Speech/statement | Date: 15/11/2022 | Ministry of Foreign Affairs
By Minister of Foreign Affairs Anniken Huitfeldt (Oslo, 15 November)
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ms Anniken Huitfeldt, opens Norwegian Institute of International Affairs' Russia Conference 2022.
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Ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you for the invitation to open NUPI’s Russia Conference.
As some of you may remember, I also gave the opening speech last year.
I mentioned that I had recently met Russia’s foreign minister Lavrov in Tromsø. I had been foreign minister for 10 days – Lavrov for 17 years. He said that he found me to be very direct, even aggressive! But I still found it to be a positive meeting, that offered hope of increased contact and cooperation.
Looking at everything that has happened since the 24th of February, it seems like much, much longer ago.
For nine months, Russia has been waging a brutal war of conquest against Ukraine. With the assistance of the Lukashenko regime in Belarus.
Thousands of civilians have been killed or wounded, including many children. There are chilling reports about forced evacuations of Ukrainians from occupied areas to Russia, thousands of children among them.
The behaviour of Russian forces in Ukraine raises the question: Which Russia are we facing?
When faced with this question I am grateful for the insight and input from many people in this room!
In the early 1990s, we had hope. As foreign minister, Thorvald Stoltenberg fathered the Barents cooperation. Built on much the same thinking that underpinned European integration after world war two.
We were hoping that a reborn Russia would become like us. This hope was dashed within a few years. But it happened gradually. There were bright spots along the way. And we worked for a long time to engage Russia in broad international cooperation. In the belief that this would contribute positively to a democratic, prosperous Russia. We were right to try.
But our efforts failed. On the 24th of February, this became clear to everyone. Russia rejected dialogue. Instead, it chose a war of aggression.
This is the Russia we are facing now, and in the foreseeable future.
- A radicalized regime with clear totalitarian features.
- A regime that violates international law.
- That violates the human rights and fundamental freedoms of its own citizens.
- That is waging a brutal war against a neighbouring country.
- And that poses a threat to our - and our allies' - interests.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Russia has underestimated Western unity. And overestimated its own power and influence. There are signs that the course of the war may have changed. On the battlefield, Ukraine now has the initiative. Europe’s dependence on Russian gas is coming to an end, with Norwegian assistance. For Russia, the invasion of Ukraine has been a massive miscalculation.
But the war is not over. We must be prepared for worse. Our resolve will be tested in the coming months. Ukraine will continue to need large-scale support. Putin is trying to force the Ukrainians to their knees by attacking power stations and other civilian targets.
History has shown that such attacks fail. And they will fail now. They stiffen the Ukrainians’ determination to resist. But Ukraine needs all the help it can get. Through this winter and in the coming years. Together with our partners, Norway will continue to stand up for Ukraine.
In Russia there is increasing concern about the consequences of the war. Mobilisation has brought the war home to the Russian population. As a result, public discontent is growing.
There is increasing uncertainty about the political situation in Russia. About the degree of political stability. I will not speculate today – but we know that Russia has undergone rapid and dramatic political changes before. We must be prepared that it can happen again.
In December last year, Russia warned of ‘serious military and political consequences’ if Sweden and Finland joined NATO. For Finland, that was a reminder of the so called “friendship treaty” of 1948. The Russian threats were counterproductive.
During this last year, the security policy situation in Europe has changed dramatically. Sweden and Finland are in the process of joining NATO. This will strengthen the alliance. And our security. And it will contribute to a common approach to the defence of Northern Europe.
Without Russia’s invasion of Ukraine this would not have happened - another sign that by invading Ukraine, Putin made a strategic mistake.
We seek to maintain flexibility in our Russia policy. At the same time, it is more important than ever to work for a common Russia policy among our partners and allies.
European countries have had different approaches to Russia over the years. There have been diverging views on the need for cooperation. On the need for deterrence. On the value of close economic ties and mutual dependence in the field of energy.
Norway’s view has been shaped by our NATO membership. But also by our close ties with Russia in the North. By our pragmatic and practical cooperation with Russia. And by our history, in particular the liberation of Eastern Finnmark during the Second World War. But this experience is different from that of our partners who suffered from decades of Soviet occupation.
For the past ten years, these various views on Russia have converged. We can now speak of a more united approach to Russia. In particular after the 24th of February.
We still have to rely on deterrence and reassurance to further our own security. Our saying High north, low tension should remain our vision for a better future. We will continue to cooperate in areas where Norway and Russia have common interests. But we will not explore new areas of cooperation with a regime that is conducting a brutal aggression against a neighbouring state. And we have frozen most of our government-to-government cooperation with Russia.
Russia’s behaviour in international organisations is far from constructive. Russia uses the UN Security Council and the OSCE institutions as platforms to spread disinformation – thereby undermining the institutions that we depend on.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I mentioned Finlands historical experience with the so called Friendship treaty. As many of you know, Soviet efforts were not limited to Finland. For many years, the Soviet Union sought a friendship treaty with Norway.
In 1980, foreign minister Knut Frydenlund travelled to Moscow to meet foreign minister Gromyko. Moscow sought to repair some of their relationship with the west after their invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.
Frydenlund had made it clear that such a treaty was not even a topic of discussion during the visit. But during a coffee break, Gromyko couldn’t help himself. Why were Norway so opposed to a treaty of friendship with a friendly neighbour?
Frydenlund, with a wry smile, responded: “20 years ago I accompanied foreign minister Halvard Lange on a visit to Moscow. The Soviet foreign minister was named Andrej Gromyko even then. The proposed friendship treaty was brough up. I remember particularly well that you, as an argument and example in favour of such a treaty, mentioned the treaty on friendship you had just signed……………..with Afghanistan…”
Gromyko did not bring it up again…
Good decisions require knowledge. In this bleak situation, we need your knowledge and expertise more than ever. That is why your work is of utmost importance for me – and the government. But it is also important for Norwegian society. And as a contribution to informed debate about our relationship with Russia.
I wish you a fruitful conference.