Russian invasion news round-up: | #cybersecurity | #cyberattack

THE NORWEGIAN GOVERNMENT IS SENDING medical supplies worth NOK 43 million (nearly USD 5 million) to Ukraine and neighbouring countries that are taking in refugees. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has led to shortages of everything from painkillers like Paracet to heart medicine, antibiotics and insulin.

Health Minister Ingvild Kjerkol said the supplies including surgical equipment are being sent via the EU’s system for civil preparedness, with the first deliveries from Norway arriving in Poland last week. “We must help one another in crisis,” Kjerkol stated, adding that Norwegian health care personnel are also standing by and ready to help local health services in Ukraine’s neighbouring countries.

Norway has also offered to take in up to 550 Ukrainian patients as part of a European emergency response if needed, including children, anyone suffering burn injuries and cancer patients. Norway operates its own air ambulance that was put on standby duty from March 1.

NORWAY IS NO LONGER A FRIEND OF RUSSIA’S, according to Russia’s official news agency TASS. It reported on Monday that Russian authorities have now approved a list of foreign states and territories that are carrying out “unfriendly actions” against Russia. Included on the list are the US, all the members of the European Union, and Norway.

Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre had already stated himself that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24 had “changed the relationship” between Norway and Russia, which share a border just east of Kirkenes in the far north. Now that seems to have been confirmed, even though both Norwegian and Russian residents of the border area have long had lots of contact, could freely cross the border and cooperate on lots of regional issues from fishing rights to search and rescue operations. Many still hope formal agreements will remain in place.

AROUND 100 NORWEGIANS ARE KEEN TO FIGHT for Ukraine. News bureau NTB reported that the Ukrainian Embassy in Oslo has confirmed the expressions of interest in becoming voluntary soldiers for Ukraine, following its invasion by Russia. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has earlier asked other Europeans to join the fight against Russia’s invasion, since Ukraine is not a member of NATO. There are no laws prohibiting Norwegians from fighting for other countries, but they must then be under the command of the country’s military and wear its uniform.

NORWAY EXPANDED ITS CLOSURE OF AIR SPACE to Russian flights last week. Now it also includes Norway’s Arctic archipelago of Svalbard and the islands of Jan Mayen and Bjørnøya, where Norway has both military and weather stations.

Barentsburg on Svalbard is home to around 400 Russians. PHOTO: Møst

Russia has a small community of around 400 people at Barentsburg on Svalbard, most of whom are officially tied to coal mining operations run by Trust Arktikugol. They’ll still be allowed to fly helicopters between Barentsburg and Longyearbyen, the largest community on Svalbard, since there are no roads between the two. Flights can also be allowed for humanitarian or emergency reasons.

RUSSIAN SKIERS LEFT NORWAY ON A SOUR NOTE after being declared unwelcome at the weekend’s World Cup competition at Holmenkollen in Oslo. Then they found their team vehicles spray-painted with the Ukraininan flag and tagged with unflattering slogans.

Russian skiing star Alexander Bolsjunov was especially bitter, even claiming he didn’t feel safe in Oslo and claiming he was “shocked.” One of the Russian coaches told state broadcaster NRK that “we are all very sad,” and the Russian team reported the vandalism to police before leaving Norway.

Norwegians athletes had made it clear they didn’t want to compete against Russian athletes, given Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine last week. They didn’t defend the vandalism, though. While some said they could understand that opponents of the war would want to tag the Russian team’s vehicles while they were parked at Holmenkollen, biathlon star Tiril Eckhoff was critical, calling the vandalism “childish.” Ingrid Landmark Tandrevold agreed: “Call me naive, but I think this is Putin’s war. I don’t think it’s the Russian biathlon- or skiing team’s war, or wish.”

Organizers of the Holmenkollen Ski Festival claimed the Russian team’s vehicles were parked on public property and they couldn’t be held responsible. “What we can say,” Stefan Marx told NRK, “is that we don’t like what happened. It’s vandalism. We think the Russians should have been allowed to travel home in peace.” Some of them have also been met with threats. “I think that’s just terrible,” Alexander Stöckl, coach of the Norwegian men’s ski jumping team, told NRK.

