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UKRAINE

INTERVIEW: How Norway’s border with Russia could be affected by the invasion of Ukraine

Norway shares a border with Russia in the High North, where the two countries cooperate on several issues at a regional level. The Local has taken a look at how the invasion of Ukraine will affect relations between the two at the border.

File photo of a Russian trawler in the Barents Sea
Norway is in a number of agreements with Russia, including one on fishing in the Barents Sea. Pictured is a file photo of a Russian fishing vessel in the Barents Sea. Photo by Norwegian coast guard, Scanpix, AFP

Tensions between Russia and western nations have flared up following the invasion of Ukraine. Norway has condemned Russia and said that it would join the EU, of which it isn’t a member, in imposing sanctions against Russia.

However, the two countries share a border in the Arctic Circle in a region referred to as the High North, making the relationship between Norway and Russia more nuanced and complicated than it may appear at a surface level.

For example, while at government and high diplomacy level, relations between the two are frosty and have been marred by cases of espionage and the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, the two countries cooperate on a number of matters at a regional level in the High North.

“In the High North, we (Norway) have longstanding cooperation with Russia on issues related to search & rescue, nuclear safety, shared fish stocks, oil spill response, ship traffic management, and culture and people-to-people contact,” Hedda Langemyr, director of the Forum for Foreign Affairs and Security (UTSYN), explained to The Local.

“High-level diplomatic contact has been restricted over the past eight years, so most of the cooperation and contact between the two countries has happened on a regional level and at lower diplomatic levels. However, this has somewhat changed, and there has been an increase (of contact) at the top political level after the new government took over last autumn,” she added.

UTSYN is an independent organisation that specialises in security analysis and policy development, with a focus on the High North.

However, since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, tensions in the High North have also heightened, and military activity on both sides of the border has increased, Langemyr said.

Langemyr explained that keeping tensions low at a regional level was essential to ensure cooperation continued.

“All parties have a self-interest in keeping tensions low. Much of that is due to the extraction of natural resources. Also, climate change hits this part of the world particularly hard, and we need strong international cooperation to be able to manage some of the greatest consequences of climate change,” Langemyr explained.

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The director of the UTSYN pointed out that the cooperation was also crucial for communities living in the High North, not just for regional authorities.

“For the communities bordering Russia, the long traditions of friendship and cooperation is highly important. The same goes for bilateral and international research cooperation with Russia,” she explained.

The invasion of Ukraine could have several knock-on effects for relations in the High North, according to Langemyr.

“Firstly, international sanctions against Russia will, of course, also put restrictions on business cooperation between Norway and Russia. Secondly, we will probably see an increase in the number of cyber-attacks, particularly against Norwegian oil and gas companies,” Langemyr said.

If the situation escalated to the point that NATO became involved, the effects could become even more drastic.

“In the event of a possible escalation of the war that would lead to NATO involvement, it will become even more important for Russia to protect their strategic submarines operating from the Kola peninsula. In that case, they might aim to control parts of the Barents Sea, for instance. However, it is reassuring that the military dialogue between the two countries seem unchanged, even after current events,” the director of the UTSYN said.

On Friday, Norway’s Chief of Defence Eirik Kristoffersen said that there was currently no indication of increased military activity along Norway’s border with Russia. This follows on from similar comments made by Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre on Thursday.

Russia may also choose to exert more pressure on Norway due to it being a founding member of NATO if the situation continues to escalate, Langemyr said. She also added that it was important to be vigilant of the methods that foreign powers use to destabilise Western democracies.

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UKRAINE

Rapping, breakdancing Ukrainians win Eurovision in musical morale boost

Ukraine won the Eurovision Song Contest Sunday with an infectious hip-hop folk melody, boosting spirits in the embattled nation fighting off a Russian invasion that has killed thousands and displaced millions of people.

Rapping, breakdancing Ukrainians win Eurovision in musical morale boost

Riding a huge wave of public support, Kalush Orchestra beat 24 competitors in the finale of the world’s biggest live music event with “Stefania”, a rap lullaby combining Ukrainian folk and modern hip-hop rhythms.

“Please help Ukraine and Mariupol! Help Azovstal right now,” implored frontman Oleh Psiuk in English from the stage after their performance was met by a cheering audience.

