Visa-free agreement sign of strong border relationship
This week's introduction of visa-free border crossings for residents of the designated border area is another sign of growing cross-border cooperation between Norway and Russia.
As of this week, residents of the Norwegian-Russian border zone are able to travel between the countries without a visa. The agreement, signed in 2010, indicates a stronger border relationship with Russia.
According to the agreement, people who live within 30 kilometres of the Norwegian border, and 30 to 50 kilometres of the Russian border, can apply for a border certificate valid for three years to travel to the other country for a maximum of 15 days at a time.
Previously, all Norwegians and Russians required visas to enter the other country. In 2010, Norwegian authorities introduced the Pomor visa for Russian residents of Murmansk and Arkhangelsk Oblasts. The multi-entry visa allows holders to visit northern Norway without a prior invitation.
At Storskog, the only Russia-Norway border crossing, traffic has almost tripled since 2009, with nearly 300,000 crossings expected this year. The largest increase comes from Russians travelling into Norway.
Norwegian Border Commissioner Colonel Ivar Sakserud says Russians are drawn to Norway’s cheaper furniture and clothing. Similarly, Norwegians are venturing to the Russian side for cheaper gasoline and diesel, as well as service such as dentistry and haircuts.
The surge in traffic has led Norway to create an expansion plan for its border station. The changes are expected to be complete in 2015.
A ‘calm and quiet’ border
Despite more people travelling back and forth, the number of violations of the border agreement has decreased since 2004. Last year, there were just 12 incidents of people stepping over the border.
The relatively few illegal border crossings are normally people from countries other than Russia and Norway, Sakserud says.
In 2005, a Moroccan citizen was found drowned in the Pasvik River, which forms the border between Russia and Norway. He is believed to have been trying to swim into Norway.
In 2009, Russian border guards let eight Afghans exit Russia without proper documentation to enter Norway. The Afghans claimed asylum and were sent to Oslo.
Normally, Sakserud says it is the tourists and fishermen who accidentally cross the border into Russian territory. It comes with a hefty fine from both countries – 6000 NOK from the Norwegian side.
Despite the handful of violations, Col. Sakserud emphasizes that it is a “calm and quiet” border. The climate and geography are in part to thank for that.
“The terrain and the weather is half the border guard here,” Col. Sakserud said with a laugh.
History of Cooperation
Russia and Norway have a long history of cooperation since the 196-kilometre border was created after the Second World War. Col. Sakserud says the 1949 border agreement has hardly changed since it was signed 63 years ago.
It works, he says, because “both parties respect the treaty.”
The Norwegian and Russian border guards have annual shared training exercises to maintain a positive relationship.
In recent years, there has been another visible sign of the friendly relations — the soldiers are now allowed to wave to one another across the border.
Visa-free border zone
View Norway-Russia Border Agreement in a larger map.