NOT ONLY WERE RUSSIAN ATHLETES UNWELCOME IN NORWAY this week, so were Russian oil companies. Oil & Energy Minister Marte Mjøs Persen announced that after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, no Russian companies will be granted any licenses for oil and gas exploration on the Norwegian Continental Shelf. “Norway stands together with Europe regarding the massive economic sanctions against Russia,” Persen said, meaning Russian firms won’t be allowed to do business in the Norwegian sector.

Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) noted that Rosneft, which is 40 percent owned by the Russian state, and Lukoil, a large privately owned Russian company, have had a presence in Norway’s offshore territory for 10 years, but Rosneft returned its license several years ago and Lukoil appears to be in the process of delivering its license back as well.

Persen’s decree isn’t likely, meanwhile, to affect Wintershall Dea Norge, which has been active off Norway. Persen told DN that “the Norwegian firm Wintershall Dea Norge is a wholly owned subsidiary of the German firm Wintershall Dea.” Even though Russian oligarch Mikhail Fridman is its second-largest owner, the Norwegian unit can avoid the goverment’s ban on Russian players. Fridman and Wintershall itself have both criticized Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with Wintershall calling it “the Russian President’s war of aggression … that has shaken the foundations of the company’s work in Russia to the core.”

Wintershall CEO Mario Mehren said in what the company called “a personal statement” that “the brutal attack is causing unimaginable suffering and marks a turning point.” Wintershall declared in a press release this week that it would not pursue any additional gas and oil production projects in Russia, would stop planning for new projects, would “basically stop payments to Russia with immediate effect” and would write off its financing of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline that amounted to around EUR 1 billion.

US PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN WON SOME GOOD REVIEWS in Norway for his State of the Union address in Washington this week, that spent a lot of time on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Newspaper Dagsavisen was among those praising Biden’s “stoic calm” in the midst of the crisis in Ukraine.

The paper noted that the president’s annual speech to Americans is also “a speech to the world,” which needs some reassurance right now. Biden had invited Ukraine’s ambassador to attend (a courtesy also extended by Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre when he addressed Parliament this week) and the US president was “confident and inclusive, clear and with well-thought-out remarks,” while refraining from provocation.

“The world should be happy that Donald Trump is no longer president,” editorialized Dagsavisen, and that Biden, “with his massive experience from Congress and the White House as vice president, is leading the world’s most powerful land right now.”

PRIME MINISTER JONAS GAHR STØRE HAILED THE COURAGE of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during a phone conversation with the embattled leader on Wednesday. Støre told Zelensky that both he and the people of Norway “salute you for the courage of the Ukrainian people and you personally, for standing tall in this extremely dire moment in the history of Ukraine, but also of Europe. You have broad support from the Norwegian people in your struggle, which we also see as our struggle. ”

Støre has, however, cautioned Norwegians against heeding Zelensky’s call to travel to Ukraine and join the fight against invading Russian forces. “I understand that the discussion can come up,” Støre told TV2, “but war is dramatic.”

It’s not illegal for Norwegians to engage in war on behalf of another country, but anyone doing so must join the other country’s military and wear their uniform. “You must also assume the risks involved and be under the laws of the country at war,” said military lawyer Sigrid Redse Johansen.

NORWEGIAN POLICE, THE COAST GUARD AND TAX AUTHORITIES raided a private luxury yacht that suddenly tied up in the harbour of Narvik in Northern Norway last week. The yacht is reportedly owned by former KGB officer Vladimir Strzhalkovsky, who’s also a friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Newspaper Fremover reported that Norwegian defense forces had been following the yacht Ragnar, as it sailed along the coast of Northern Norway just as major NATO winter exercises are getting underway. A former Norwegian intelligence agent told state broadcaster that it’s “hardly coincidental” for large Russian vessels to turn up during NATO exercises.

“This is something the Russians have done for years when major allied exercises are going on in Northern Norway,” Ola Kaldager told NRK. Kaldager said the vessels are usually fishing boats or “more advanced” sorts of vessels: “It’s a bit special that this is a good friend of Putin, who’s been a KGB officer.”