In the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, the triumph was met with smiles and visible relief.

“It’s a small ray of happiness. It’s very important now for us,” said Iryna Vorobey, a 35-year-old businesswoman, adding that the support from Europe was “incredible”.

Following the win, Psiuk — whose bubblegum-pink bucket hat has made him instantly recognisable — thanked everyone who voted for his country in the contest, which is watched by millions of viewers.

“The victory is very important for Ukraine, especially this year. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Glory to Ukraine,” Psiuk told journalists.

Music conquers Europe

The win provided a much-needed morale boost for the embattled nation in its third month of battling much-larger Russian forces.

Mahmood & BLANCO  performing for Italy at Eurovision 2022

Mahmood & BLANCO perform on behalf of Italy during the final of the Eurovision Song contest 2022 in Turin, Italy. (Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP)

“Our courage impresses the world, our music conquers Europe!” he wrote on Facebook.

“This win is so very good for our mood,” Andriy Nemkovych, a 28 year-old project manager, told AFP in Kyiv.

The victory drew praise in unlikely corners, as the deputy chief of the NATO military alliance said it showed just how much public support ex-Soviet Ukraine has in fighting off Moscow.

“I would like to congratulate Ukraine for winning the Eurovision contest,” Mircea Geoana said as he arrived in Berlin for talks that will tackle the alliance’s expansion in the wake of the Kremlin’s war.

“And this is not something I’m making in a light way because we have seen yesterday the immense public support all over Europe and Australia for the bravery of” Ukraine, Geoana said.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the win “a clear reflection of not just your talent, but of the unwavering support for your fight for freedom”.

And European Council President Charles Michel said he hoped next year’s contest “can be hosted in Kyiv in a free and united Ukraine”.

‘Ready to fight’
Despite the joyous theatrics that are a hallmark of the song contest, the war in Ukraine hung heavily over the festivities this year.
 
The European Broadcasting Union, which organises the event, banned Russia on February 25, the day after Moscow invaded its neighbour.
 
“Stefania”, written by Psiuk as a tribute to his mother before the war, mixes traditional Ukrainian folk music played on flute-like instruments with an invigorating hip-hop beat. The band donned richly embroidered ethnic garb
to perform their act.
 
 
Nostalgic lyrics such as “I’ll always find my way home even if all the roads are destroyed” resonated all the more as millions of Ukrainians have been displaced by war.

Kalush Orchestra received special authorisation from Ukraine’s government to attend Eurovision, since men of fighting age are prohibited from leaving the country, but that permit expires in two days.

Psiuk said he was not sure what awaited the band as war rages back home.

“Like every Ukrainian, we are ready to fight as much as we can and go until the end.

Britain’s ‘Space Man’

Ukraine beat a host of over-the-top acts at the kitschy, quirky annual musical event, including Norway’s Subwoolfer, who sang about bananas while dressed in yellow wolf masks, and Serbia’s Konstrakta, who questioned national healthcare while meticulously scrubbing her hands onstage.

Coming in second place was Britain with Sam Ryder’s “Space Man” and its stratospheric notes, followed by Spain with the reggaeton “SloMo” from Chanel.

After a quarter-century of being shut out from the top spot, Britain had hoped to have a winner in “Space Man” and its high notes belted by the affable, long-haired Ryder.

Britain had been ahead after votes were counted from the national juries, but a jaw-dropping 439 points awarded to Ukraine from the public pushed it to the top spot.

Eurovision’s winner is chosen by a cast of music industry professionals — and members of the public — from each country, with votes for one’s home nation not allowed.

Eurovision is a hit among fans not only for the music, but for the looks on display and this year was no exception. Lithuania’s Monika Liu generated as much social media buzz for her bowl cut hairdo as her sensual and elegant
“Sentimentai”.

Other offerings included Greece’s “Die Together” by Amanda Georgiadi Tenfjord and “Brividi” (Shivers), a duet from Italy’s Mahmood and Blanco.

Italy had hoped the gay-themed love song would bring it a second consecutive Eurovision win after last year’s “Zitti e Buoni” (Shut up and Behave) from high-octane glam rockers Maneskin.

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