German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store said on Wednesday that they would be speaking with the head of NATO about involving the alliance in future operations to protect critical undersea infrastructure like gas pipelines or fiber optic cables.
Store said Norway had already increased vigilance at such sites in light of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and even more so after the sabotage of the Nord Stream gas pipelines.
Store was visiting the German capital on Wednesday for bilateral talks and to attend the Berlin Security Conference with Scholz.
"The chancellor and I have agreed to propose an informal initiative to enhance security of undersea infrastructure — can be pipelines, can be fiber, can be telecommunications," Store said at the Berlin Security Conference.
"This is really the blood, [the] circulation of a modern economy. And we will raise later today with the secretary general of NATO: how we can enhance military and civil and police coordination to do this? We want to take it forward. NATO is relevant. How can we work with the private sector? We believe this is the right thing to do."
Store also discussed the proposal with DW on Wednesday, saying that some European partners had already offered closer cooperation with Norway. In 2021, Norway was the second-largest supplier of natural gas in the EU after Russia, but the 27-member bloc's Russian gas imports have dramatically declined in 2022 after Moscow invaded Ukraine in February.
"We have 90 platforms out there on the shelf and we have about 9,000 kilometers of pipelines. But I can assure you we look after them pretty closely, and we do that also now with our allies. So alongside, for example, Germany, United Kingdom, France, Netherlands, we [now] sail more actively together," Store told DW.
The proposal to NATO is designed to explore how to expand existing operations and to look at a potential coordinating role for the alliance.
NATO welcomes idea, more talks on Thursday
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg traveled to Berlin for the conference and will hold further talks with Scholz on Thursday. In an emailed statement to Reuters news agency, Stoltenberg said he welcomed the proposal.
"We have stepped up our efforts after the recent sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines, and it is vital to do even more to ensure that our offshore infrastructure remains safe from future destructive acts," he said.
Russia denies involvement in the sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines and has tried to blame Britain, which in turn says it was not involved.
Scholz: Russia cannot win militarily in Ukraine
Scholz and Store both condemned Russia's aggression in Ukraine at the Berlin Security Conference.
"Russia, I am convinced of this, cannot and will not win this war on the battlefield any more. The merciless attacks on critical infrastructure, on water and energy pipelines, on cities and towns, they are an awful and simultaneously desperate strategy of scorched earth," Scholz said.
"Russia must realize, we will support Ukraine for as long as it takes," Scholz said, switching to English for that last phrase. "Economically, financially, with humanitarian aid, rebuilding destroyed energy infrastructure just at the moment, and also with weapons."
Store, meanwhile, told the defense analysts and reporters gathered in the German capital that Russia was "losing the ground war and ... hitting back by terrorizing from the air. We need to help Ukraine in that situation."
He said the war must stop, but that only one side really had the power to ensure this.
"I think it has been well put: If Russia stops the war, the war stops. If Ukraine stops the war, Ukraine disappears. And we cannot let that happen and that's why this is critically important for Ukraine, but it's a critical value issue for every free nation in Europe," Store said. "And Norway is aware of this and we will face that challenge alongside Germany."
Germany to seek nuclear-capable F-35s as part of NATO deterrent
Both leaders alluded to the major changes in defense spending and policy triggered by the conflict.
Scholz said that part of this would be Germany's major boost in defense spending.
He said that while Berlin took the "irresponsible nuclear rhetoric" coming out of Moscow "very seriously," it would not be "intimidated by it."
He said Germany's response was to stick to the red line of never allowing a nuclear war to become a reality. He said he was pleased that Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed on this principle during Scholz's contentious visit to Beijing at the start of the month. He also welcomed including a mention of this commitment never to launch a nuclear war in the recent G20 summit declaration.
"As long as states like Russia possess nuclear weapons as part of their arsenal of threats, NATO of course requires a credible deterrence potential. Anything else would mean making us susceptible to blackmail," Scholz said.
"For that reason, we have decided to acquire F-35 fighter jets in the coming years and to continue a German contribution towards the nuclear capabilities of the Alliance in the future. That is a message for national, European and transatlantic security, and a contribution towards burden sharing in the Alliance," Scholz said.
Purchasing the new nuclear-capable F-35s, which German pilots could fly carrying US nuclear weapons stored in Germany in the event of a nuclear conflict, has been a sensitive issue for successive German governments and particularly Scholz's coalition.
Although Germany is not a nuclear power, critics say its ability to deliver US warheads makes it one in all but name. Traditionally, the Green party in particular, but also elements of Scholz's Social Democrats, have been lukewarm on or even opposed to the idea of so-called nuclear sharing.
Scholz said he wanted to seal the first contracts for F-35s and for other defense spending plans like retrofitting Puma infantry fighting vehicles inked in the coming year.
Norway planning more Ukraine aid, and broader energy relief
Norway's Store said during his trip to Berlin that his coalition government in Oslo would be announcing a major package of longer-term financial aid for Ukraine as part of its 2023 budget.
He also alluded to the major fossil fuel exporter looking into ways to help less resource-rich European countries deal with the rising prices caused in no small part by Russia's invasion.
"It is right that Norway is in the favorable position of being an energy exporter at the moment, and that is why it gives us an extra incentive of leading in the way we assist Ukraine in coming through not only this first year, but the coming four or five years," Store said. "And the package we will propose to parliament will consist of support to Ukraine, substantially, but will also be an element of supporting those countries beyond Ukraine that are now be being hit by food prices and energy prices."
The visiting prime minister also discussed this issue with DW earlier on Wednesday, saying it was a "very fair request to hope for lower prices of energy" and saying "I can tell you it is not in Norway's interest that you have high and volatile energy prices in Europe."
Store also told the audience in Berlin that with reduced gas imports from Russia, Norway had become Germany's single largest supplier since the war began.