Interview with Ole T. Horpestad, Ambassador of Norway in Ukraine (20.11.2018)


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In “Eurointegrators,” media expert and ex-Deputy Minister for Information Policy of Ukraine Tetiana Popova sits down with diplomats, heads of international organizations, and Ukrainian power brokers to discuss Ukraine’s European integration.

In this episode, the guest is Ole T. Horpestad, Ambassador of Norway in Ukraine. Watch other episodes of “EuroIntegrators.”

The show is produced by a Ukrainian NGO Information Security and Oboz.TV.

See the text version of the interview: 

Popova: Hello! I present today a new episode of our program “Eurointegrators”, and guest today is the Ambassador of the Kingdom of Norway in Ukraine Ole Terje Horpestad. What about you? You have been already for two years now in Ukraine. How do you like our country?

Horpestad: I like it very much. I’m a little bit over two years now and I enjoy it very much. It’s a very interesting country.

Popova: Where did you work before?

Horpestad: Before I worked in Oslo, before that in Paris, I also worked in Moscow and in Warsaw.

Popova: Scandinavia is often called the left flank of NATO. In Scandinavia, there are actually two approaches: with the Alliance like Denmark and Norway, and non-alignment like Sweden and Finland. What are the advantages or disadvantages of each of these types of cooperation?

Horpestad: I think for Norway the NATO membership has been a big advantage. We are one of the twelve founding nations of NATO in 1949, and after World War Two we had to make a choice whether to be a non-align country or to join the defense alliance. The first option was to try to find some Nordic solution or a security organization. This didn’t work out and we decided in 1949 to join the new North Atlantic Treaty. And that has been for Norway the basis for our security for almost 70 years, and I don’t see any disadvantages about that, we have the collective security within NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty, which guarantees the security of all members of the Alliance. And throughout the whole post-war period, the Cold War and also later this has been the basis of our security policy. Whereas Sweden and Finland have different historical traditions I wouldn’t speak too much for them, but of course Sweden has been neutral during World War II and also chose in non-aligns after the Second World War, and Finland has, of course, a history as a part of the Russian Empire and has a special relations which have to deal with the Soviet Union at that time and Russia, so the choice was also to be non-aligned. Of course, a disadvantage about that is that you are more on your own in case of a conflict. On the other hand, you can also decide more independently your national defense policy. But what we see is that both Sweden and Finland are approaching and are working very closely together with NATO nowadays, and that is a positive thing.

Popova: I remember that Finland even opened a Hybrid War Center of Excellence in recent years…

Horpestad: Yes, NATO has a Cyber-center also in Estonia, and Norway has also joined that. And that is also an important center which we contribute our part too.

Popova: Do you (Norway) feel Russian influence towards your country or trials?

Horpestad: Well, we see of course that Russia has built up very substantial military power also in the areas close to us, on the Kola Peninsula, and we observe that and follow that very closely. In general we can say that the developments in Russia are of concern when it comes to more unpredictable foreign policy, more aggressive foreign policy as well, especially in the North, where we work together with Russia on management of the fish stocks in the Barents Sea on ecologically shores nuclear safety, search and rescue cooperation. This is practical cooperation, which is going on on a daily basis, and also there is pretty close people-to-people contact across a border. When we see new security policy situation in Europe and in the North, which is a concern to us, we also deal with our neighbor Russia on a practical level in many issues of common interest, where we have national interest also to work on with Russian neighbors.

Popova: This year, we met at the Odessa cinema festival. Is cinema industry booming in Norway now?

Horpestad: I hope that this cooperation will develop. I know there is a big interest from Odesa to work with Film Camps in Troms, it is in Norway. There is also cooperation going on between Odesa and Norway. That is a TV-serial which is going to be filmed in Kyiv and in Odesa, which is right now starting with “1+1”, with our former soccer stars John Carew in the leading role. I just met him a couple of weeks ago in Kyiv, and it looks like an exciting project.

Popova: And I also remember a serial which became very popular also in Ukraine, called “Occupied”.

Horpestad: Yes, I’ve seen “Occupied” as well. It’s also an interesting series.

Popova: Why do you think this scenario came to life? It’s a serial about the occupation of Norway by Russia.

