Closure of border will hardly affect local Russians, says Mayor of Kirkenes

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The Norwegian Ministry of Justice on the 23rd of May announced that the Storskog border-crossing point will be closed for regular Russian travellers.

From the 29th of May, Russian tourists and shoppers will no longer be allowed to cross, the announcement reads. The decision implies that the Norwegian police can reject entry of Russian citizens that are covered by the instruction.

Since September 2022, Storskog has been the only open land border from Russia to the Schengen area for Russian citizens on shopping or vacation travel.

The new travel regime will significantly affect cross-border traveling between the two countries. But local Mayor Magnus Mæland doubts that local Russians in Kirkenes will be much affected. Most of the Russians residing on the Norwegian side of the border will still be allowed to travel, and the same applies to their close relatives.

“I do not think it will affect the inhabitants of the Sør-Varanger municipality in any major way,” he says to the Barents Observer.

He underlines that the border closure is not targeted against Russians living in Kirkenes and the Sør-Varanger municipality.

“I hope it is not getting harder to be a Russian living in Norway. You can live in peace and security in Sør-Varanger,” he underlines.

The border municipality has about 5 percent of its population from Russia. Following the start of the full-scale war in early 2022, a significant number of Russian exiles have settled in the small town. At the same time, many Ukrainian refugees have arrived.

“Of course, it is difficult to experience what Russia is doing in Europe, but I want everyone [in the municipality] to know that if you are from Russia or Ukraine, or another part of the world, you are whole-heartedly welcome here in Sør-Varanger,” says Mæland.

He admits that the security situation in the region is getting more difficult.

“Putin’s Russia can not be trusted, the trust is lost, and Putin’s Russia is the biggest threat against Norway,” he underlines.

The mayor does not dare say what will happen with the local Kirkenes seaport that still remains open for Russian fishing vessel.

“It is a difficult question for the government,” he says. “We have to have some sort of relationship with Russia even though it is an authoritarian, even totalitarian state, because we share geography,” he explains.

Magnus Mæland has been a vocal critic against Russia since Moscow launched its onslaught on Ukraine. Repeatedly, he has attended support rallies for Ukraine, and he has hinted that he supports the proposal to rename the street in front of the local Russian General Consulate the “Aleksei Navalny Street.”