Speech/statement | Date: 26/04/2022 | Office of the Prime Minister
Mr President, Two months after Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, it is becoming clear what a watershed moment this war represents.
24 February 2022 truly marks a turning point – there will be a before and an after – for so many people and in so many ways.
For Ukraine, for Russia, for European security and the US, for the world’s food markets and the global energy system.
And for Norway, as Russia’s neighbour and a NATO ally that has close ties to its Nordic neighbours.
The first phase of the war in Ukraine is over.
We can say with some certainty that Russia has not achieved its objectives.
It has failed to take control of the capital Kyiv or topple Ukraine’s legally elected Government.
It has suffered heavy losses, both of soldiers and of equipment.
The war has revealed major weaknesses in the Russian armed forces – relating to intelligence, cooperation between the various military branches, logistics and management, and the motivation of the Russian troops.
A new phase of the war has started.
Everything suggests that Russia’s key objective now is to take control over the whole of – or large parts of – the Donbas region in the east and, at a minimum, secure a land route to Crimea.
This a more traditional war, a vicious battle for territory of a kind all too familiar from European history before 1945.
We will see widespread use of heavy weapons and artillery.
Bringing destruction and a high death toll.
I have said this before from this podium, and I’ll say it again: I fear that things will get worse before they get better, not least for the millions of civilian Ukrainian women, men and children who face being killed, terrorised and forced to flee their homes.
It looks as though it will be very difficult to bring the war to an end in the phase that is now beginning.
It is likely that Russia will seek to strengthen its position on the ground in the east, and possibly in the south right across to Odesa in the west, near the Moldovan border.
The shocking and increasingly strong evidence of serious war crimes – from Bucha in the north to Mariupol in the southeast – makes it more and more difficult to maintain contact with President Putin’s political regime.
But it is vital to keep some channels of communication open.
The Government will therefore continue to support initiatives to do just that, such as the UN Secretary-General’s meeting with President Putin in Moscow today.
None of us who have tried to reach out to President Putin – whether from New York, Berlin, Paris, Tel Aviv, Ankara, Helsinki or Oslo – have any illusions that a telephone call in itself will lead to change.
No one is being naive about this.
We judge Russia by its actions on the ground, not what is said over the telephone.
We have communicated very clearly what we are seeing on the ground – the scale of destruction and the losses, also on the Russian side.
The UN Secretary-General and many European leaders are in agreement: we must keep a dialogue going between Ukraine and Russia if this war, which has already claimed tens of thousands of lives and forced 12 million people to leave their homes, is to be brought to an end.
The time will come when a political solution will have to be sought for this conflict as well.
Mr President, let me emphasise that:
We condemn Russia’s actions in the strongest possible terms, and we demand that Russia ends this war of destruction and pulls back its forces.
We will do everything in our power to ensure that serious war crimes – the murder of civilians, rape and sexual violence – are investigated and documented, and that those responsible are punished.
And Mr President, while we will continue to keep hopes of peace alive, we will help the Ukrainians defend themselves for as long as the war goes on.
Under international law, countries have the right to defend themselves against attack. Helping a country that is exercising its right to self-defence is also permitted – and the right thing to do.
That is why we are supporting initiatives to facilitate negotiations, while at the same time donating weapons to help Ukraine defend itself.
In the time ahead, the Ukrainian forces will need more weapons in order to withstand attacks in the east and south. They will need heavy weapons and more advanced weapons systems.
Norway will do its part to help.
We have donated a large amount of personal protective clothing and equipment needed by all those who have been mobilised to fight for Ukraine.
We have donated 4 000 M72 anti-tank weapons and around 100 Mistral air defence missiles. These weapons have arrived in Ukraine and have been handed over to the Ukrainian forces.
We are working closely with Ukraine and our allies to ensure effective coordination of weapon transfers.
Further direct donations of heavy weapons by Norway to Ukraine will be considered – and implemented – on an ongoing basis.
For security reasons, we do not publish information about these transfers before the weapons have been delivered.
The Government is also informing the Storting today that we will propose allocating NOK 400 million to a UK-led initiative to procure weapons and military equipment for Ukraine.
