"Do you want to be remembered as the company earning money on Russia?"
According to the Norwegian-Ukrainian Friendship Association, it is highly problematic that Norway continues to trade with Russia. In 2022, the two countries traded goods worth NOK 19,8 billion (€1,82 billion). According to leader of the association Jan Ottesen, the main question is: «Do you want to be remembered as the company that earned money on russia, while Ukrainians were fighting and dying»?
Ottesen elaborates on his position in an interview with the Barents Observer.
Barents Observer: What exactly should the Norwegian government do about this? What is your proposition?
Ottesen: Norway should fully apply the sanctions from EU and close the ports for trade with russian fishing vessels. We also call for the Norwegian Government to start the process of banning all trade with Russia. We should apply the same policy towards the Putin regime as we did to the South African Apartheid regime. In 1986 Norway banned all import and export of goods between Norway and South Africa. The boycott was introduced by Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland from the Labour Party in 1986. The reason was to weaken the racist Apartheid-regime in South-Africa that conducted a brutal suppression of the population in the country. This boycott was also supported by several other countries and was an important reason for the fall of the Apartheid regime. There are no reasons why a similar ban shouldn’t be imposed on the Putin regime. As long as russia is committing the war in Ukraine, all trade should be stopped.
Barents Observer: But will Norwegian economy suffer from that ban? What steps can be taken to minimise this damage? Or do you think the market itself is able to normalise this situation?
Ottesen: The total impact on Norwegian economy from a ban on all trade with Russia will be very small. The main import from Russia in 2022 was oil products, metal, fish and fish feed/animal feed, and the main export was fish/animal feed. So, the closing of the ports could have a negative economic effect on local Norwegian industries. The Norwegian Government should consider if some economic support should be given to those affected. It is however a year since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Following the invasion and the enormous amounts of atrocities committed by the Russian army, I find it unbelievable that some Norwegian companies are still trading with russia. Even if it’s legal, the companies should ask themselves if it’s ethically defendable. When history is written, do you want to be remembered as the company earning money on russia, while Ukrainians were fighting and dying?
Barents Observer: Is it possible to increase the volume of export-import between Norway and Ukraine instead?
Ottesen: Yes, this should be an important objective for both the Norwegian Government and Norwegian businesses. In 2022, Norway imported goods for only 600 million NOK from Ukraine. This is next to nothing; we should work actively to increase it. The first step should be to remove all Norwegian duties on goods from Ukraine. There are now more than 30 000 Ukrainians living in Norway. This has strengthened the bonds between our countries and I’m sure it will lead to increased trade and cultural cooperation.
Barents Observer: There is an opinion that, thinking about the current political and economic situation, governments should still mind first the interests of their own people and countries. What is your position on this issue?
Ottesen: The interests of Ukraine are also the interests of Norway. If russia is allowed once more to invade and occupy a neighbouring country, this will also pose a great danger for Norway. Ukraine is therefore fighting for us and the rest of Europe. The major difference is that Ukrainians are losing their best people, but we are only losing some trade and need to pay a higher electricity bill.
Barents Observer: Who else in Norway (working people, politicians, businessmen etc.), in your opinion, supports your point of view?
Ottesen: There is major public and political support for Ukraine in Norway. All the political parties, except for one, are supporting the supply of weapons to Ukraine. And all parties are supporting the current sanctions on russia. I’m therefore certain that the ports will soon be closed and the Norwegian trade with russia will be considerably reduced.
At the end of April 2022, the Norwegian government announced its intention to follow the decision of the European Union to close seaports for Russian vessels - but made an exception for fishing vessels. Today, no other European country allows Russian trawlers to enter ports. Now there are only three seaports in Norway which are still opened for Russian vessels: Kirkenes, Tromsø and Båtsfjord.
In August of 2022, Liberal Party (V) leader Guri Melby, a member of the Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defense, and others expressed concern with the problem of presence of Russian vessels in Norwegian ports.