Concerns are rising in Norway that the outbreak of war in the Middle East is diverting attention from Russia’s war on Ukraine. The Norwegian government firmly denies it’s cutting support for Ukraine, even though it has budgeted NOK 2.5 billion less for military aid next year.
Norway’s Labour-Center government has proposed giving Ukraine NOK 7.5 billion worth of military support through its Nansen Program, which promises NOK 75 billion in military and humanitarian support over the next five years. That compares to NOK 10 billion in military aid this year, and it upset the leader of the opposition Liberal Party, Guri Melby.
“I fear (Russian President Vladimir) Putin will view this as a signal from Prime Minister (Jonas Gahr) Støre that Norway is losing interest in Ukraine’s fight,” Melby told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) earlier this week. “Therefore the government must not carry out this cut.”
According to Melby, “Ukraine’s fate won’t be decided only on the battlefield, but also in the budgets of the countries that support them in the war against Russia.” She added that her party “therefore strongly warns against the government’s cut in military support to Ukraine. It’s not enough.”
Norway is one of few countries to approve a five-year plan for aid to Ukraine, with its total allocation of NOK 75 billion (USD 7.5 billion) set to amount to around NOK 15 billion a year in both military and humanitarian aid. Melby maintains that the half offered now for military support should be boosted to at least NOK 10 billion, which is what her party proposes in its alternative state budget proposal for next year.
Støre referred questions on the matter to his foreign minister, Espen Barth Eide, who flatly denied there’s been any cut in military aid to Ukraine. Rather, he said, the amounts given annually can simply vary from year to year, depending on needs.
“There’s no reason to try to raise any doubt that Norwegian support for Ukraine is on the way down, when the Parliament has approved a solid support program of NOK 75 billion over five years,” Eide told DN. He noted, for example, that Norway is contributing NOK 11 billion in military support this year, with NOK 10 billion coming from the Nansen Program and another billion donated before the program was passed.
“There is broad political support for the Nansen Program,” Eide stressed, “and as the Liberals themselves were part of deciding, it’s flexible in the distribution of funds each budget year, based on Ukraine’s needs.”
Norway also expects to take in more record numbers of Ukrainian refugees, and is preparing to resettle around 37,000 more next year. “We will continue to show our solidarity and take in our share of people fleeing the war,” said Labour Minister Tonje Brenna last week. She warned of some cutbacks in resettlement programs, however, since Norway is now receiving more Ukrainians than Sweden, Denmark and Finland combined. Local communities around the country are having a hard time meeting demands for housing, education and social services for the roughly 65,000 already in Norway.
Eide announced this week that Norway is further boosting its humanitaran support through a billion-kroner grant for Ukraine to be distributed through the Norwegian Red Cross and the Norwegian Refugee Council, Church Aid, People’s Aid, Caritas Norge, Save the Children (Redd Barna) and the civilian preparedness force NORCAP.
“The Ukrainians are heading into a new, cold winter war,” Eide said. “More than 18 million people need humanitarian aid. The brutal Russian attacks against the Ukrainian people continue with full force.” The money is set to be used for education, health and psychological support, with Norway also boosting its efforts to clear away land mines and explosives.
Norwegian Defense Minister Bjørn Arild Gram, meanwhile, disputed reports in newspaper Aftenposten this week that some of the defense material sent from Norway to Ukraine was defective. A Ukrainian officer told Aftenposten that only four of 12 M-109 tanks delivered to Ukraine, for example, were functioning as expected. Gram said he was aware the equipment was under much tougher use than in peacetime and that breakdowns had occurred.
Norway, however, has donated material that Ukrainian officials have requested, “and we do this in close cooperation with our allies and partners,” Gram stated, adding that all equipment has been “maintained, repaired and tested” before being sent. “It’s only natural that it will need to be maintained and repaired in Ukraine, too, since it’s being used in a war situation,” Gram added. He said Ukrainian officials have expressed gratitude for the equipment, ammunition and air defense systems it has received from Norway.
Kai Eide, a retired Norwegian diplomat and former UN envoy, wrote in newspaper Klassekampen this week that after 18 months of war, fatigue is setting in, “and then the Middle East exploded” in war, too. “Governments and the media are turning their attention from Ukraine to the new catastrophe” in Gaza, a “tragedy” that will affect Ukraine for a long time to come. Now both Ukraine and Gaza will also ultimately need to be rebuilt, with Kai Eide predicting “tough competition over economic resources ahead,” not least since Norway also leads the International Donors Group for Palestine.
Foreign Minister Eide remains resolute in Norway’s support for Ukraine, and for efforts to create peace in the Middle East. “Ukraine can rely on ongoing, solid support from Norway,” Eide told DN, adding that Prime Minister Støre has also repeated that in a recent conversation with Ukrainia’s leader Volodomyr Zelensky.