"A step towards visa freedom"
“This is an important step towards total abolition of visa between Russia and the rest of Europe”, says Norway’s Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre. A ceremony yesterday marked the introduction of visa-free travel for residents of the border area.
“We are witnessing a historical event today”, Støre said. “Norway is the first Schengen-member to conclude an agreement with Russia on visa-free travel”. Other countries will probably follow in Norway’s footsteps, Støre added. “The results from this border will have influence on the rest of Europe”.
The ceremony was held at Storskog border crossing point, only a few meters from the Norwegian-Russian border. Storskog is the only Russia-Norway border crossing and traffic here has almost tripled since 2009, with nearly 300,000 crossings expected this year. The largest increase comes from Russians travelling into Norway.
Russia wants visa-free travel with the EU
Also Russia’s Ambassador to Norway Vyacheslav Pavlovsky is pleased with the agreement, which makes it possible for residents of a 30 kilometer wide zone on each side of the border to visit the other country’s border zone without a visa. “Today we have taken a big step in the right direction, towards total visa freedom”. Russia would like to see that everybody had the same opportunity to cross the border as the people of Sør-Varanger and Pechenga. “We will work for this to happen as soon as possible”, Pavlovsly said.
According to him, Russia and the EU are planning to have ready a list of measures that need to be taken before visa-free travel can be introduced, as well as a proposal to an agreement, within the end of the year.
Local mayors received first border residents’ passports
The Mayor of Sør-Varanger municipality Cecilie Hansen and the Mayor of Pechenga Rayon Irina Neverova were the first persons to receive their border residents’ passport. Some 9000 people on the Norwegian side and 40.000 on the Russian side can apply for the passport.