PARIS — Norway’s break with decades-old restrictions on arms export this year was driven by the possibility that Ukraine may be facing a long war with Russia, according to the Norwegian Foreign Ministry.

The Norwegian government allowed its defense industry to sell directly to Ukraine as of Jan. 1, creating an exemption to a ban from 1959 on arms and ammunition sales to areas at war. Companies must still apply for export licenses for direct sales of weapons to Ukraine.

“Taken into consideration that the war could be going on for a long time, the Norwegian government believes it is important to give the Ukrainian authorities the possibility to purchase the weapons and the ammunition that they need the most, in addition to the donations that they receive,’’ Foreign Affairs State Secretary Eivind Vad Petersson said in an emailed reply to questions.

The war in Ukraine has caused attitudes to arms exports to shift across NATO countries and allies, including Germany becoming a prolific exporter of weapons to an active conflict zone, and Japan relaxing strict export regulations for defense equipment in December. Now the likes of Norway are preparing for the long haul.

Some Western European countries are still holdouts, with Switzerland’s lower house of parliament last year repeatedly voted against a change in the rules that would allow re-exports of Swiss-made weapons to Ukraine, in opposition to the country’s upper house.

Supporting Ukraine is important for Norwegian and European security, and “we must plan for the possibility that the illegal war of aggression may be prolonged,” Petersson said.

The policy exemption was driven by the Norwegian government, according to the state secretary, who declined to say which companies are expected to benefit from the new rule. The change will make it easier for Ukrainian authorities to buy what they need directly from Norway’s defense industry, he said. Export licenses will be granted on a case-by-case basis.

Norwegian defense company Kongsberg together with Raytheon developed the National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems, better known as NASAMS, of which several have been donated to Ukraine. Meanwhile, Finland expects to rely on production sites of Norwegian-Finnish ammunition producer Nammo to ramp up production of artillery shells, according to the country’s Defence Ministry.

Norway last year allocated 75 billion kroner ($7.1 billion) in support for Ukraine over five years as part of the so-called Nansen program. The country has set aside 15 billion kroner for 2024, of which half for military support.

“There is room for flexibility in the distribution of funds within each budget year based on Ukraine’s needs,” Petersson said. “It is therefore too early to say how the distribution between civilian and military support will end up in 2024, and what the total amount will be.”

Rudy Ruitenberg is a Europe correspondent for Defense News. He started his career at Bloomberg News and has experience reporting on technology, commodity markets and politics.

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