Harnessing the Nordic-Baltic cooperation experience for Ukraine’s post-war recovery


Dr. Anne Pintsch Dr. Maryna Rabinovych

August 22, 2023

Executive summary

Ukraine’s fast and sustainable post-war recovery is a prerequisite for the realisation of the Vision 2030 strategy of the Nordic Council of Ministers. This policy brief provides recommendations on how to utilise the long-time Nordic-Baltic cooperation experience in assisting Ukraine’s recovery. Based on the analysis of the Nordic-Baltic relationship since the early 1990s, we recommend to the Nordic Council of Ministers the implementation of the following policy steps:

  1. Harness the opportunities granted by the historical momentum to deepen the Nordic (-Baltic) links with Ukraine.
  2. Build on the strong existing cooperation with the Baltic countries and prioritise joint action.
  3. Open an office of the Nordic Council of Ministers (or a joint office with the Baltic Assembly) in Kyiv as a hub for local knowledge, exchange and the development of multi-level networks with Ukrainian stakeholders.
  4. Based on the Nordic welfare model, develop short-term support programmes for Ukrainians who continue residing in Ukraine and address deeply-rooted weaknesses of the Ukrainian social security system.
  5. Use Nordplus and other available programmes to train qualified Ukrainian refugees, students and professionals in the Nordic Region (and Baltic Region) as liaison persons between Ukraine and the Nordic countries (and the Baltic countries) in various spheres of their specialisation. This recommendation applies to both Ukrainians who intend to stay in the Nordic or Baltic Region and may work for Ukraine-related projects and potential reintegrated experts, i.e., those who intend to return to Ukraine and contribute to recovery-related programmes.
  6. Develop ‘sandwich’ support programmes for Ukrainian governmental organisations, civil society and the aforementioned reintegrated experts.
  7. Introduce institutional structures, flexible grant schemes and short-term exchange opportunities to ensure the viability of links between such reintegrated experts, Ukrainian NGOs and their Nordic and Baltic counterparts.
  8. Design monitoring and integrity mechanisms to avoid the misuse of support provided.

Ukraine’s sustainable recovery as a prerequisite for realising Vision 2030

According to the Vision 2030 of the Nordic Council of Ministers: “The Nordic Region will become the most sustainable and integrated region in the world by 2030”. [1] Yet, as the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine demonstrate, the contemporary world is so tightly integrated that a crisis in one region has implications for others. Therefore, to realise the Vision for the future of the Nordic countries, the Nordic Council of Ministers must support the sustainable recovery of Ukraine.

Peace, political stability and resilience in Ukraine is critical for the Nordic Region for various reasons. First, Ukraine is an outpost for protecting Europe from an aggressive and assertive Russia. Any Russian military or political success in Ukraine jeopardises the stability and sustainability of the Nordic Region. Russia’s direct Northern neighbours – Finland and Norway – are facing an increased Russian threat [2-4]. The Baltic states, which share borders with both Russia and its ally Belarus and – together with Denmark, Sweden and Finland – are bordering states to the strategically important Baltic Sea, which may be the next target of a resurgent Russia. [5] Furthermore, in the Arctic, Russia’s hybrid offensive strategy has intensified. [6] Second, Ukraine has 15 operable reactors at four nuclear power plants, the safety of which is critical for energy and environmental security Europe-wide. Third, Russia’s war against Ukraine highlights how important grain exports from Ukraine are for food security and food prices, especially in the Middle East and Africa. Political instability and conflicts in these regions, provoked by hunger, would contribute to new migration movements that will also impact the Nordic Region.

On the bright side, the experiences of Nordic-Baltic cooperation offer many valuable lessons for Nordic and Nordic-Baltic joint support [7] to Ukraine’s sustainable post-war recovery. The experiences with the Nordic-Baltic cooperation since the early 1990s should be harnessed by the Nordic Council of Ministers when it comes to rebuilding Ukraine. Ukraine’s post-war recovery is envisaged to be tightly connected to the process of its EU accession. [8] The close cooperation between the Nordic countries and the Baltic states since 1991 had been conducive to the latter’s European integration. The most recent cooperation agreement between the Nordic Council and the Baltic Assembly puts the spotlight on Ukraine. [9] The Nordic Council of Ministers should follow in their footsteps.

Recollecting the Nordic-Baltic cooperation experience from the early 1990s

In order to “support Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania in the struggle to reassert their independence” [10] the Nordic Council of Ministers launched a multifaceted cooperation with the three countries in 1991. This early phase of the cooperation, including the opening of offices in all three capitals of the Baltic states, enabled the Nordic Council of Ministers to make the best possible use of the historical momentum offered by the collapse of the Soviet Union. The cooperation established between the Nordic Council and the Baltic Assembly in Tallinn in 1991 laid the foundation for the Nordic Baltic Eight (NB8) cooperation format that has since brought together prime ministers, parliamentarians, executives, and experts from five Nordic and three Baltic countries. Importantly, the Nordic Region actively supported the Baltic countries in their preparation for integration into the EU and NATO through multilevel cooperation structures, as well as through diplomatic efforts within the EU and transatlantic integration structures. [11] The Nordic Council of Ministers should recollect this success story and support Ukraine in its struggle for independence and EU accession.

