As European leaders discussed energy and security in the North Sea, Jonas Gahr Støre said Norway is following ‘very closely all activity along our coast.’
Russian ships are posing a threat in Nordic waters as Moscow takes greater risks in intelligence gathering, Norway’s prime minister has warned, just as Europe’s leaders turn their focus to the security of major maritime energy installations.
The warning on Monday from Jonas Gahr Støre came on the same day nine European countries agreed to expand production of wind power in the North Sea, but also cautioned that they would need to take further steps to safeguard those facilities. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz called security of energy assets “a question of high priority.”
An investigation by Danish, Finnish, Swedish and Norwegian public broadcasters has found Russia used civilian vessels to collect intelligence on military activities and critical infrastructure in the region.
NATO member Norway is an important energy supplier for Europe and oversees highly sensitive critical infrastructure such as oil and gas installations.
In an interview with POLITICO in Brussels on Monday, the Norwegian leader — a former longtime foreign minister who has been serving as prime minister since 2021 — said that though such activity is “not new,” authorities are regardless taking “the necessary measures to safeguard Norway’s security — of key installations.”
“This threat is still relevant,” Støre said based on analysis of intelligence services. “We track it closely,” he added.
“Russia under the circumstances [is] showing readiness to take more risks.”
One of NATO’s founding members, Norway is a key player in regional security.
“I believe that close cooperation with partners and allies is key,” the prime minister said, adding that “Norway is NATO’s eyes and ears in the north.”
But in the spirit of neighborly relations, the country must also maintain a careful balance in how it tackles suspicious activities at sea.
“There’s an important principle in the Law of the Sea, of safe passage and free passage — that’s important for Norway as a major shipping nation,” Støre said. “But we are also very clear about what we consider to be an intelligence threat from Russia.”
Relations are at a low point but could change in the future, he added, “and we should prepare for that by being, again, consistent, long-term predictable.”
Investment in Ukraine, NATO
While not a member of the EU, Norway is working with it on plans to purchase ammunition for Ukraine, and has also stepped up on longer-term support for the country.
“Norway is NATO’s eyes and ears in the north” said Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre | Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP via Getty Images
“The long production lines” Støre said in reference to ammo shortages, are “a reminder that we need to equip our industry to deliver what it takes.”
Norway has made a cross-party, five-year pledge to Ukraine, he noted, to provide about €1.5 billion per year for defense, humanitarian and reconstruction assistance.
The multiyear pledge, the prime minister said, “sends a signal that we are there for the long run.”
“One part of that is, of course, to help equip Ukraine to defend itself — hopefully to end the war, and then start the phase of reconstruction and modernization of Ukraine.”
And ahead of a NATO leaders’ summit in Lithuania this summer, the prime minister also addressed an ongoing debate over the future of the alliance’s current target of spending 2 percent of economic output on defense.
“I think the important part here is to uphold a high level of investment, but also emphasize the quality of the investment.”
With regard to Turkey and Hungary continuing to block Sweden’s NATO bid by withholding ratification by their parliaments, Støre was blunt on his view that Stockholm’s accession should be a done deal.
“I expect all allies to complete that,” he said, “at latest by the Vilnius summit.”
Reporting for Politico by Federica Di Sario