Horpestad: It’s a fascinating story. It’s not really about the occupation in the classical sense of the word, where the troops came across the border and occupied a part of the territory. It’s more kind of…

Popova: A hybrid war?

Horpestad: Hybrid or more a psychological occupation, if you like, which goes step by step, and it shows how difficult it can be to deal with this kind of issues when you are facing it in practical life. Of course, Norway has also a history of being occupied during World War II, but by Germany. But it poses a different story which is more kind of, as you say, a hybrid or psychological or gradual occupation of hearts and minds. At least some parts of Norwegian society.

Popova: What contribution does Norway make to NATO defense projects? And what are your main national accents?

Horpestad: I think that, first of all, Norway participates for activity in the international operations of NATO – now in Afghanistan, earlier also in Libya and the Balkans, and other countries where NATO has international operations. We have Special Forces participate as a regular force as well. So international operation is one of our stable and important contributors. Also, we host maneuvers exercises of NATO in Norway like “Trident Juncture” which as now last month in October, which is one of the biggest NATO exercises.

Popova: Is it that one with a GPS jamming?

Horpestad: There was talk about jamming of GPS-signal.

Popova: Are there any investigations about it?

Horpestad: I have no information about it, but I saw that our Ministry of Defense at the statement staying that the GPS-signal was jammed at some point during the exercise. And the exercise was big for all 29 NATO countries took part and also the partner countries Sweden and Finland, as we talked about, they also work now closely with NATO in many fields. I think also Ukraine had some observers and the stuff of the exercise. So that’s another area. And Norway invests a lot in military equipment now; we have new fighter planes, we are issuing new submarines, we are renewing technologically our ambulance and equipment. So Norway is one of the countries in NATO, which has the highest percentage of investments on our national defense. Also, I think I have to say that even though we have two percentage go of BNP, Norway is now at 1,6, but if you take it on each inhabitant we have about 1400-1500 US dollars per person, which is a very high figure in the NATO community. So I think what’s important for us is to say that Norway is a stable and predictable, and a good member country and a partner for NATO, when it comes to the international side and also it comes to a following up the signals on NATO to increase investments and to renew military equipment.

Popova: And you also told that you invested in the Cyber Center of Excellence in the nearest countries?

Horpestad: Yes, we’re also taking part in Center of Excellence in Tallinn. That’s right.

Popova: And in Finland?

Horpestad: I’m not quite sure, I think so, but at least in NATO Center in Estonia we are taking part in that.

Popova: What do most Norwegians know about Ukraine? As Ukraine is far away from Norway, are they concerned about the situation here?

Horpestad: I think Norwegians know too little about Ukraine, and we try to inform then as good as we can. I think after EuroMaidan people got more awareness about Ukraine and about the challenges you are facing. They know that there is a known conflict in Eastern Ukraine, and that Crimea has been illegally annexed. So the political situation, I think, and the conflict situation are pretty well known, although some people say: “Hasn’t this ended now? Because we don’t read anything about it in the press anymore”. So there is also that side of it. So we need to remind that this is a conflict which is going on, unfortunately, and that is a fact. Apart from that, some people know about our common history, from the Medieval Ages while the Vikings visited Kyivska Rus, that is more the cultural-historical side of it. Of course, people know that Ukraine is a huge country in Europe and I hope that people will discover more, the beauty of Ukraine also as a tourist destination and a travel destination because there is so much to see here. Whether people are worried about it, of course, the situation which Ukraine faces when it comes to the conflict, is a cause of concern, and we support Ukraine very much in this area. We also have introduced some sanctions against the Russian Federation, and we condemn the destabilization and annexation of Crimea. So in that field, we are very much supporting Ukraine and we also support Ukrainian reforms.

Popova: Yes, about reforms: one more quest will join our interview now. It’s Viktor Chumak, a member of the Ukrainian parliament.

Norway has invested 160 billion euros for reforms in Ukraine. What are the results of it, and what are these reforms?

Horpestad: Yes, as I said, after Euromaidan, Norway has decided to support Ukrainian reforms. We have three main areas – these are energy and energy efficiency, the second one is rule of law, good governance, it can be reforms of penitential system, it can be democratization of the school, education system, and the third one is economic reforms and euro integration, we also work with Ukraine in this process to implement the Association agreement.