After the Baltic countries’ accession to the EU and NATO, their cooperation with the Nordic countries changed. [11] It became a partnership of equals, and freed up the Nordic Region’s resources to cooperate with the Baltic Region beyond its integration issues. The NB8 format, however, continues to be used by the participating countries as a forum for political cooperation. Beyond the political and foreign policy domains, the Nordic-Baltic cooperation revolves around five key themes, involving: 1) education, research and innovation, inter alia, exercised through the Nordplus programme [12]; 2) business, clusters and creative industries; 3) the environment, climate and energy with the focus on the Baltic Sea; 4) a variety of international challenges, faced by welfare states, ranging from the fight against human trafficking and spread of HIV/AIDS to improving hospital services and; 5) cross-border regional cooperation aimed at promoting shared values both in the Nordic-Baltic Region and with respect to neighbouring countries. [10]

Lessons from the Nordic-Baltic cooperation for the support of Ukraine’s recovery

The experiences from both phases of Nordic-Baltic cooperation offer several lessons for the Nordic and/or Nordic-Baltic support of Ukraine. First, it is important to harness the opportunities that the current historical momentum provides. International attention and support to Ukraine amidst the war are unprecedented. Cooperation between Ukraine and the Nordic countries has increased at all levels, and perceptions of the country have changed dramatically. This offers valuable opportunities for the deepening of the ties between Ukraine and its Nordic and Baltic counterparts and to exercise political and technical support for their integration into European and Euro-Atlantic structures. Nonetheless, in contrast to the Baltic countries back in the 1990s, Ukraine is a large and a war-torn country, and as of now, a considerable part of its southeastern territories continues to be occupied by Russia. It is therefore important for Nordic and Baltic leaders to develop a deep understanding of the challenges Ukraine’s recovery and European integration represents and thus distinguish areas where the Nordic and/or Nordic-Baltic joint contribution can have strongest added value.

Second, Nordic-Baltic cooperation is strong and covers many fields that are directly relevant for the recovery of Ukraine. It is therefore advisable to build the support of Ukraine on these existing structures, to closely coordinate activities, and to prioritise joint action.

Third, local knowledge and multilevel networks, facilitated by the offices of the Nordic Council of Ministers, proved to be crucial for the Nordic-Baltic cooperation and the Nordic support for the Baltic Region’s independence, transformation and European integration. Opening an office of the Nordic Council of Ministers (or a joint office with the Baltic Assembly) in Kyiv is required for the establishing of close contact with the Ukrainian government and civil society. This is a prerequisite for tailor-made Nordic support. Such support could, as a first priority, deal with countering the social consequences of Russia’s invasion, which pushed Ukraine 15 years back in its fight against poverty. [13] Using the experience of the Nordic welfare model, immediate support should address the most vulnerable groups (e.g. those living with HIV/AIDS, those in state-funded nursing homes) and provide technical assistance for analysing and improving Ukraine’s legislation on pensions and social support, for instance, to strengthen the contributory pension system in Ukraine.

Fourth, in this context, a visible role should be played by Ukrainian refugees, students and professionals. This includes both those who intend to stay in the Nordic countries (or the Baltic countries) and engage in Ukraine-related projects and those who seek to reintegrate into the professional environment in Ukraine. Qualified individuals should be trained to act as liaisons between Nordic (or Baltic) countries, on the one hand, and Ukraine on the other, including in various project domains, ranging from social security to transport, education and infrastructure. This requires creating viable and well-funded structures and sectoral educational opportunities, e.g., via the Nordplus programme, ideally coupled with network-building opportunities with colleagues from the Nordic and/or the Baltic countries. In addition, it is key to design attractive reintegration schemes for Ukrainian graduates and young professionals that should be coupled with support for Ukrainian civil society. This could be done by creating ‘sandwich’ schemes for funding Ukrainian civil society’s post-war recovery initiatives with the involvement of reintegrated experts, acquainted with relevant Nordic and Baltic experiences. Attention should also be dedicated to the design of monitoring and integrity mechanisms to avoid the misuse of the support provided.

The Sandwich Scheme Brain drain is one of the central problems Ukraine will face in the post-war period. As the war continues, the number of Ukrainian refugees seeking to settle abroad increases. [14] At the same time, almost 50 percent of refugees declare an intent to come back, with the end of the war (51.2 %) and the absence of fighting or air attacks (34.1 %) reported as essential prerequisites for return. [15] Importantly, many Ukrainians report being ready to return even to regions, different from their home regions, provided that there are job opportunities and support schemes there (e.g. subsidised flats, relocation packages). [15] Support for the reintegration of Ukrainian refugees should thus be seen as a crucial form of post-war recovery assistance agreed by international donors. For qualified staff, an opportunity to directly contribute to post-war recovery projects – exercised by government and non-governmental organisations – can serve as a strong incentive to return. ‘Sandwich’ schemes envisage that a donor provides institutional and project-based support to an organisation active in recovery projects, and finances the reintegration of experts to work on such programmes. To make ‘sandwich’ schemes effective, it is important to ensure that reintegrated experts and other employees get equal remuneration (a donor may have to consider salary top-ups for other employees, if necessary), and that there are pathways to support an organisation’s institutional development. Moreover, sandwich schemes function best when all employees are engaged in active knowledge exchange processes with peers from the donor country and beyond.

