organizations, the US, Germany and Great Britain.
Norway is also solidifying its position as an important member of NATO, largely because of its strategic position in the Arctic, its long coastline and border to Russia. Kristoffersen recently hosted the defense chiefs from all NATO members in Oslo, newspaper VG has reported how Norwegians secretly have been training Ukrainian special forces in Northern Norway’s fjords, and Norway intends to play a leading role in shooting up satellites from its Andøya Spaceport in Vesterålen. That can literally open up a new world for both defense and business.
Newspaper Klassekampen recently reported that air defense systems will also be improved in eastern Finnmark, where Norway shares a 197-kilometer border with Russia. More soldiers are also being deployed to Norway’s garrison i Sør-Varanger, where several new border stations have been built in the Pasvik valley and Jarfjord. New observation posts and advanced electronic equipment are also in place.
Entry of Russian-registered vehicles over the border crossing at Storskog has also been restricted in accordance with stronger sanctions. Until last week it was the only border crossing where Russians with visas can enter the Schengen area in private Russian-registered vehicles, but now only buses or minibuses will be allowed into Norway. That ends several years of open crossings for both Norwegians and Russians living with a 30-kilometer radius of the border.
“I think what’s happening is tragic,” one Russian woman who regularly drove over the border to shop in Kirkenes told state broadcaster NRK. Now she can only cross on a bus that costs around NOK 700 for a round-trip ticket from Murmansk, which is expensive for many.
“There’s war in Europe, and Russia is carrying out brutal attacks (in Ukraine),” Eivind Vad Petersson, state secretary in Norway’s foreign ministry, told NRK. “Therefore Norwegian authorities, together with the rest of Europe, have imposed a wide range of sanctions againt Russia.”
Despite all this, Norway did hold a high-level meeting with Russia last week regarding various issues in the Arctic. Lt General Yngve Odlo, chief of the Norwegian defense department’s operative headquarters, met with Lt General Stanislav Vladimirovitsj Maslov of Russian FSB’s border district for the western Arctic, on board a Norwegian naval vessl in Sør-Varanger.
“The meeting was characterized by good dialogue and professionalism on both sides,” Odlo stated after the meeting. Norway and Russia had cooperated as neighbours for years on issues ranging from fishing quotas to search and rescue operations in the Arctic, and there have been concerns the war on Ukraine and sanctions would jeopardize that.
“It’s very important to still carry out such meetings to discuss challenges and agree on common goals and necessary measures for border cooperation,” Odlo said. He stressed that it’s important for both nations to hold such channels open and be able to speak together.
“That can hinder accidents and misunderstandings between Norway and Russia,” Odlo said.