The Norwegian Government does not follow the recommendation from the Parliament’s Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence to give urgent funding to upgrade the only road check-point for border crossings between Norway and Russia. With booming traffic, today’s facilities are not sufficient.
Regional police authorities in charge of the check-point released their draft plan for a brand new border station in 2009.
Parliament: “Must start in 2013” In April, the Committee published its remarks to the Government’s White Paper on the High North, saying: “It is the Committee’s opinion that the planned construction of a brand new and top modern border station to meet the sharp increase in traffic over the border must start in 2013.”
The State Budget 2013 was released last week and had no cash for a new border station. That means the construction startup work will be delayed yet another year and best option for opening is now postponed till 2016.
Last summer, Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg told BarentsObserver that the Government is very aware of the situation with limited capacity at Storskog. “Many people say that to us. We will look into the situation,” Stoltenberg said.
“State-of-the-art border station” Head of the Norwegian Barents Secretariat, Rune Rafaelsen, fears lack of cash for a new border station would hamper business developments between the two countries.
“There are huge possibilities for developing businesses across the borders in the region, but a state-of-the-art border station with enough capacity to meet the boost is essential,” says Rune Rafaelsen. He also says new technology for immigration and vehicle control should be given to Storskog.
“Norway has only one land border crossing to Russia. Storskog should facilitate for easy and fast contacts between our two countries, not queues,” says Rafaelsen.
Current building from 1991 The current building at the check-point was built in 1991, with several small reconstructions since. Last expansion was earlier this year with one more passport control desk in each direction. More immigration officers are in place and from next year, Customs will also get extra resources. The inside space are however very tight and there are no roof over the control area outdoor where winter storms and darkness hinders an effective control regime.
Traffic boom Traffic over the border has doubled over the last three years and is expected to double again within the next three years, according to a scenario report published by the police. August and September this year were the two busiest months ever if counting number of border crossers. In September alone, 21.914 border crossings took place at Storskog, Borisoglebsk border station, up near 6.000 from the same month last year.
More and more Russians travel to Norway for shopping. A newly introduced visa-free regime for citizens living in a 30-kilometers zone on each side has triggered a sharp increase of Norwegians crossing into Russia for taking advantage of low-priced gasoline.
MURMANSK: Ecological groups gathered on Kola Peninsula fear that Barents nature will be the looser after Oslo decided to call off the environmental minister’s Moscow meeting in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
TROMSØ: Since the first five specimens of snow crab were found in the Barents Sea in 1996, the population has exploded. There is now ten times as much snow crab than king crab in the area, and scientists are just starting to find out how this new species has adopted to life in the Barents Sea.
The current situation in Ukraine makes cross-border cooperation with the neighboring countries even more important, Barents Secretariat leader Rune Rafaelsen says. At the same time, Norway has joined NATO’s condemnation of Russia’s military escalation on the Crimea peninsula.
Board member Amund Trellevik in the press network fears entry-denial of Kremlin’s controversial propaganda-journalist Dmitry Kiselyov could be retaliated by refusing Norwegian journalists access to Russia.