The impact of the war in Ukraine in the Nordic countries has been largely viewed with reference to Finland and Sweden and their possible accession to NATO. But what have been the reactions of other Nordic countries to Russia’s war of aggression, what are their most important demands and what role are left parties playing in this response?
Norwegian left party Rødt (Red Party) MP Tobias Drevland Lund outlines the experience in Norway and the prospects for a progressive and sustainable security infrastructure in Europe. Lund represents the electoral district of Telemark in Norway’s storting (parliament) and currently sits on the Nordic Council. From 2018‒20 he was leader of the party’s youth wing, Rød Ungdom.
How has the Norwegian government reacted to the war in Ukraine? Is it supplying weapons to Ukraine or has it announced a supply? Are there any significant changes in position?
At first, the social democrat-led government and all other parties in parliament were united in our condemnation of Putin’s act of aggression with his illegal, imperialist attack on Ukraine. There was also a broad consensus among the parties about helping Ukraine with medical and humanitarian aid and welcoming the Ukrainian refugees.
The first big shift in position from the government was when they championed sending weapons to Ukraine. Initially, all the parties agreed on aiding the Ukrainians with helmets and protective vests, because Ukraine had specifically requested it. Just a short time after, however, it was decided that Norway also should contribute with military weapons.
This was in breach of a law dating back to 1959, saying that Norway should not export weapons to any country at war. At that time, Norway had a common border with the Soviet Union and Norway was afraid of being considered a co-combatant against the Soviets under international law.
The Norwegian government, and all parties in parliament except the Red Party, supported this new shift in position. The Red Party is of the opinion that Norway, bordering Russia, should still be wary of providing weapons to Ukraine, as it could make us a co-combatant. We should rather do whatever we can do to help the Ukrainians by other means.
What measures does the government intend to take to help establish peace in Ukraine? What is its position at the European level and vis-à-vis NATO?
The government has been relying too much on the EU in our opinion. Even though sanctions and restrictions have more effect if more countries are agreeing, the Red Party thinks the government has been slow in taking various actions in response to the crisis. For example, early on we proposed to implement a law that would launch an investigation and issue an international arrest warrant against Putin for violating the Rome Statute’s ban on wars of aggression.
The government and the majority in parliament have rejected this proposal. The Red Party also proposed heavy sanctions on the Russian oligarchs, and we demanded the exclusion of all Russian oligarchs from our oil and gas industry. The latter has indeed taken place — not because of our government, but because of actions taken by the British.
We have also asked the government to be more active in actually transporting the Ukrainian refugees to Norway and to give shelter to activists, artists and Russian deserters who refuse to fight in Putin’s war.
Have there been protests in Norway? What are their most important demands? What role do peace organisations play in the protests? What role do trade unions play?
There have been several protests all over the country and the Ukrainians themselves have been very active in organising them. Almost weekly, there are demonstrations in the biggest Norwegian cities. Many of the demands differ, but one is clear: stop Putin’s war on Ukraine. The trade unions have been active in supporting their comrades in Ukraine vocally, and in the form of donations and other forms of support.
The Norwegian peace movement has also been trying to rebuild and rally people, and a couple of weeks ago there was a peace conference in Oslo, arranged by key people in the peace movement. I really hope the peace movement grows stronger, because we need them now more than ever.
How have Norway’s left parties reacted to both the war and to the government’s response? Have there been any significant changes in position? What are the left parties’ proposals for concrete measures towards ending the war and long-term peace-building in Ukraine?
First, we obviously need to do whatever we can to stop the war and to bring Putin to justice. I also think the left parties might have been too passive when it comes to developing our security policies.
For a long time, the focus has been on all the wars the United States and the NATO-alliance has been waging in Libya, in Afghanistan and in Iraq, for example. These wars have been catastrophic and we did the right thing to oppose them, as we oppose all imperialist wars.
The policies and demands from both the Red Party and the Socialist Left Party have been to withdraw from NATO and to build a Nordic defensive alliance. Because there has been so much focus on all the US wars abroad, we have not properly discussed or worked towards developing such alternative, however.
Russia’s attack on Ukraine has unfortunately now made a Nordic defensive alliance an even more distant dream, as both Sweden and Finland are joining NATO — unless Turkish President Recep Erdoğan vetoes their applications. In my opinion, the Nordic left needs to work harder to develop policies and gain credibility in regards to both our defence politics and our alternatives to NATO.
Right now, the Red Party — alongside the peace movement — is fighting a bill from the government that would allow a permanent US military presence at military bases in Norway. This would make the ongoing disputes and difficult relations with Russia even worse and more strained. We would rather work on strengthening our own defence so Norway is no longer reliant on US military aid, as we are today.
What, according to the left party, could a progressive and sustainable security infrastructure in Europe (and/or globally) look like? What impact do the left parties have on discussions and policies responding to the situation?
Both the Red Party and the Socialist Left Party have been under sustained attack from the major newspapers and the other parties for our stance on NATO. It has not been easy, but in difficult times, it is more important than ever to hold on to your beliefs.
I do not think NATO will be a key to peace in Europe, nor in the world. On the contrary, I think NATO/US-Russia relations will continue to become even worse and I am terrified to think what two nuclear powers can do to each other. So, if Sweden and Finland join NATO, the Nordic countries should also join forces inside the alliance.
It is more important than ever that the left in Europe and worldwide keep working for peace, nuclear disarmament and diplomatic solutions, rather than military ones.