Popova: And anti-corruption reform?

Horpestad: Many of these reforms have an anti-corruption side as well.

Popova: And what are the results of these reforms?

Horpestad: We have good results, but 4 years is a short time to real reforms in Ukraine and to make Ukraine a part of the European integration process, where the country belongs. It takes time. But I think we are seeing progress in many fields’ influences in this project of a democratic school, where we support educational reforms in Ukraine.

Popova: Victor, how do you think? Are these reforms in the area of law and order, anti-corruption effective? And if this time – 4 years – is enough for their implementation?

Chumak: First of all, I’d like to say thank you, dear Ambassador, for supporting Ukraine. To discuss the reforms, we should say that this is a question not about money or donators, it’s rather a Ukrainian issue. The reforms should be carried out immediately or never. This is my point of view. So I want to say about the anti-corruption reforms. Do I see any progress or I don’t, thanks to the donors’ support we have created some new important anti-corruption institutions like National Anti-corruption Bureau and National Agency of preventing of corruption. But another question is the effectiveness of their work. We could create any institutions, but the effectiveness of their activities depends on the political will of current ruling political clans. If there will such a will, those agencies for sure will work effectively. So if there is no political will, it will never progress, showing just imitation. We have more or less effective NABU, but the agency of preventing corruption is rather insolent and is controlled by politicians. And it leads to unfair political competition. That’s all.

Popova: Do you agree with that?

Horpestad: I agree that the main job must be done by Ukrainians themselves. We can support, we can encourage and we can transfer some experience, competence and knowledge in certain spheres, which are important in the face and in the process of Eurointegration, where Ukraine is now. But I agree with Mr. Chumak that the main job has to be done by Ukrainian politicians, by the government, by the Verkhovna Rada and the local governments and the people themselves.

Popova: This is the question to both of you. Norway has a top position in different ratings of freedom of speech, the standard of living, freedom of women, freedom of doing business, social protection. What is your secret? And what could be an implication for Ukraine? Viktor, can you please answer?

Chumak: Unlike Norway we quite another political system. What we see in Norway is a clear democracy, social focus parliament republic. But in Ukraine, we have an oligarch and kleptocratic state. The oligarchs and clans have a huge influence on economic life and the same in the political side of it. The media’s also under their control. That’s why it’s not correct to compare Ukraine and Norway. Maybe someday Ukraine would become a country like Norway, but to achieve such progress we need to completely change the minds of Ukrainian people.

Popova: What is your opinion?

Horpestad: I don’t know what the secret is, but what I can say that Norway has some values which are important for us, and one is equality. In our society, we value very much the equality between genders and also between different layers of society. We don’t have a big difference between the richest and the medium….

Popova: No oligarchs?

Horpestad: No oligarchs. We have of course rich businessmen, but not politically implicated like oligarchs. So the ideal of legality and equality is quite strong in Norwegian society, which also means that people in principle have the same possibilities, most people go to same schools, usually, public schools, even the King or the Crown Prince went to an ordinary public school, when they went to school. So it means that most people get the same education and training and values, through the teenager and children period and studies. We also have of course good possibilities for everybody to take higher studies, because our universities are for free and there is a good system of laws and financing of studies in Norway.

Popova: But freedom of speech? Does it mean that politicians and businessmen are not strict to your journalists for some “bad” articles? No killing of journalists?

Horpestad: No, no killing of journalists. No, not at all. Of course they can be unhappy about that article, that’s normal, but the freedom of speech is a very basic and important value in Norwegian society. So the press can write very critical articles about businessmen, about politicians, about anything. That’s a basic value.

Popova: But I’m curious, what would happen to a politician if he will send threats to journalists?

Horpestad: I think it would be a problem for a politician rather than for a journalist. Because that’s not acceptable at all to do something like that. That would be exposed and open and kind of published. And that would be very bad, I think.

Popova: If he will beat journalists?

Horpestad: That would be a case for the court system and the police.

