Why Europeans Care About the War in Ukraine: the View from Norway

For the past ten days, the pandemic has been forgotten. So has skiing — almost. Instead, the Ukrainian war has been front and centre on Norwegian news. Here are five reasons why Norwegians care so much about it.

Geographic Proximity and Geopolitics

Norway has a land border with Russia. So do Finland, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, and Poland. These countries have an interest in maintaining good relations with Russia while at the same time protecting their political and territorial sovereignty. Thus, the actions that these countries take (or do not take) in the Ukrainian war will inform their future relationship with Russia.

Russian Aggression in the Baltics and Nordics

Norway is also a NATO member, has a border with Russia, and hosts an American military base. So we’re in for fun times if Putin decides to make a play for any of the Baltic nations.

Although experts doubt that Putin will invade Norway, the Norwegian government’s decision to send arms to Ukraine is not unanimously supported by all political parties. Cecilie Hellestveit of the University of Oslo argued that doing so makes Norway a combatant nation and opens up the country to a potential Russian attack:

The criteria for not being considered a co-combatant is that you do not contribute militarily to one of the parties. If one delivers weapons of a certain offensive quality, as we do now, then it means that we become co-combatant under these rules of neutrality. Then Russia can, under certain conditions, attack targets in Norway.

Hellestveit’s view was challenged by Sigmund Simonsen and Arne Willy Dahl, who countered that “many states have provided weapons to warring parties in recent decades, without the states being considered a party (or co-combatant) in the conflict.” Indeed, it seems unlikely that simply supplying weapons would make Norway a target. On the other hand, it’s never smart to underestimate Putin.

Refugees

There has also been much speculation about whether Putin could be toppled if the Russian people decide they’ve had enough. How hard will sanctions have to bite for this to happen? Can it happen at all? Will it result in a Russian civil war? Will Europe face an exodus of refugees not only from Ukraine but from Russia too? Again, given Norway’s land border with Russia, what will we do in such a situation?

Energy

As we move into spring and summer, the question of course becomes less pressing; however, the populace may be less forgiving of a second winter spent under similar duress.

Nukes

Støen’s concern is rooted in his lived experience for the past thirty-odd years. Østerdalen, where he farms, was one of the hardest-hit places in Norway and he and other farmers in the area must still deal with the consequences of cesium in the soil. Yet while most people in Norway don’t have such direct experience of Chernobyl fallout, they’re still concerned abut nuclear war as well as “nuclear incident” (atomhendelse) involving a power plant. We have been advised by the government to stock up on food, water, and medicine — including iodine tablets in case of a nuclear accident.

NRK, the Norwegian national broadcaster, has been running regular Q&A sessions in which the public can ask questions of various experts. In the past few days, nuclear war and nuclear fallout have been major topics of concern. NRK has also published an article about the likelihood of nuclear war; Tom Høseth of the Norwegian military academy says that it is low, because this nuclear sabre-rattling is “condemned by Western powers. China is asking the parties to find a political solution. Putin knows that nuclear weapons will also ultimately destroy Russia.”

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