This will make it possible for us to help Ukraine acquire equipment that the Norwegian Armed Forces either do not have themselves or are unable to spare without undermining Norway’s defence capabilities.
Donating weapons to a party to a war is something our country has not done before.
I am pleased that a broad majority of the Storting agrees on the need to provide weapons support to Ukraine.
The Government attaches great importance to ensuring that the Storting is fully briefed on this matter.
We have had regular meetings within the framework of the Enlarged Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence.
We will continue to do so.
The fact that such a large majority of the Storting supports this approach is of great importance.
The repercussions of the war in Ukraine are being felt across the world.
But no one is paying a higher price than the Ukrainians themselves.
More than five million Ukrainians have fled the country and seven million are internally displaced, including four million children.
These numbers are hard to fathom.
The scale of humanitarian need is enormous. Early on in the crisis, Norway set aside NOK 2 billion in humanitarian aid for Ukraine and its neighbouring countries.
In the first phase of the war, we were one of the largest donors.
We are supporting Ukraine and we will continue to do so.
These efforts make a difference: funding from Norway is enabling the UN, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, and Norwegian humanitarian organisations to protect women and children and provide lifesaving assistance.
With Norwegian support, the World Food Programme will provide food to four million people in the course of May.
Through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism, we are providing material assistance and medical supplies. Norwegian health workers, ambulances, tents and camp beds are already in place in Poland.
And through the UN, we are helping the Ukrainian government administration to maintain critical services.
NOK 200 million in funding will be used to pay salaries for health care personnel, teachers and public sector employees.
Ukraine will need help for a long time to come. In the first instance, humanitarian assistance, but in the longer term, support to rebuild a war-torn country.
I know that I have the support of the Storting when I promise that Norway will continue to lead the way and do what it can to help, working closely with our Nordic neighbours, the EU, the US and other donors.
Europe, the US and a number of other countries have responded to Russia’s aggression by imposing sanctions on a scale not seen before in modern history.
Sanctions are the most important tool we have for putting pressure on Russian decision-makers, and our sanctions are now reducing Russia’s ability to finance the war.
Experience has shown that sanctions are most effective when many countries act in concert and impose the same restrictions.
The Government’s fundamental approach is for Norway to align itself with the EU’s sanctions. Several rounds of EU sanctions have now been implemented in Norwegian law.
At the same time, we are carrying out our own independent assessments.
I have already informed the Storting that it has been necessary for us to give particularly close consideration to the measures introduced by the EU prohibiting the broadcasting and distribution of content produced by media outlets Russia Today and Sputnik.
Let there be no doubt: Russia Today and Sputnik are state-controlled media used to spread disinformation and false news.
Some of the content is pure war propaganda.
Nevertheless: the Norwegian Constitution gives particularly strong protection to freedom of expression, and this includes a prohibition on prior censorship.
For this reason, as things stand, the Government has decided that Norway will not be aligning itself with these specific EU sanctions.
As previously communicated, Norway will align itself with the EU’s decision to close ports to Russian vessels. We will also implement the ban on Russian road transport operators.
We will need some time to assess in detail how to implement the ban on Russian vessels entering Norwegian ports.
The conditions and rules relating to Svalbard will require their own set of assessments.
We must ensure that we can maintain cooperation with Russia on search and rescue, emergency preparedness and maritime safety in the vast sea areas in the north. This is in the interests of all those sailing in these waters.
As coastal states, Norway and Russia also have an obligation to cooperate on the management of our common fish stocks. These are all important issues that must be addressed.
More than 14 500 Ukrainians have sought protection in Norway.
This is a small proportion of the people who have fled Ukraine, but it is a high number compared to what we are used to dealing with here in Norway.
It was previously anticipated that 3 000 asylum seekers would arrive in Norway in 2022.
This number has now been adjusted upwards, and it is estimated that there will be 60 000 asylum seekers from Ukraine alone.
This includes up to 500 patients with their families, as already announced by the Government. Fourteen patients and 22 family members have arrived so far.
Norway has also agreed to take in 2 500 displaced Ukrainians who are currently in Moldova, but so far many of these refugees have wanted to stay in Moldova in order to be able to return home quickly when the war ends.
