Norway and Russia are introducing visa-free travel in the border zone to ease contact between neighbors. FSB border guard on the other side has set up yet another checkpoint on the road, making European record on passport control between two countries. There are now four checkpoints in 30 kilometers.
Travelers were taken by surprise when the new checkpoint appeared just outside Nikel on the road towards Kirkenes. Shouldn’t it be easier to drive between the two countries’ border towns?
The new checkpoint was put in place after New Year. Asked by BarentsObserver for what reason, the border guard smiles and says “…because it is border zone.”
New checkpoint halfway between the old border station and Nikel. Photo: Thomas Nilsen
Russia’s border zone regime is getting more and more strict. 2012 makes new surprises.
Over the last few years, Oslo and Moscow have both highlighted the speedy development of neighborhood contacts across the border in the north and the need to ease border-crossing procedures.
- The agreement on visa-free border crossings is an important step to remove barriers in the border area, Norway’s Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre told BarentsObserver when he visited Kirkenes last year.
Also Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said to BarentsObserver when chatting in Kiruna last October that the new regime for visa-free travel will ease border-crossing procedures between Norway and Russia.
Driving the road between the Norwegian border town of Kirkenes and the Russian border town of Nikel shows another reality.
There are few signs of removed barriers. The border bureaucracy is still comprehensive and the numbers of checkpoints for clearing your passport are more numerous today than during the Cold War when the Norwegian, Soviet border was said to be one of the most closed in the world.
Border-crossing exercise Let’s make a virtual trip from Kirkenes across the border and see how it works in 2012. Destination is Nikel, the first Russian town on the road from Norway. Both towns are located inside the 30 kilometer border zone where locals are supposed to travel without visa requirement from May this year.
Storskog border station car-queue. Photo: Thomas Nilsen
First you have to pass through the Customs and passport control at the two official border stations, out of Norway and in to Russia. Time-spending is unpredictable, depending on numbers of vehicles in front of you in the queue. When more people cross the border, the longer are queues.
Passport control out of Norway. Photo: Thomas Nilsen
Waiting to get in to the Russian border station. Photo: Thomas Nilsen
After Russian passport control, you need to fill in the detailed custom declaration, obligatory for everyone driving their own car. In two copies. Then is the Customs check of your car before you are cleared to drive the 50 meters to the gate letting you out of the border station area.
Out of the car and into the Russian passport-control. Photo: Thomas Nilsen
From the Borisoglebsk border station you drive for some 20 minutes along the road in what Russia defines as a special outer border zone, where you are only allowed to drive in transit. The zone is outside of the still-existing barbered wired fence stretching all along Russia’s border to Norway and Finland, from the Barents Sea in the north to the Finnish bay in the south.
Another checkpoint where the guard want to see your passport. Photo: Thomas Nilsen
You then have to slow down and stop for your third passport control at the checkpoint located where the inner border zone area gate is located. A friendly, but still very formal border guard official approach your car and thoroughly cross-check your passport once again, including the passport of all your passengers. Then he opens the gate and let you through. Then you are inside the barbered wire fence. Welcome to Russia? Well, not yet…
A few kilometers ahead there is suddenly another gate, set up after January 1st this year. For no obvious reason you once again have to slow down and stop. The polite border guard at duty asks for your documents. And your passengers’ documents, meaning once again that you have to hand out your passports. By the book, the border guard look at you and confirm the photo in your passport corresponds to your whatever looking face in the dark polar night, and cross-check that your visa and immigration formula has corresponding stamps.
The border guard will then opens the gate and a few kilometers later you are free to visit your neighboring friends in Nikel, or simply visit the local shops or cafés.
Upon return; same procedures again, this time in opposite order. All in all, a return visit between Kirkenes and Nikel, you are stopped eight times requested to show your documents. Welcome to border-crossing exercise at Europe’s northernmost border between Norway and Russia.
If you want to drive further into Russia than the area to be covered by the coming visa-free border regime, you will see that the old checkpoint at Titovka is torn down. This document checkpoint was located on the main road halfway between the Norwegian border and the city of Murmansk.