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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Norway rallies for Ukraine

Thousands of Norwegians and Ukrainian refugees took to the streets all over the country on Saturday, two years after Russia invaded its neighbour and set off a war that threatens all of Europe. Top politicians vowed ongoing support for Ukraine, showing unusual agreement at both ends of the political spectrum.

Thousands turned out on Saturday to express their support for Ukraine, two years after Russia invaded and broke decades of peace in Europe. The yellow sign in the middle translates to “Ukraine’s fight is our fight,” a phrase used repeatedly in various speeches and appeals. PHOTO: Møst

“Ukraine’s fight is our fight,” declared the newly elected head of Oslo’s city government, Eirik Lae Solberg of the Conservative party, adding that the Ukrainians “are fighting for all of Europe’s freedom,” not just their own.

Solberg was among those claiming that Norway “must contribute even more support” than the billions of kroner and military equipment, humanitarian aid and everyday items needed in Ukraine. Norway has also taken in more than 60,000 Ukrainian refugees after Russian President Vladimir Putin “ended many years with peace” in Europe, Solberg noted. Support for Ukraine among a majority of Norwegians remains strong.

Now, he concluded, “Ukraine must win,” echoing the remarks of others speaking at a large pro-Ukraine demonstration in front of the Norwegian Parliament in Oslo. Rasmus Hansson, a Member of Parliament for the Greens Party, directed a “big ‘thank-you'” for everything Ukrainians have done to fend off Russian invaders and for the huge sacrifices they’ve made. “We must win,” said Hansson, referring to the efforts across all of Europe and especially by NATO members to defeat Russia’s invading forces.

This sign was among many with the message that Ukraine needs all the support it can get. PHOTO: Møst

The quest for victory over an aggressive Russia has been a common theme since the war began. Newspaper Aftenposten editorialized this week that while Ukraine needs western nations’ support, NATO allies also need a free and democratic Ukraine, which NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg claimed will join NATO as soon as possible. Under the leadership of President Volodomyr Zelensky, Ukraine has impressed an entire world with its resilience and ability to halt what Putin may have thought would be an easy takeover of a neighbouring country. Two years later, Putin’s war drags on with Russian forces also suffering huge losses that Putin’s government has refused to reveal.

“Yes, it’s costing a lot to help Ukraine,” wrote Aftenposten, “but it will cost even more if Russia wins, because then NATO would need to hugely increase its own defense. As Stoltenberg, a former Norwegian prime minister, himself said recently, “there is no cheap solution to having an aggressive neighbour.”

Most all NATO members are already boosting their own defense, not least Norway, which had let it decline since the Cold War ended and many thought Europe and Russia could carry on as good neighbours. Putin has far different ambitions and Norwegian researchers said this week that especially Norway and other nations sharing a border with Russia “should plan for a hostile Russia” in the years to come.

After a two-hour demonstration in front of Parliament, Ukrainian supporters started marching towards the Russian Embassy. PHOTO: Møst

Tom Røseth of Norway’s defense college (Forsvarets høgskole) and Karen-Anna Eggen of Norway’s Institute for Defense Studies had already warned on Friday that “the threat from Russian must not be underestimated.” They note that Russia’s economy has grown despite sanctions (that now are being boosted further) and that Russia’s own defense spending will continue to climb. “Ukraine’s fight is our best insurance,” they wrote in a commentary in Aftenposten.

Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre has already confirmed that a major new defense plan will be unveiled this spring that may even bring Norway’s own defense spending up to or beyond the 2 percent of GNP that hadn’t been expected to be reached until 2026. Støre’s foreign minister, Espen Barth Eide, was among top officials speaking at Saturday’s demonstration in Oslo and he left no doubt that Norway would also continue to boost Ukraine’s defense while building up its own as well.

Marchers passed by Norway’s foreign ministry, which was flying both the Norwegian and Ukrainian flags on Saturday to mark the occasion. The Parliament also flew the Ukrainian flag. PHOTO: Møst

“We must support Ukraine’s defense fight until Russia understands that power doesn’t yield rights,” Eide stated. “And then we must support Ukraine in securing the peace.” Russia’s full-scale invasion on February 24, 2022 threatened European security, not just Ukraine’s, even though it didn’t succeed as Putin likely though it would. Now Russia and Ukraine are caught in a war seemingly aimed at exhausting both sides until one gives up. Saturday’s message at the demonstrations all over the country claimed that must not be Ukraine.

“We stand together with Ukraine and with our allies and partners.” Eide said. “That’s important both for Ukraine and for our own security.”

The lengthy march halted traffic along the way, like here at Solli Plass. PHOTO: Berglund

Norway’s support is now coming mostly through its so-called Nansen Program, named after the Norwegian Arctic explorer, diplomat and peace-keeper Fridtjof Nansen. It’s providing NOK 75 billion (around USD 7.5 billion) from last year until 2027 to fund what Ukraine needs in each year and comes on top of the nearly NOK 11 billion provided by Norway right after the invasion. The funding, which may also be increased, is aimed mostly at defense but also humanitarian relief especially through funding for hospitals, schools and energy. Norway has also taken in thousands of Ukrainian refugees, many of whom want to return home when the war is over. The overall support program (external link to the government’s website) has broad political support in Parliament, from the Progress Party on the far right to the Socialist Left Party and all those in between.

Local communities have also been actively supporting Ukraine and the refugees now settling in their areas. The demonstrations on Saturday were coordinated by friendship association Norsk-Ukrainsk Venneforening and held in 20 cities and towns from Kristiansand in the south to Kirkenes in the north. They included all the biggest cities (Oslo, Bergen, Stavanger and Trondheim) but also smaller and mid-sized cities like Fredrikstad, Hamar, Hønefoss, Larvik, Mosjøen, Skien, Tønsberg, Førde and Tysnes. The association is calling for even more support for Ukraine and more concrete deliveries of weapons and ammunition.

This Ukrainian war veteran, who lost a leg during battle with the Russians, was among several others receiving flowers and a loud “thank you” from demonstrators on Saturday. PHOTO: Møst

“Europe will be a more dangerous place if Putin wins,” said Jan Ottesen, spokesperson for the association. “It’s therefore critical that we spend February 24th showing that we stand behind the Ukrainian soldiers and their fight for freedom.” Several wounded war veterans who are now in Norway received flowers on Saturday along with loud calls of djakujemo in Ukrainian: “Thank you.”

NATO’s Stoltenberg also sent a message on Saturday of encouragement, while noting that “the situation on the battlefield is still extremely serious. Putin’s goal of dominating Ukraine has not change, and ther are not indications he is preparing for peace. But we must not lose courage.” More support from NATO is on the way, even though right-wing Republican politicians in the US are stalling more support. The Biden Administration remains keen on boosting its already substantial aid to Ukraine.

Upon arrival near the Russian Embassy, seen here in the background, supporters of Ukraine let their presence be known. The large embassy compound is otherwise cordoned for security reasons off during demonstrations such as the one on Saturday. PHOTO: Berglund

There were more speeches and music after demonstrators finally arrived at the Russian Embassy in Oslo’s affluent Frogner neighbourhood. They also sang the Ukrainian national anthem for the second time, while demonstrators waved signs including one claiming Russia was “a terrorist state.” There were lots of children present and it all ended peacefully, as the bombing continued a few thousand kilometers to the southeast. Berglund



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