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Visa-free zone ready for expansion

Traffic boost over the Norwegian, Russian border. Here at Storskog check-point.

Russia and Norway are discussing expansion of the visa-free zone to cover the whole of Finnmark and Murmansk says Federation Council member.

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Citizens of Finnmark County and Murmansk Oblast are to will be able to visit each other’s country without a visa, if Federation Council member Igor Chernyshenko’s expectations come true. At a press conference in Murmansk on Monday he said that Norway and Russia are discussing an experimental expansion of the visa-free zone, Interfax reports.

Chernyshenko said he does not believe that visa requirements between Europe and Russia will be abandoned any time soon, and that he believes Murmansk has the chance of becoming a sort of test area for the EU.

Expansion of the visa-free zone was also up for discussion when Speaker of the Federation Council Valentina Matvienko visited Oslo last week for meetings with the President of the Norway’s Storting Olemic Thommessen, as BarentsObserver reported.

Today, the wording in the Schengen-regulation says a visa-free zone should be limited to 50 kilometers on each side of the borderline. Those rules can, however, be adjusted and modified. The recently established visa-free zone including Russia’s enclave Kaliningrad and the Polish city of Gdansk stretches way beyond 50 kilometers. 

The Norwegian, Russian visa-free zone in the north is a great success in regards to boosting the number of people crossing the border. By the end of November, 51,225 border-crossings have taken place by people not holding a visa between the two Russian towns of Nikel and Zapolyarny and the Norwegian town of Kirkenes, reads the statistics given to barentsObserver by the Norwegian immigration officials.

If expanded to include the whole of Finnmark and Murmansk, nearly a million people will then get the possibility to travel between Norway and Russia without visa. There are 800,000 inhabitants in Murmansk Oblast, while Finnmark has some 73,000 inhabitants.

Rune Rafaelsen, head of the Norwegian Barents Secretariat, praises the initiative. 

“When nearly a million people can start crossing the border without visa, it will for sure boost both trade and people-to-people contacts. This is a key goal in the Barents Cooperation,” says Rafaelsen.