Norwegian authorities tried to downplay their “control” of the yacht, calling it merely a “standard control of a ship in our area.” All on board were holding valid passports and visas for the Schengen area, and authorities didn’t find anything amiss. Customs agents, however, were carrying out “normal routines” to ensure that any goods on board that are brought into Norway were subject to various taxes. The Norwegian Navy declined to comment on the authorities’ inspection of the yacht.

NORWEGIANS HAVE STARTED HOARDING IODINE PILLS, which can serve as a form of vaccine against radioactivity. Pharmacies have been running short of supplies, after sales jumped following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last week.

Some pharmacies have posted signs notifying customers that they’re “unfortunately sold out of iodine tablets for use after nuclear accidents.” It’s a scary message for many, in nervous times after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced he was raising Russia’s arsenal of nuclear weapons to a higher level of preparedness.

Putin’s move was roundly condemned as unnecessary and irresponsible, but it’s worried Norwegians who’ve had to deal with fallout from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident over the years. “We do recommend that people have iodine tablets at home,” Ingrid Landmark of the state directorate for nuclear security told newspaper Dagsavisen on Tuesday, “but primarily because of possible accidents.”

Landmark confirmed that iodine tablets can help ward off the effects of breathing in nuclear fallout for 24 hours. Pharmacies, meanwhile, were restocking and rationing sales of the tablets, while Landmark stressed that the danger of any radioactive fallout reaching Norway remained slim.

NORWEGIAN STATE OIL COMPANY EQUINOR is halting all new investment in Russia and will start the process of pulling out of existing projects in Russia because of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine. “We are deeply disturbed by the invasion of Ukraine,” said Equinor CEO Anders Opedal.

Equinor, formerly Statoil, has been doing business in Russia for more than 30 years, with the board’s decision to pull out on Monday called a “turning point in our operations, but the right decision.” Equinor has abided by sanctions but could uphold activity in Russia through what was called a “strategic cooperation” with the partially state-owned company Rosneft, run by one of Putin’s closest friends, Igor Setsjin. Equinor has, since 1996, been part owner of an oil field and has been producing around 30,000 barrels of oil a day.

Equinor’s assets and operations in Russia were valued at around USD 1.2 billion at the end of 2021, much of which will now have to be written down. Commentators called the pull-out necessary: “This is about the security situation but also has to do with Equinor’s reputation,” said Hilde Øvrebekk, a commentator specializing in energy issues at newspaper Stavanger Aftenblad. “You can’t continue to cooperate with a company that’s steered by Putin’s closest oligarchs.”

OSLO-BASED YARA INTERNATIONAL’S OFFICE IN KIEV was bombed during the weekend, reports Norwegian news site Nettavisen. Yara’s office is in the same building that was targeted by missile attacks after Russia invaded Ukraine last week. Kristin Nordal, spokesperson for the large fertilizer producer that halted phosphate purchases from Belearus last month, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that all its employees in Kiev had been accounted for. “We are extremely worried about the terrible situation in Ukraine and stand fully behind the Norwegian government’s condemnation of the Russian military invasion,” Nordal said. “Our most important priority now is the safety of our employees in Ukraine.”

UKRAINE’S EMBASSY IN OSLO WAS HIT BY A CYBER ATTACK on Monday that shut down its website. Several other Ukrainian embassies in the Nordic countries, elsewhere in Europe and the US were also hit, including websites for the embassies in Copenhagen, reports newspaper Berlingske, plus Sweden, Great Britain and Germany. Norwegian cyber security agencies have warned of increased cyber attacks even before Russia invaded Ukraine last week.

NORWAY TOOK IN ITS FIRST REFUGEES FROM UKRAINE during the weekend, after 20 people who’d traveled by bus arrived at the national asylum center in Råde, just north of the Swedish border. Immigration agency UDI (Utlendingsdirektoratet) said they were all women and children and were “exhausted after a long trip.” Some arrived via Poland. Norway’s national refugee center, which initially processes refugees before sending them on to towns and cities around the country, has 650 beds ready and can expand to 1,000 as needed.