We are now making concrete plans to receive 30 000 refugees from Ukraine. If 60 000 come to Norway, or more than 100 000, as previously estimated, we will be faced with an unprecedented challenge.
But an extraordinary effort is already needed on the part of all the actors involved to deal with the level of arrivals we are seeing today.
The police, the immigration authorities, the voluntary sector, indeed the whole of our society.
Many people have been working day and night to handle the situation. Countless employees in a wide array of government agencies, municipalities and organisations are pulling together in an enormous, collective effort.
I have met some of them and have been deeply impressed by the hard work and determination of so many Norwegians to help vulnerable people seeking refuge in Norway.
I would like to thank each and every one of you for your tireless efforts to receive and help people who have had to flee their country.
A great amount has been done, but the task of taking in so many refugees in the course of just a few short weeks has stretched our capacity at all stages of the process.
Normally, there are four stages to be completed before refugees are settled: registration, allocation of a place in a reception centre, granting of residency, and mapping of individual information and needs.
We have experienced growing pains in several of these areas.
But we have succeeded in speeding up all the stages to be completed before settlement.
The police and the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration (UDI) have enhanced capacity by simplifying the process for registering refugees, and registration centres have been established in 10 of 12 police districts.
The police have estimated that, if the number of arrivals remains at its current level, all those waiting will have been registered by the end of April.
When it comes to reception capacity, it is worth bearing in mind that we had roughly 4 000 reception places in Norway when the war in Ukraine started.
Capacity has now been scaled up to over 20 000 places, of which 9 000 are currently being used.
We have established 82 emergency reception centres.
The issue of bottlenecks in the processing of residence permit applications was quickly resolved with the introduction of the temporary collective protection scheme.
Before the Ukrainian refugees can be settled in a municipality, we need to obtain information about them and their needs. This is partly to ensure that families are settled close to each other, in the same municipality.
Refugees who come to Norway usually undergo a comprehensive mapping process. When so many come in such a short space of time, we cannot follow the normal procedures. There just isn’t time for that.
We have reduced the number of topics covered in the mapping process from 24 to 3.
Our computer systems have been adapted to this simplified process, and staffing levels have been increased considerably.
This took some time, but these systems were in place before Easter.
Last week, the information and needs of 720 people in reception centres were recorded, and UDI expects to be able to record information about between 200 and 450 Ukrainians every day in the time ahead.
This is more than the number of refugees arriving per day in Norway in recent weeks.
It is also worth pointing out that the Ukrainians who have come to Norway will spend a much shorter time in a reception centre than is normally the case.
In 2021, the average waiting time between being granted residency and being settled in a municipality was just over four months; in 2016, it was five.
Once the mapping process has been completed, the Ukrainian refugees can be settled, and the municipalities stand ready to receive them. We expect to see a significant increase in the number of Ukrainians being settled in the coming days and weeks.
Over the next few weeks, many Ukrainian adults and children will be given a new place to live in a Norwegian municipality.
Depending on how many refugees come to Norway, the settlement process could become a new bottleneck.
But the eagerness of the municipalities to get on with the job is a good sign. We are currently managing to receive many displaced Ukrainians – and rapidly complete the whole process from registration to settlement.
Norwegian municipalities have so far reported that they can take in 33 375 people in 2022.
There are still 32 municipalities that have not responded to the request from the Directorate of Integration and Diversity (IMDi). We therefore expect the final figure to be higher.
Some 52 municipalities have indicated that they can take in far more than they have been asked to.
Bærum municipality has said that it can take in twice as many, Hægebostad at least three times as many. Local communities, big and small, across the country stand ready to do their part.
Capacity has been increased. The situation is under control now, but it is still unpredictable. If there is a sudden increase in the number of arrivals, capacity may be stretched to the limits again.
We are also encountering challenges in other areas.
The work to establish 16 000 new reception centre places has brought many new operators on board in a short space of time.
UDI is working hard to ensure that the accommodation provided is of a satisfactory standard.
However, unacceptable conditions have been uncovered in certain cases.
UDI attaches great importance to resolving such problems quickly when they are reported, as it did, for example, in the case of the reception centre in Furuset in Oslo, which was promptly closed.
