Local border traffic with visa-freedom was introduced in late May this year as the first opening of the Schengen regime with Russia. In May, 2,279 Norwegians holding a visa to Russia crossed the only land-border to Russia at Storskog. Since then, border crossings have boosted, counting 4,917 Norwegians in October. The statistics is provided to BarentsObserver by the local police in charge of immigration formalities.
“Half of the Norwegians in October held a so-called border zone resident permit,” says head of Storskog check-point Stein Hansen to BarentsObserver. The permit allows them to visit the neighboring Russian cities of Nikel and Zapolyarny without visa.
“This is an important step towards total abolition of visa between Russia and the rest of Europe, then-Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre told BarentsObserver when the visa-freedom in the border area was introduced.
Curios Norwegians are visible all over in what used to be two remote located Russian industrial towns without many foreign visitors. You find them in the shops, at the market, in the cafes and restaurants. Some restaurants in Nikel and Zapolyarny have even printed menus in Norwegian.
The easiest place to find Norwegians is however at Rosneft’s local gas station in Nikel.
Price of gasoline or diesel pump in Nikel is one third of the price in Kirkenes. Or in other words, Europe’s most expensive petrol on one side of the border and Europe’s most inexpensive a few kilometers into the other side.
The statistics from the police tells about a general boost in border-crossings in October by 28,5 percent compared with the same month last year. In total, 22,672 border-crossings took place. The majority is still Russians crossing in to Norway for shopping and pleasure.
Including October, 198,168 border-crossings are counted in 2012. That is more than during entire 2011.