DEMONSTRATIONS SUPPORTING UKRAINE continued all over Norway during the weekend. They grew from just a few people standing outside the Russian Embassy on Thursday, to thousands gathering in Oslo and hundreds more in cities from Kirkenes in the north to Ålesund and Stavanger in the south.

Pro-Ukrainian and anti-Russian demonstrators continued their protests against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine through the weekend, here in Oslo. PHOTO: Møst

Among them was author and retired teacher Asle Sveen, who co-wrote the history of the Nobel Peace Prize. “The last time I demonstrated here (outside the Russian Embassy in Oslo) was in 1968, after Russia invaded Czechoslovakia,” Sveen wrote on social media Saturday. He called Russia’s invasion of Ukraine early Thursday “totally insane,” noting that Russian leaders earlier have referred to Ukrainians as their brothers and sisters, only to attack them now after lying for months.

Other demonstrators included both Ukrainians and Russians living in Norway, with several Russians telling Norwegian media that they were ashamed of what Russian President Vladimir Putin has done. “What’s happening now, with Russia attacking the independent country of Ukraine, has everyone in an uproar,” Evgenij Goman, a theater diretor and producer from Murmansk now living in and working in Norway, told newspaper Dagsavisen.

He said he feels both anger and shame over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and thinks many other Russians feel the same. Putin is now leading by fear, prompting Goman to think that most other top Russian politicians fear losing their jobs and positions, and are thus too afraid to voice any dissent.

OSLO IS PREPARING TO TAKE IN REFUGEES from Ukraine, Mayor Marianne Borgen confirmed over the weekend. She said the Norwegian capital will take in as many as the goverment asks: “Oslo wants to be and is a city based on solidarity and wanting to show its humanity.”

Oslo’s City Hall lit up witht the colours of the Ukrainian flag last week and on Friday, an actual Ukrainian flag was also flying outside. “This is a way of showing our solidarity with Ukraine and the Ukrainian people,” Borgen told newspaper Dagsavisen. “It’s important that we come to their aid, both here in Oslo and around the country.” She said several other Norwegian cities were also preparing to offer shelter for Ukrainian refugees.

Oslo City Hall (Oslo Rådhus),  home of the Nobel Peace Prize ceremonies, was basking in the colours of the Ukrainian flag after Ukraine was invaded by Russia on Thursday on the orders of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

State broadcaster featured the newly ornamented Oslo City Hall on its nightly newscast Thursday. PHOTO: NRK screen grab

“We’re doing this in solidarity with the people of Ukraine and their families and friends both in Oslo and other places around the world,” Raymond Johansen, leader of Oslo’s city government, told news bureau NTB.

Johansen added that he thought it was “disgusting” that a “power monger” would invade a neighouring country with the goal of replacing its government in 2022. He said Oslo officials were also arranging to take in refugees from Ukraine.

PRIME MINISTER JONAS GAHR STØRE confirmed on Friday that Norway would contribute, in cooperation with the European Union, towards finding solutions for the hundreds of thousands of refugees streaming out of Ukraine after the Russians attacked. “We are positive and open to contributing to taking in our share of refugess within the framework of European cooperation,” Støre said at a press conference Friday.

The humanitarian situation following Putin’s attacks is acute. UNICEF estimates around 3.4 million Ukrainians will need help after being forced to flee their homes following the attacks. “We will stand up for Ukraine and the people of Ukraine,” Støre said. Norway has already committed to sending more than NOK 200 million in foreign aid to Ukraine.

SO MUCH FOR DIALOGUE BETWEEN NORWAY AND RUSSIA in the so-called “High North.” Russia’s ambassador to Norway ended up being called in on the carpet on Friday by Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt, who flatly accused him of lying to her.

Russian Ambassador Teimuraz Ramisjvilij was told that Russia bears “full responsibility” for the invasion of Ukraine. Huitfeldt told reporters afterwards that “Russia has earlier claimed it had no intention of invading Ukraine. I told him (Russia’s ambassador) that (such claims) have been a lie.”

She stressed that Norway and Russia have lived (as neighbours) in peace for centuries. “This meaningsless attack (on Ukraine) is not in the interests of the Russian people,” Huitfeldt claimed. She said the most important message she wanted to get across was the Norwegian people’s view on the war that’s been started by the ambassador’s boss, Vladimir Putin.