The current situation is exacerbating challenges we were already familiar with.
When many people who may not be aware of their rights are to enter the labour market, there is an increased risk of social dumping and work-related crime.
The Government is working on a number of measures to address this, and has, among other things, allocated an additional NOK 20 million to the Norwegian Labour Inspection Authority in 2022.
Other challenges are new to us.
Asylum seekers coming to Norway have not normally tended to bring animals with them.
This time is different.
In Ukraine, rabies has not been eradicated and other serious diseases affecting animals are present.
We must ensure that the pets being brought to Norway do not pose a risk to public or animal health.
We have therefore stipulated that all pets from Ukraine are to be registered by the Norwegian Food Safety Authority so that they can be microchipped, vaccinated against rabies, and treated for parasites that can cause serious disease.
The Norwegian Food Safety Authority will require pets to undergo quarantine where necessary, and the state will cover costs associated with the measures required by the Authority.
Now we are turning our attention more and more to the tasks to be carried out in the municipalities. Let me also stress that the police have stepped up their efforts to protect vulnerable people arriving in Norway, women and children, in order to prevent them from falling prey to abuse or exploitation.
The Government’s aim is to ensure that Ukrainians who have been forced to flee their homes can rapidly be integrated into Norwegian society.
Children are to be able to attend school or day-care programmes. Adults are to be able to find jobs or engage in other activities as quickly as possible.
In many places, children have already embarked on their new lives in Norway.
I recently met Denys, aged 6, who had his first day of school at Byskolen primary school in Sandefjord. He was a bit shy to begin with, but was starting to play with the other children with good backing from adults who can help with language difficulties and adept school managers who are unafraid to improvise.
Or Misha, aged 13, whom I and the Minister of Labour and Social Inclusion met together with his mother and sister at the reception centre at Helsfyr right after they arrived in March.
He just stood there without saying a word, looking down at the ground. A few weeks later, Minister Mjøs Persen saw the same boy in the playground in Bergen. This time he looked up at her. He had already learned a number of Norwegian words and phrases – such as ‘friend’ and ‘in love’ – that he had noted down in his book.
It is touching to hear about, and it gives us hope.
Before the Easter holiday, the Government circulated a wide-ranging proposal for amendments to the regulatory framework for review. These amendments are intended to make it easier for the municipalities to take in refugees and provide adequate services rapidly.
A large influx of refugees adds to the pressure on welfare services such as child day-care centres, schools and health care services. This will be felt both in the municipalities hosting reception centres and in the municipalities where the refugees end up settling.
Adjustments need to be made to certain schemes and services. This may have an impact on Norwegians as well.
Mr President, our consultations have shown that there is broad agreement on the need for such adjustments.
They also provided us with valuable input.
Many have expressed concern about legal protection for unaccompanied children who come to Norway.
The input also highlights the importance of providing adequate language training to all of those who come to Norway.
The Government is reviewing the input received and will submit a proposition to the Storting on amendments to the regulatory framework in the near future.
This war is affecting the lives of people across the entire world.
The UN Food Price Index has reached a record high.
Here in Norway, the impacts of higher food prices will come on top of other rising expenses.
But we will not experience a shortage of food in Norway.
We do not import any grain from Ukraine, and only a very limited amount from Russia.
The situation worldwide, however, is dramatic.
There are 45 African countries that normally import at least a third of the wheat they need from Ukraine or Russia.
Again, it is the poorest people who are being hit the hardest.
From the French Revolution to the Arab Spring, history has shown us that a steep rise in food prices can quickly spark social unrest and deep-seated conflict.
I would like to emphasise to the Storting that the global efforts to prevent hunger and food shortages are essential.
This was a priority area in the Government’s development policy before the war in Ukraine started.
And it has become even more critical these last two months.
The war is having a sustained effect on the global energy market, and will change this market profoundly.
Russia is one of the world’s largest producers of oil, gas and coal.
Once again we are seeing that the war is having both a geopolitical impact and an impact on people’s daily lives.
Norwegians, too, need to be prepared for the fact that a protracted war means that energy prices will be higher for a longer period.
The implications for Norway as an energy nation could be significant.
