May 25, 2022

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A town on Norway's Arctic border with Russia freezes relations with its eastern neighbor

A town on Norway’s Arctic border with Russia freezes relations with its eastern neighbor

  • The city was a symbol of cross-border cooperation in the Arctic
  • Norwegians, Russians and Ukrainians live together
  • Companies rely on Russia, which reduces their relations

KIRKENES, Norway (Reuters) – Kirkenes, a Norwegian town a stone’s throw from Russia, has been a symbol of harmony across borders in the Arctic for more than three decades. It came to an end when Russia invaded Ukraine. Since then, people have adapted to the new realities.

One is the possibility that neighboring Finland will join Norway in NATO, and Finnish President Sauli Niinistö is expected to say on Thursday that it should apply to the military alliance. Read more

Companies here seek to reduce their reliance on doing business with Russia, even with Norway’s exceptions to international sanctions.

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

After the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, “many felt sad, angry and frustrated,” Lin Norum Berjing said,

Mayor of the municipality of Soer-Varanger which includes Kirkenes.

“It was a surreal time. We lived in peace for many years and now our neighbor is at war with one of her neighbours. It affected all of us,” she said from her office in the same Russian arena. consulate.

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

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

Reuters graphics

live together

Street signs in Norwegian and Russian have been put up for decades to welcome Russians. The mayor said a petition to take them down is now being circulated, although there aren’t enough signatures yet for the city council to discuss it.

Ross residents who spoke to Reuters said they still feel as welcome as they did before the invasion.

“I had no problems, no one came to me and said ‘Hello, you are Russian,'” welder Gleb Karyunov, 43, said during a break in his shift at the Kemik shipyard.

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

said Katerina Bezrok, 27, a teacher who fled the eastern Luhansk region with her two-year-old daughter, Arina, and now lives with her aunt.

Some find new meaning for their work. Yevgeny Guman, a theater director from Murmansk who has lived in Kirkenes since January, works with Russian artists in exile to bring different voices to Russia, far from military officials.

The 42-year-old said at the art gallery that includes a regional group of curators and artists, Girls on the Bridge.

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economic hit

At the Kimek shipyard, which last year earned 70% of its revenue from Russian fit-for ships, CEO Greger Mannsverk is concerned about restructuring the company without losing 80 employees to other employers, including 15 Russians.

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

He said that Mansverk would have laid off half of the shipyard’s workers had Norway applied that particular penalty. Kimek’s Murmansk facility continues to operate independently of the main Kirkenes facility.

“I am planning a future in which Russian customers will not be the main customers. The ratio today is 70%, maybe it should be 20%,” he said in the courtyard of the cave where a Russian fishing vessel is being outfitted.

Will cross-border cooperation sometimes fully resume in the future? Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere hopes that will happen.

“There will be a day after that, I don’t know when,” he said during a visit to the town. “I think the spirit of the people who live in this municipality is that boundaries have to be respected, but there must also be connections. We have to live through them.”

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Additional reporting by Juladis Foch in Kirkenes and Victoria Keleste in Oslo; Editing by Angus Maxwan

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