“We did not have a conversation,” she told reporters. “I expressed Norway’s message and then I left the room.”

THE RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR TO NORWAY, meanwhile, suddenly dropped out of an annual conference this week in Norway’s northern city of Kirkenes, which is best known as a forum for dialogue between Russia and other Arctic neighbours. Ramisjvilij had attended on the opening days, but after Putin launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine early Thursday morning, he suddenly didn’t want to show face any longer.

Russia’s ambassador also rebuffed interview requests from state broadcster NRK and stayed away from a dinner Wednesday evening, after complaining that the conference agenda had been changed. Since Putin earlier in the week first announced Russia’s official recognition of two Ukrainian regions as independent states, the conference agenda turned to the connflict in Ukraine

DEMONSTRATIONS IN NORWAY against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine quickly expanded on Thursday, and not only in Oslo. Ukrainians living in Norway, along with many others, were out protesting what they consider to be Russian President Vladimir Putin’s audacity for ignoring their homeland’s sovereignty and trying to topple their democratically elected government.

Hundreds of people protesting the war Putin that started early Thursday morning gathered near the Russian Embassy on Drammensveien Thursday afternoon, to vent their opposition to Putin’s invasion.  Then they marched towards the Norwegian Parliament, passing the home of the Nobel Peace Prize  (above) along the way. Resident Russians also joined the protests, with one young Russian man telling state broadcaster NRK that he was “ashamed” the leaders of his country resorted to military aggression against a peaceful neighbour. (PHOTO: Morten Møst)

There were also protests in Stavanger, where one woman, Ludmila Laugaland, told NRK that she “woke up to a telephone call from family home in Kiev. There were bombs bursting around them. They packed up what they could and headed for a bomb shelter. They have nowhere to go now.”

NORWAY’S IMMIGRATION AGENCY (UDI) has suspended all demands for Ukrainians to leave the country if their residence permission has expired. No one will be deported for the forseeable future either, UDI announced. The immigration agency is also bracing for a new influx of asylum seekers after Putin’s toops rolled in, allegedly to destroy Ukrainia’s democracy and install Putin’s own puppet government. UDI reported that it hadn’t seen any increase in Ukrainian refugees arriving in Norway yet, but news bureau Reuters reported that an estimated 100,000 Ukrainians are now fleeing their homeland, mostly heading west towards Poland, Slovakia and Hungary on Thursday. UDI claimed it was prepared to handle an increase in asylum seekers.

CROWN PRINCE HAAKON interruped a family holiday abroad to return to Norway after Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine early Thursday. The entire Royal Family had traveled to an undisclosed location this week to celebrate King Harald V’s 85th birthday on Monday. His birthday coincided with the annual week-long winter school holiday, and came just after the Norwegian government had eased most Corona-related travel restrictions. The crown prince, however, deemed it best to attend to his constitutional duties as regent and preside over the weekly Council of State session with the government on Friday.

NORWAY’S FOREIGN MINISTRY HAS TEMPORARILY CLOSED its embassy in Ukraine, after initially moving it father west of Kiev to the city of Lviv. The ministry was concerned about the safety of Norwegian diplomatic staff in Kiev even before Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a full invasion of Ukraine early Thursday. By Thursday evening Norwegian diplomatic personnel had been evacuated from Lviv as well. Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt claimed the government was “concerned about the situation for Norwegian citizens in Ukraine” but they’d been urged to leave Ukraine for weeks and the massive invasion jeopardized embassy staff. Citizens remaining in Ukraine “now find themselves in an unpredictable and potentially dangerous situation,” Huitfeldt acknowledged. She said the ministry has taken direct contact with all Norwegian citizens in Ukraine who had registered with the embassy.

THE ORGANISATION FOR SECURITY AND COOPERATION IN EUROPE (OSCE) is pulling all its observers out of Ukraine, including 10 Norwegians. They’ve been monitoring the situation for months, concentrating on the disputed regions in the east, but Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade the entire country on Thursday put their own security at risk. Now the Vienna-based OSCE wants to evacuate all observers, if only temporarily, but faces challenges with a war now underway. Berglund

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