Most immediately, Norway’s role as a reliable supplier of gas to Europe will become even more important.
At the same time, the war could bring increased momentum to the green transition in Europe.
It is no coincidence that renewable energy in Germany is now being referred to as ‘freedom energy’.
As a result of the war, energy policy, security policy and climate policy in Europe have become even more closely intertwined.
As a leading energy producer and exporter, as part of Europe, Norway and the Norwegian business community will participate fully in the green transition.
Our expertise in areas such as wind power, carbon capture and storage, and hydrogen can play a key part in this.
The war in Ukraine is affecting the security situation in our own region.
The issues of Finnish and Swedish membership of NATO is now firmly on the table.
There are rapid but no less thorough processes under way in both of our Nordic neighbouring countries to prepare for what may well evolve into a new era in Nordic and European security policy.
We have had close, regular contact with Sweden and Finland during these past weeks. Whether Finland and Sweden will choose to join the Alliance has not yet been decided.
The decision is entirely up to Finland and Sweden themselves. But our message to them has been unambiguous: should they decide to apply for membership of NATO, they will have Norway’s full support.
Both Finland and Sweden are already close NATO partners and fulfil the criteria for membership of the Alliance.
These countries are our closest neighbours. We share fundamental values. Finnish and Swedish membership would be an asset for NATO. It would give the Nordic countries a stronger voice in the Alliance. And it would pave the way for much more comprehensive Nordic defence cooperation.
Swedish and Finnish membership of NATO would clearly benefit Norway’s security policy interests.
Before I conclude, I would like all of us in this chamber to step back and look beyond the immediate crisis.
To find courage in the midst of what we are witnessing – in the midst of all the brutality and desolation of the war.
For many years, it has been a constant refrain that democracy and the rule of law are growing weaker.
The message from Moscow, Beijing, Teheran, and even from Western countries at times, has been that democracy as a form of government has become paralysed and ineffectual.
That democracies have become weak and divided.
We have seen that illiberal ideologies and alternatives to liberal democracy have gained sway in many places.
China’s economic growth and technological advancement have been a source of admiration that many have viewed as a good example to follow.
We have heard the discourse on a coming new world order. With authoritarian states such as China and Russia at the core. Where democracies are unable to set the agenda. Where Europe’s democracies are existing in a deep lethargy.
But, Mr President, we are seeing the true life force of liberal democracy, and the inherent weaknesses of totalitarian regimes.
President Zelensky has been democratically elected. He has the support of the people and a high level of legitimacy. His opponent is an authoritarian leader who lacks the legitimacy that follows in the wake of free, open and fair elections.
And the Ukrainian people are showing the true power of a people fighting for their democracy, and for the right to decide autonomously over their own country.
Putin’s Russia, on the other hand, is a classic example of a totalitarian state, where the people must be lied to and threatened to keep them in their place.
President Putin was banking not just on the weakness of Ukraine’s democracy, but on the weakness of Western democracies as well.
But our democracies, too, have shown their strength.
The US has once again assumed its traditional leadership role and is taking the lead – together with its allies in Europe.
Western democracies have together adopted stringent, wide-ranging sanctions in record time.
Democracies have rapidly channelled weapons and extensive assistance to Ukraine.
Cooperation in the EU is stronger and more effective than ever before.
Cooperation in NATO is closer than ever before.
Germany, Europe’s largest democracy, has redefined its security and energy policy in a fraction of time normally needed.
While Russia, Mr President,
Russia is displaying the weaknesses of an authoritarian form of governance for all the world to see.
No one dares to criticise or give bad news to the leader. The last of the remaining free media are being closed, and the brave individuals who dare to speak out are being beaten, arrested and imprisoned.
There is no division of power, no system of checks and balances, no correctives through free elections.
There is no room for a critical public debate that can promote trust, confer legitimacy, and contribute to good decisions.
Democracy can be messy. Uncomfortable. It can take a frustrating amount of time to get things done.
Those of us whose job it is to exercise democracy are well aware of this.
But there is also enormous strength in democracy.
In the broad democratic processes.
A critical press and an open public debate.
The events that are unfolding in Ukraine, in Europe, in authoritarian Russia, illustrate the importance of this beyond any doubt.