Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky has faced some disappointment from once-ardent allies lately, but got a fresh boost of needed support when he landed in Oslo on Wednesday. He won’t be going home empty-handed after a week of risky intercontinental travel.
Zelensky has traveled from Argentina to Washington in the past several days. He got perhaps the warmest reception in chilly Oslo, where the prime ministers of all five Nordic countries were having a meeting of their own. They’re all champions of democracy while Norway and Finland, like Ukraine, also share a border with Russia. That can help explain why both countries have been particularly alarmed by the deadly aggression of a neighbour.
The Nordic leaders and their Norwegian host thus welcomed Zelensky with open arms. It was hailed as an “historic” visit, Zelensky’s first to Norway, and “interesting,” according to defense researcher Tor Bukkvoll, because the Nordic countries “have been so clear that they’ll also give weapons help to Ukraine.” Zelensky needs to ensure exactly that kind of support.
“He’s worried that help from the US can decline,” Bukkvoll told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). With a presidential election looming in the US next year and the outcome highly uncertain, “it’s important for Ukraine to get help from Europe. That will become even more important.” The week ahead is also important, with an EU summit looming over more support to Ukraine. The president of Hungary, which once was subjected to Russian Soviet aggression as well and produced thousands of its own refugees, has already indicated he won’t support another EUR 50 billion for Ukraine.
Zelensky’s visit had been kept under wraps because of all the security concerns around him. It came just after international attention tied to the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony over the weekend and was a surprise to many. Security remained tight throughout thg day, with media outlets even urged not to reveal Zelensky’s program in advance.
After first being welcome by Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre at his residence, Zelensky was assured of at least another NOK 3 billion from Norway right after New Year to maintain “critical public services such as schools and health care” as the war with Russia drags on. Norway has earmarked NOK 75 billion through its Nansen Support Program for Ukraine, and will now make four additional disbursements including more air defense equipment to fend off Russian attacks, another NOK 1 billion to boost capacity of its own defense industry to produce more ammunition and missiles for Ukraine, and a winter response plan for food, water, warm clothing and housing for those losing their homes in Russian attacks.
“Ukraine is entering the third winter since Russia first launched its full-scale invasion of its neighbouring country,” Støre said at a press conference later in the day, adding that both military and humanitarian support are still needed. He noted that “we have close dialogue over what the Ukrainians need the most, and together with with our allies we’re doing what we can to contribute where needs are greatest.”
Zelensky also attended the Nordic summit where he also could speak with the prime ministers of Denmark, Sweden, Iceland and Finland. They also vowed strong and ongoing support for Ukraine, issuing a joint statement afterwards that “after dealing with nearly 10 years of Russian aggression (which began with Russia’s controversial annexation of Crimea in 2014) and 650 days of full-scale war, Ukraine continues to demonstrate extraordinary determination in exercising its legitimate right to self-defense.”
The Nordic leaders also once again condemned Russia’s “illegal war og aggression,” calling on it to end the war and “withdraw its forces immediately and unconditionally from the internationally recognized territory of Ukraine.” They urged increased international pressure on Russia, including tougher sanctions and loop holes closed.
King Harald V invited Zelensky for lunch at the Royal Palace, along with Crown Prince Haakon and several other top Norwegian officials, before Zelensky and his Nordic entourage moved on to the Norwegian Parliament building. Støre had already assured him that the Norwegian Parliament (Stortinget), unlike the US Congress, remains united with all of its 10 parties standing behind the aid package, defense support and support for rebuilding the nation and its economy.
He received a standing ovation, just like when he made a video address not long after the war began. This time he was there in person as one of the very few foreign guests (including Sir Winston Churchill) invited to address Stortinget since World War II ended. “You said Churchill was here, so then we will win,” said Zelensky, as he started to deliver his address in English.
It was a grateful Zelensky who was escorted both in and out of Parliament, amidst high security, by its president, Masud Gharahkhani of the Labour Party. Gharahkhani is among many top Norwegian politicians who have also been to Ukraine both before and after Russia invaded. Zelensky was clearly pleased to hear Gharahkhani say how important it was for democratic countries to stand together, because “it’s not just about your own country’s future. It’s about democracy’s future in Europe.”
“Norway has supported us with your hearts and minds since the war’s first hours,” responded Zelensky. “We save lives thanks to you. Thank you, Norway.”
After actually “658 days of war,” he said he could understand that support for Ukraine may be waning in some countries, even in the US. After noting how “Iran and North Korea are sending missiles” to Russian President Vladimir Putin, however, Zelensky said he believes it’s more important than ever to stand on “real principles” of freedom, and send the signals needed to keep motivating what he called “the brave warriors” of Ukraine.
“We have the right to live freely, just like all other nations,” Zelensky said. He claimed that “anyone who visits Norway,” for example, “immediately sees that life and people are winners, and how your country is organized with respect for life and people. And you deliver on your promises, and when you see injustices you act. These are the real principles … that underpin the freedom.”
Støre told Norwegian reporters on Wednesday that he thinks the US will also continue to support Ukraine, despite the grousing of some Republican politicians in Congress. Norway’s support, meanwhile, remains strong with the leaders of all other parties in Parliament reaffirming their support on Wednesday. Guri Melby of the Liberal Party, for example, stressed how the war in Ukraine poses an existential threat also for Norway, and is crucial for Ukraine to win in order to halt more development of authoritarian regimes. Lan Marie Berg of the Greens Party told NRK that her party colleagues want to further increase Norway’s support at a time when both the US and the EU may cut back on the theirs.
“We will continue to argue for and support and defend Ukraine’s right to defend itself and the key principles of international law,” Støre said. “We will support Ukraine in our words and our actions for as long as it takes.”