Popova: Unfortunately that’s not like that in Ukraine. Yet. Most of the projects between Norway and Ukraine are one-sided – Norway is helping Ukraine. But what is Norway’s interest in Ukraine? What could be done from Ukraine towards Norway?

Horpestad: I wouldn’t say necessarily that all projects are one-sided, because we connect Norwegian professionals with Ukrainian professionals, and they work together in very many cases. There is also an exchange of experience, also in the projects. But I think our interest, politically speaking, our interest is to see a prosperous and stable Ukraine. And to achieve that, we are assisting in these areas which I’ve mentioned. I think Ukraine has a lot of competence, I can mention like the IT business, where Norwegian companies have hired about 2000 IT-experts in Ukraine, which is really the competence they need, or there is an exchange there. I think also in the energy sector where Ukraine has experience from its own oil and gas industry. We have experienced our own oil and gas industry, which is offshore, and that can maybe be useful in developing your industry furthermore. We’re also in the renewable energy fields, where of course, we have a lot of experience in the hydropower area, but also now we are on developing cooperation in other renewable areas like solar panels and windmills. So I think there are areas where we can absolutely work together and we already do. I also think that in the level of research and universities there is also a lot of common projects within areas where Ukraine is strong like in math, in physics, and there are technologic areas where Norway maybe has less experience and where we also can learn from your scientists and have a usual exchange between the scientists in Norway and the scientists in Ukraine. So these are the projects we show also a going on kind on even basis of complementarity from both sides.

Popova: Which businesses from Norway are operating in Ukraine? Which are pluses and minuses they have in Ukraine?

Horpestad: If you look at our trade figures, around 70% of our exports to Ukraine is fish and seafood, but, apart from that, we now, actually this year, we have seen two or three very big investments in renewable energy, where a Norwegian company has invested in a big windmill park, and another company has invested in solar power plants in Cherkasy and Mykolaiv oblasts – also very big investments. So there is I think a very positive signs from Norwegian business entering into Ukraine.

Popova: IT business, as far as I understand, as you told before.

Horpestad: IT business yes. It is already present here; a big company is here in Kyiv, called “Itera” which has 700 employees, and there are also many other smaller companies throughout the country. So IT business is also important. But I think what the business people look for is of course to have a predictable and stable framework for the investments, to have a trustworthy judiciary system, to get rid of the corruption problem, so anti-corruption reform is very important to continue.

Popova: Which will increase the number of investments?

Horpestad: Which will help to increase the number of investments and increase the confidence of investors in Ukraine as a market, which is a close market to us, it’s a European market, and it’s a big market with more than 40 million people with well-educated workforce, so I think many of business-people, and I feel in the Embassy, that we have a growing interest now for Ukraine as a market as well.

Popova: What is the overall amount of investments of Norway to Ukraine during the last 3 years?

Horpestad: I don’t have the figures right now, but it’s not very big in terms of direct foreign investments. I mentioned we had big investments this year, which up to about 600-700 million euros, which are the biggest investments we had so far.

Popova: With your knowledge of the situation in Ukraine, which recipes can you recommend in our way to European integration?

Horpestad: I think, Ukraine has embarked on a good direction, and I think it’s important. The most important is that Ukraine continues with their reform program, continues to realize the association agreement with the European Union, I think it’s also important in order to get to know more about Europe, let’s say Ukrainian use to go to Europe, to study, maybe to work for a certain period of time, bring home new inspirations, new experience about Europe and European values, European system that can also be good for Ukraine. We are also from Norwegian side working with Ukraine on assisting with EU integration side and we have a long experience and competence when it comes to working with the European Union, which we share with our Ukrainian friends, and I think that is useful and on the road towards EU integration from the Ukrainian side. So it’s a long-lasting work of course, but I think to keep up the moment and to keep the direction what is needed.

Popova: What actions do you think are needed from Ukraine and the international community to finish the war in Donbas?

Horpestad: Speaking for Norway, we are maintaining the sanctions against the Russian Federation, and like the European Union, we have the same sanctions as the Union. When it comes to Donbas and when it comes to the annexation of Crimea, I think we must maintain the sanctions and to keep up the pressure on Russia. We see some change in a good direction.

Popova: Thank you, Mr. Horpestad for joining our program. Thank you all. See you next week.

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