Repeating a success story with a Nordic signature

In the 1990s, the added value of Nordic-Baltic cooperation from a Nordic perspective consisted in the “economic prosperity and political stability in the region” [11 (p.1)]. Today, the Nordic countries face a similar situation. The goals of the Vision 2030 strategy can only be achieved in a prosperous and stable Europe including, first and foremost, a safe and recovered Ukraine. The Nordic Council of Ministers should harness the experiences of the Nordic-Baltic cooperation to support Ukraine as it once supported the Baltic countries and thus repeat a success story with a Nordic signature

Dr. Anne Pintsch and Dr. Maryna Rabinovych, Department of Political Science and Management, Faculty of Social Sciences University of Agder, Kristiansand, Norway


[1] Nordic Co-operation [Internet]. Our vision 2030 [cited 2023 June 5]. Available from: https://www.norden.org/en/declaration/our-vision-2030

[2] Schulz T. Finland builds fence for defense amid Russian threats. Deutsche Welle [Internet]. 2023 April 17 [cited 2023 June 4]. Available from https://www.dw.com/en/finland-builds-fence-for-defense-amid-russian-threats/a-65350737.

[3] AP [Internet]. Norway: Russia is a threat for all of Europe [cited 2023 June 5]. Available from: https://apnews.com/article/politics-norway-government-oslo-denmark-europe-2f3011ad16af95e3353b580d2c7bd92b

[4] Jonassen T. Norwegian Defence Analysis of 2023: Norway’s Defence is Not Good Enough. High North News [Internet] 2023 March 24 [cited 2023, June 5]. Available from: https://www.highnorthnews.com/en/norwegian-defence-analysis-2023-norways-defense-not-good-enough.

[5] Fosse AL. Slik kan en russisk krig mot Norge utspille seg: - Angrep uten hensyn til sivile tap. Nettavisen Nyheter [Internet]. 2023 May 19 [cited 2023 June 5]. Norwegian. Available from: https://www.nettavisen.no/russland/norge/ukraina/slik-kan-en-russisk-krig-mot-norge-utspille-seg-angrep-uten-hensyn-til-sivile-tap/s/5-95-1101343.

[6] Wall C, Wegge, N. The Russian Arctic Threat: Consequences of the Ukraine War. Center for Strategic and International Studies [Internet] 2023 January 25 [cited 2023 June 5]. Available from: https://www.csis.org/analysis/russian-arctic-threat-consequences-ukraine-war.

[7] Though the policy brief primarily targets the Nordic Council of Ministers, many of the suggested recommendations can be implemented in tight cooperation with the Baltic partners.

[8] European Commission [Internet]. Ukraine: Commission presents plans for the Union’s immediate response to address Ukraine’s financial gap and the longer-term reconstruction. 2023 May 18 [cited 2023 June 5]. Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_22_3121.

[9] Nordic Co-operation [Internet]. New Nordic-Baltic co-operation agreement puts spotlight on Ukraine. 2022 April 5 [cited 2023 June 5]. Available at: https://www.norden.org/en/news/new-nordic-baltic-co-operation-agreement-puts-spotlight-ukraine.

[10] Nordic Co-operation [Internet]. The Nordic Council of Ministers’ activities in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania [cited 2023 June 5]. Available at: https://www.norden.org/en/information/nordic-council-ministers-activities-estonia-latvia-and-lithuania.

[11] Stjórnarráðið [Internet] NB8 wise men report [cited 2023 June 5]. Available at: https://www.stjornarradid.is/media/utanrikisraduneyti-media/media/skyrslur/nb8-wise-men-report.pdf.

[12] Nordplus [Internet] Reykavik: Rannis (The Icelandic Centre for Research on behalf of the Nordic Council of Ministers) [cited 2023 June 5]. Available at: https://www.nordplusonline.org.

[13] Smyshliaev S. War pushed Ukraine 15 years back in its fight against poverty. Deutsche Welle [Internet] 2023 February 12 [cited 2023 June 5]. Available at: https://www.nlm.nih.gov/bsd/uniform_requirements.html.

[14] UNIAN [Internet]. Stay or return: how to solve the dilemma of Ukrainian emigrants? 2023 April 17 [cited 2023 June 5]. Available at: https://www.unian.ua/economics/finance/zalishitisya-chipovernutisya-yak-virishiti-dilemu-ukrajinskih-emigrantiv-12222789.html.

[15] Mykhailishina D. What will stimulate Ukrainian refugees to come back home? Economic Pravda [Internet]. 2023 March 20 [cited 2023 June 5]. Available at: https://www.epravda.com.ua/publications/2023/03/20/698183.