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Sunday, May 26, 2024

Norway disappoints Ukraine supporters

The Norwegian government announced Tuesday afternoon that it wants to boost its military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine this year by nearly 50 percent, from NOK 15 billion to NOK 22 billion (USD 2 billion). The increase, however, disappointed Norway’s own Ukrainian support organization, and opposition politicians indicated they also want to offer more.

Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre (right), during a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky in Oslo four months ago. Now some people in Norway think Støre is letting Zelensky down by not boosting aid more than he has. PHOTO: Annika Byrde/NTB/Statsministerens kontor

Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre of the Labour Party met with leaders of the various political party delegations in Parliament on Tuesday before announcing his government’s additional funding proposal. Around NOK 6 billion is earmarked for badly needed surface-to-air defense systems while around NOK 1 billion will be offered as civilian support.

At a meeting with foreign correspondents in Oslo before he and Finance Minister Trygve Slagsvold Vedum held a press conference at Parliament, Støre said his government’s support for Ukraine’s defense against Russian invaders is “uniquely flexible.” It’s carried out through the so-called Nansen Program, initially set up to provide NOK 75 billion in aid over a five-year period. It allows the government “to respond to needs as we go along,” Støre said, and Ukraine now needs a lot more support as it tries to fend off a recent Russian offensive that’s claimed more Ukrainian territory.

Støre has also said it can be necessary to expand the framework of the Nansen Program, which has broad support in Parliament. “The government wants to increase support for Ukraine,” he said, and so do the Conservatives and several other parties in opposition. The Conservatives’ former defense- and foreign minister, Ine Eriksen Søreide, told newspaper VG on Tuesday that increased support is “absolutely necessary” and that discussion over the program’s current cap of NOK 75 billion is not finished.

“We’re taking a large advance now (an extra NOK 7 billion, or USD 636 million, for this year), leaving less money during the next three years,” Søreide told VG. “It’s a demanding situation because we need to be predictable donors to Ukraine and because we agree in Parliament that we shall meet Ukraine’s needs.”

Several Norwegian newspapers have also editorialized strongly in favour of increasing support to Ukraine. It “must rise, and that must happen now,” wrote newspaper Aftenposten last week. “The entire Parliament backs the Nansen Program and is now signalizing an increase in our commitment.” Newspaper Dagsavisen editorialized that “the least we can do is offer some of our considerable resources,” while Dagens Næringsliv (DN) raised the prospect of “a summer of hope” for Ukraine, after the US “finally came to its senses” and approved its own huge support program. “At the same time, the EU and Great Britain are gearing up their military support, and Norway will follow,” wrote DN.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, shown here during a visit to the Norwegian Parliament last fall, has already apologized to Ukraine’s President Zelensky, for letting him down on funding in recent months. PHOTO: Stortinget/Peter Mydske

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, a former Norwegian prime minister, actually apologized to Ukraine during his latest visit to Kyiv on Monday, for letting the country down in recent months. Political disagreement in the US delayed critical funding but Stoltenberg claimed that it’s “not too late for Ukraine  to win” the war that Russia started in February 2022.

Norway’s Støre and Vedum noted that the situation in Ukraine now “is more serious and more uncertain,” and that Ukraine’s security “is also about our security.” Norway has ranked among the biggest donors to Ukraine over the past two years and Støre told foreign correspondents earlier in the day that his government would now “scale up” its financial and military contributions to the war-torn country.

The Norwegian-Ukrainian support organization (Norsk-ukrainsk venneforening), however, was far from satisfied Tuesday afternoon. It has called for more support on earlier occasions and issued a lengthy statement on Monday, signed by scores of prominent Norwegians including professors, economists, authors, activists, researchers, politicians and many others. All of them demanded a much larger increase in Norwegian aid to Ukraine.

“We should use our wealth to defend our freedom,” the statement read, after noting that “Norway’s support for Ukraine’s fight for freedom is also part of the defense of Europe and Norway.” The group called on Parliament “to follow Denmark’s example and drastically increase Norwegian military aid to Ukraine.”

It went on to note that many other countries, not least Denmark, “have understood the seriousness of the situation and given more support to Ukraine than Norway has. Denmark has contributed more than twice as much,” the group stated, by setting aside the equivalent of NOK 130 billion including what it contributes through the EU, for the period 2022 to 2028.

“Norway’s total contribution through to 2028 is around NOK 86 billion, while our GNP is considerably higher than Denmark’s,” wrote the association. Norway should once again “take on a leadership role,” it added, and “give Ukraine the help it needs in line with our huge ability to contribute.”

The extra NOK 7 billion announced on Tuesday clearly did not meet expectations, with the group calling it “helpless help” and “so little that it will hardly have an effect. This won’t inspire other allies to increase their support. On the contrary,” wrote association leader Jørn Sund-Henriksen, “I think many will point to Norway and wonder why they should increase their support when we, with our (strong) economy, contribute so little.”

Støre has stressed, however, the “flexibility” of Norway’s aid program, and the importance of halting Russia’s aggression. The funding issue will be addressed during negotations over the revised state budget that begin in mid-May, and settled by late June. Berglund



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