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Saturday, April 13, 2024

Support for Ukraine flies high

Norwegians remain firmly behind giving as much support to Ukraine as possible. A solid majority backs Norwegian government programs that offer both military and humanitarian aid, while Ukrainians in Norway call for even more.

Ukrainian flags still fly around Oslo, like here outside the Norwegian Parliament a year after Russia invaded the country. As the second year approaches, support for Ukraine remains high. PHOTO: Stortinget/Morten Brakestad

Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) and Norway’s largest newspaper, Aftenposten, reported some revealing statistics last month that illustrate public engagement in Ukraine’s struggle. Even though NRK had published more stories on its website late last year about Israel’s war on Gaza than on Russia’s war on Ukraine, the measurable public interest in the stories about Ukraine were much higher.

In a comparison of the last 50 stories on each war before New Year, readership as measured by clicks was fully 80 percent higher on the stories about Ukraine as those about Gaza, even when Gaza was under heavy attack. While an NRK story on the war in Gaza attracted an average of 42,281 clicks, a story on the war in Ukraine attracted 75,931.

At Aftenposten, the trend was similar if not quite as dramatic. Clicks by readers of Aftenposten’s stories on Ukraine were 65 percent higher than on stories about Gaza. The numbers of readers were much higher at the respective beginnings of both wars, but interest has remained strong and especially in Ukraine.

The numbers surprised editors at both media outlets. Melanie Magin, a professor of media sociology at NTNU in Trondheim, thinks geographical and cultural factors play a major role, just like they have in regards to how many more Ukrainian refugees have been accepted into Norway.

In 2015, for example, when around 30,000 mostly Afghan and Syrian refugees ultimately crossed the Russian border into Norway, local and state politicians were alarmed and soon tried to limit the arrivals. More than twice as many Ukrainians, however, had sought protection in Norway by early January (72,381 to be exact) and 66,917 had been granted it with relatively few objections, even though some rules and offers of accommodation are now being tightened.

“Many Norwegians, even though it doesn’t sound good, have become used to the thought that unfortunately there’s another war in Gaza again,” Magin told Aftenposten. Since Norway shares a border with Russia, the Russian invasion of Ukraine hit a lot closer to home.” Then come all the claims, as Norwegian politicians and others have noted, that helping Ukraine fend off Russian invaders also helps Norway preserve its own democracy.

Public interest in the war on Gaza has also sparked huge interest in Norway along with support for the Palestinians, perhaps even moreso in the month since the NRK and Aftenposten readership numbers were logged in January. There’s also been lots of activism on social media, organized demonstrations against Israel’s incessant bombing of Gaza and outrage over civilian casualties. That occurred through the autumn as well, though, and still readership interest in Ukraine was higher.

Concerns had arisen immediately that Israel’s war on Gaza’s Hamas leaders would take reader interest and attention away from Russia’s war on Ukraine. Readership numbers indicate that hasn’t happened, and now Ukraine is back sharing top placement with Gaza in line with new or expanded funding programs, NATO- and other defense-related meetings and issues and, not least, public outrage in Norway over Donald Trump’s suggestions that he’d even encourage Russia to invade countries that haven’t fully paid their dues to NATO.

Prime minister Jonas Gahr Støre, announcing more aid for Ukraine through Norway’s Nansen Program. PHOTO: Forsvaret/Torbjørn Kjosvold

While the US quarrels over the size of its own financial support for Ukraine, Norway recently expanded its so-called “Nansen Program” for aid. “While there’s been drama in Brussels and still is in Washington DC, there are no objections to be found in Oslo regarding support for Ukraine,” wrote commentator Kjetil B Alstadheim in Aftenposten. The Nansen Program obligates Norway to pay out NOK 75 billion over five years and has support from all parties in Parliament.

Some of the money can help Norway meet its NATO obligations, since it amounts to defense spending and boosts Norway’s own security. Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) calls the support “decisive” and has editorialized about how important it is for Norway to help train Ukrainian soldiers and officers, send military hardware and ammunition, and do what it takes to boost military production at defense contractors like Nammo and Kongsberg.

“The Støre government is carrying out solid and wise policy regarding Ukraine,” DN wrote recently in an unusually flattering editorial. “New billions allocated add to a series of concrete measures aimed at increasing Ukraine’s military capabilities, both in the short- and longer term.” DN went on to call Norway’s support “an important part of our own preparedness.”

The Ukrainian Association in Norway, meanwhile, has called on Norway to do even more. Any reduction in support from the US must be offset by more help from Europe, it claims, in asking for even more funding.

“The Nansen Program is a very important measure,” the association wrote in a recent press release, “but the situation has changed since it was formed.” Jørn Sund-Henriksen, leader of a Norwegian-Ukrainian friendship group, noted that Norway is “a small, wealthy country with a border to Russia, and Ukraine’s fight is also our fight.” He claims that other Nordic and Baltic countries have given proportionately more support to Ukraine than Norway has, and called for more than a doubling of funding.

That’s unlikely but Norwegian leaders vow they will continue funding efforts, especially when they also can help meet NATO’s goals that all members boost defense spending to at least 2 percent of GNP. Norway is still not among the 18 NATO members expected to achieve the goal this year, but Defense Minister Bjørn Arild Gram claimed at Thursday’s NATO meeting in Brussels that it will by 2026.

“What’s most important is that we are working systematically to rebuild our defense, all over Europe,” Gram told NRK early Thursday morning. “It’s very important that Europe takes on a bigger share of NATO’s funding,” he added, in order to rely less on the US. NATO leader Jens Stoltenberg, a former Norwegian prime minister, also praised Ukrainians’ bravery under fire and called the recent sinkings of Russian vessels in the Black Sea “a great achievement.” Ukraine has been able to secure coastal areas and thus maintain important shipping routes for Ukrainian exports.

NewsinEnglish.no/Nina Berglund

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