Western relations with Russia will never again be the same after the war in Ukraine, Norwegian Defense Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Wednesday.
“We are faced with a different Russia. I want to warn against the fact that some people see this as something that is going to pass. The situation has changed. And it has changed profoundly.”
There is “no going back to some sort of normality or some sort of back to normal business. Because that normality does not exist.”
Norway, a NATO member country, shares a northern border with Russia.
“That does not mean that we will not have a cooperation with Russia. Norway has had for decades we have [had] both a practical and pragmatic cooperation, and we still have a lot of it.”
Eriksen Søreide said that after 2008 war with Georgia, many people misread the conflict as an anomaly.
“We wanted to see Russia as a strategic partner, we tried to look at Georgia as a deviation from that path not as something that [then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin] wanted to communicate.”
“If you look back at it, in hindsight, you will easily see that the rhetoric that he used in Georgia is something that we see coming again now in Ukraine.”
As Russian-backed separatists battle for control of eastern Ukraine, Moscow has sent its military to tease NATO’s borders.
NATO member countries scrambled jets more than 400 times in 2014 to intercept Russian military flights, more than 50% more than the previous year.
The activity has been especially pronounced over the former Soviet Baltic states – Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania – though it has also happened as far away as the United Kingdom.
Though no Russian plane has violated Norway’s airspace, a Russian fighter nearly collided with a Norwegian military plane recently – an incident that was caught on camera.
“What we see in the high north is almost the same activity as before Ukraine. But we see more complex activity, especially in the air,” Eriksen Søreide said.
“What we are very concerned about is to not have channels to communicate with the Russians. So we keep our channels open between our operational headquarters even though we have suspended all the military cooperation.”
It is critical, she said, that Russia and Europe “avoid miscalculations” that could “easily happen in a situation like this.”
NATO countries are required to come to the defense of each other – an attack on one is an attack on all – but Eriksen Søreide said the organization is ill-prepared to respond quickly.
“The decision structure in NATO is working quite slowly if something was to happen.”
“That is something that we need to work.”
The organization created a new “spearhead force” last fall in an attempt to address that very issue.
Meanwhile war rages on in Ukraine, and a ceasefire negotiated in Minsk seems to be completely ineffective.
“I was quite keen on underlining when the agreement was a fact that I think we need to be prepared for this not to happen as we expect it to.”
“And what we have seen during the period of so-called ceasefire since the Minsk agreement is that facts on the ground are changing again, and especially the Russian side is using that period of time to both up their military presence but all to change the facts on the ground, which makes it even more difficult for us to reach a political agreement.”