Home » On Norway’s Arctic border with Russia, a city cuts ties with its eastern neighbor
News

On Norway’s Arctic border with Russia, a city cuts ties with its eastern neighbor


Links to breadcrumbs

PMN Business

Author of the article:

Reuters

Gwladys Fouche and Victoria Klesty

Article content

KIRKENES — A Norwegian city a stone’s throw from Russia, Kirkenes has been a symbol of cross-border harmony in the Arctic for more than three decades. That came to an abrupt end when Russia invaded Ukraine. Since then, people have adapted to the new reality.

One is the prospect that neighboring Finland could join Norway in NATO, and Finnish President Sauli Niinisto is expected on Thursday to say that should apply to the military alliance.

Companies here are trying to reduce their reliance on doing business with Russia, even though Norway has made some exceptions to international sanctions.

Advertisement 2

This ad hasn’t loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Article content

Kirkenes residents can enter Russia with a visa-free permit, while Russians can come and work in the area. Of the city’s 3,500 inhabitants, 400 are Russians. There are also about 30 Ukrainians.

After the Russian invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, “many have felt sadness, anger and frustration,” said Lene Norum Bergeng, mayor of the Soer-Varanger municipality, which also includes Kirkenes.

“It has been a surreal time. We have lived in peace for many years and now our neighbor is going to war with one of his neighbors. It has affected us all,” she said from her office, in the same square as the Russian consulate.

From Kirkenes, the Russian border is a 15-minute drive and Finland’s border is 50 minutes. Both are closer than the neighboring Norwegian municipality.

Advertisement 3

This ad hasn’t loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Article content

“It is up to Finland to decide whether they want to join NATO,” said Norum Bergeng. “If they want that, we should welcome it. I am very happy that Norway is part of NATO.”

LIVING TOGETHER

Street signs in both Norwegian and Russian were put up decades ago to welcome Russians. A petition is now circulating to have them removed, but there are not enough signatures for the city council to talk about it yet, the mayor said.

Russian residents who spoke to Reuters said they still felt as welcome as they did before the invasion.

“I’ve had no problems, no one has come up to me and said ‘hey, you Russian,'” said welder Gleb Karionov, 43, during a break from his shift at the Kimek shipyard.

Similarly, a Ukrainian refugee who arrived in Kirkenes in April said the Russians she had met had been “very nice” to her.

Advertisement 4

This ad hasn’t loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Article content

“They are not aggressive. And we try not to talk about politics and such provocative questions,” said Katerina Bezruk, 27, a teacher who fled the eastern region of Luhansk with her two-year-old daughter Arena and now lives with her aunt.

Some find new meaning in their work. Evgeny Goman, a theater director from Murmansk who has lived in Kirkenes since January, works with Russian artists in exile to bring different voices of Russia to the fore away from militaristic office.

“With the onset of the war, we really understood why we do art…why it’s a powerful tool,” said the 42-year-old at the art gallery that houses a regional collective of curators and artists, Pikene paa Broen (Girls at the bridge in Norwegian).

Advertisement 5

This ad hasn’t loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Article content

ECONOMIC HIT

At the Kimek shipyard, which received 70% of its revenue last year from the assembly of Russian ships, CEO Greger Mannsverk is concerned about restructuring the company without losing his 80 employees to other employers, 15 of which are Russians.

While non-EU Norway has applied most international sanctions, it has not closed its ports to Russian fishing vessels, a lifeline for Arctic Norway ports such as Kirkenes.

Mannsverk would have fired half of the shipyard’s staff if Norway had applied that specific sanction, he said. Kimek’s facility in Murmansk will remain operational, independent of its headquarters in Kirkenes.

“I plan a future in which Russian customers are not the most important. The percentage today is 70%, maybe it should be 20%,” he said at the cavernous wharf where a Russian trawler was being readied.

Will cross-border cooperation sometimes be fully resumed in the future? Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere hopes so.

“There will be a day later, I don’t know when,” he said during a visit to the city. “I think the spirit of the people who live in this community is that boundaries should be respected, but there should also be contacts. We have to live through it.”

(Reporting by Gwladys Fouche in Kirkenes and Victoria Klesty in Oslo; editing by Angus MacSwan)

Share this article in your social network

Advertisement

This ad hasn’t loaded yet, but your article continues below.

By clicking the sign up button, you agree to receive the above newsletter from Postmedia Network Inc. receive. You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking the unsubscribe link at the bottom of our emails. Postmedia Network Inc. † 365 Bloor Street East, Toronto, Ontario, M4W 3L4 | 416-383-2300

Comments

Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively yet civilized discussion forum and encourages all readers to share their thoughts on our articles. It can take up to an hour for comments to be moderated before appearing on the site. We ask that you keep your comments relevant and respectful. We’ve enabled email notifications – you’ll now receive an email when you get a reply to your comment, there’s an update to a comment thread you’re following, or a user follows comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details about customizing your email settings.

This post On Norway’s Arctic border with Russia, a city cuts ties with its eastern neighbor

was original published at “https://financialpost.com/pmn/business-pmn/on-norways-arctic-border-with-russia-a-town-freezes-ties-with-its-eastern-neighbor-2”

About the author

admin

Add Comment

Click here to post a comment

Your email address will not be published.