War in Ukraine For Members

EXPLAINED: How Norway's relations with Russia have changed

Robin-Ivan Capar
Robin-Ivan Capar - [email protected]
EXPLAINED: How Norway's relations with Russia have changed
In this article, we talk to Norwegian defence and security experts to find out more about how Russia's invasion of Ukraine has affected Norway's bilateral relationship with Russia. Photo by Olga Nayda on Unsplash

The February 2022 invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces signalled the dawn of a new era in international relations in Europe. What has become of Norway's relationship with Russia since the war started?


In January 2022, after two years of tackling the COVID-19 pandemic, Norway was on its way out of crisis mode. Things were looking good, and politicians were optimistic about the country's outlook.

Then, on February 24th, Russia launched an invasion of Ukraine, triggering a series of crises that would batter Europe and Scandinavia in the coming months.

From energy and security to rising living costs and soaring interest rates, the last 12 months have been characterised mostly by bad news and adversity.

But how has all this chaos and mayhem affected Norway's relations with one of its most important neighbours?

In this article, we talk to Norwegian defence and security experts to find out more about how Russia's invasion of Ukraine has affected Norway's bilateral relationship with Russia.


A clear negative effect

Most analysts agree that the invasion has had a profound negative effect on the relations between the two countries.

"Needless to say, Russia's invasion of Ukraine has negatively affected Norway's bilateral relationship with Russia. It has also had a negative effect on the security situation in the High North and the work of regional cooperation arrangements such as the Barents Euro-Arctic Council and the Arctic Council.

"In March 2022, the cooperation with Russia in these organisations was temporarily suspended," Kristian Åtland a Senior Research Fellow at the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment (FFI) told The Local.

"This was a necessary move, but it is bad news for the vulnerable Arctic environment, particularly if it becomes a long-lasting or semi-permanent situation.

"Without Russia, the other Arctic coastal states will be ill-equipped to handle non-military security challenges in the region. It may also become increasingly difficult to implement regional agreements on maritime search and rescue, oil spill preparedness, illegal fishing and so on, signed under the auspices of the Arctic Council," he added.

On the other hand, defence researcher Tormod Heier at Norwegian Defence University College told The Local that there is still a lot of ongoing cooperation between the two countries.

"The Ukraine war has affected Norway's relationship with Russia, but mostly at the political level because the government wants to display solidarity and cohesion with the United States, NATO, the EU and Ukraine. But since Norway and Russia also share many common interests in the High North, a lot of cooperation still goes on at the working level, below the political one.

"Examples are manifold, i.e., search and rescue cooperation with helicopters and coast guard, border control cooperation, common fishery management, "incident at sea"-mechanisms for stabilising air and sea activities in the border areas, hot-line contact between Norway's Armed Forces and the Northern Fleet, as well as some research on climate and environment.

"This cooperation is vital for dialogue and transparency while tension is high due to the Ukraine war. Norway, Russia and the United States have a common interest in not militarizing the High North due to an unnecessary spillover from Eastern Europe," Heier pointed out.


The security situation in the High North

Both analysts agree that the invasion of Ukraine led to radical changes in the balance of forces among Arctic countries known as the High North.

"By invading Ukraine, Putin has set in motion a series of events and processes that can hardly be said to be in Russia's long-term interest. The Russian economy is hurting from western sanctions, Sweden and Finland have applied for NATO membership, and Russia's military capability has been severely degraded.

"In terms of manpower and equipment, the Russian ground forces on the Kola peninsula are currently at some 20 percent of their pre-war strength. Thus, the balance of conventional forces in the High North is increasingly tipping in NATO's favour.

"A Russian military incursion into one or more of the Nordic countries is less likely today than it was before February 24th, 2022. That said, Russia has demonstrated a high willingness to take political and military risks and to use military force and other means of influence in the pursuit of political objectives. Russia is still a crucially important factor in Norwegian and Nordic security policy and defence planning," Åtland noted.


For his part, Heier pointed to the fact that the changes are positive from Norway's security and defence perspective.

"The changes are quite extraordinary – of historic dimensions – and very positive as seen from a Norwegian perspective. Some 80 percent of Russia's land forces at the Kola Peninsula have been deployed, and partly destroyed, in Ukraine.

"Coupled with a Finnish and Swedish NATO membership, German rearmament, a more cohesive NATO, and a firmer US leadership in Europe, Norwegian security has improved immensely over the past year.

"As long as Russia's nuclear forces are effectively contained and deterred by US forces, Norway will have to grapple with a severely weakened and vulnerable Russian neighbour," Heier explained.


Norwegian defence expenditure on the rise

With no end to the war in sight, Norway is allocating a lot of resources to boost its military capacities and upgrade security, especially when it comes to its vital energy infrastructure.

"Enhancing Norway's military capability is a priority issue. Significant sums are being invested in new military hardware, and the exercise activity in the High North has been stepped up. Norwegian defence planning relies to a large extent on the premise that NATO reinforcements can be transferred smoothly and rapidly to Norwegian ports and air bases in the event of a crisis or military contingency on NATO's northern flank. This is also the primary focus of much of the military training activity that takes place in the region.

"In the last year, measures have also been taken to enhance the security of Norwegian oil rigs, pipelines and underwater cables in the North Sea and the Norwegian Sea. Norway's role as an energy supplier to the European continent has become more important in 2022, and this obviously has implications for Norway's defence priorities," Åtland said.

Heier accentuated that Russia is currently suffering from a "near collapse within its force."

"The Ukraine war has spurred anxiety among politicians in Norway as well as in the rest of the Western world. Defence budgets are therefore rising throughout the Continent, and Norway is no exemption.

"It is nevertheless a paradox that Norway's armed forces are 'budget winners' while the Armed Forces' existential enemy, Russia, suffers from a near collapse within its force. A weak Russia is very unlikely to challenge Norway and the Western security community where they are strongest.

"On the contrary, Russia will go for our vulnerabilities, and they are located in the civic communities, not within a Norwegian force that by and large is seen as an extended part of the United States' extended defence in the High North," he concluded.



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