Traffic over the Russian, Norwegian border has threefold over the last four years resulting in queue, jam and chaos at peak-hours, especially Saturdays when thousands of people from Murmansk and the near-border towns cross into Norway for shopping. Citizens in Kirkenes drive into Russia to fill cheap gasoline.
People-to-people contact, trade, cultural exchange and tourism have never been more wide-ranging than today.
The current border-check point at Borisoglebsk, opened in 2003, is not dimensioned to handle the traffic boom, so Rosgranitsa and regional authorities in Murmansk has actively developed a large scale expansion project. A financial plan is now approved in first instance by the European Union’s Kolarctic funding program.
“We are very glad that the Kolarctic meeting in Kirkenes on September 12 approved our application for reconstruction of Borisoglebsk,” says Elena Tikhonova, Acting Minister for Economic Development of the Murmansk Region. She was presenting the project to the audience when the Standing Committee of Parliamentarians of the Arctic Region met in Murmansk last Thursday.
“The project is now awaiting its final approval by the European Union. We can start construction already in 2014,” says Elena Tikhonova.
With a financial code-share between Federal Russian cash and European funding the reconstruction of Borisoglebsk will be the largest ever Kolarctic project.
€26 million is eleven times more than the €2,3 million cost of the current ten year old check-point. Opened at the 10-years anniversary of the Barents Cooperation, the current border facility was built by the Norwegian construction company Moelven and financed with grants from Norway’s Foreign Ministry.
At the 20-years anniversary of the Barents cooperation, marked in June this year, Norway’s Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg told BarentsObserver that possible funding to a new Norwegian check-point at Storskog is a question for the annual budgets. Stoltenberg visited the border together with Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev. The Norwegian Government has for years been delaying funding to construct a new check-point at Storskog.
Chief of Police in Eastern Finnmark, Ellen Katrine Hætta, is in charge of the border check-point to Russia and welcomes the news that funding now seems to be in place for the Russian check-point.
“This is good news. I know that they, like us, have a pressing need for new facilities. I hope that this also will trigger funding to Storskog,” says Ellen Katrine Hætta to BarentsObserver. She points to the fact that the traffic at Storskog already is 50,000 more than capacity. By year-end it is expected that some 310,000 border crossings would have taken place.
“My opinion is that this commits Norway,» says the Chief of Police.
“If we are to have a credible and smooth border control that fulfill the provisions in the Schengen code, we do need to get a new check-point on the Norwegian side as soon as possible. We are already on overtime,” says Ellen Katrine Hætta.
The new Russian check-point will get a designated file for people crossing on so-called local border traffic regime. Last year, Norway and Russia introduced visa-freedom for each other’s citizens living less than 30 kilometers from the border, including the Norwegian town of Kirkenes and the two Russian towns of Nikel and Zapolyarny. With a designated file, locals will be able to cross back-and-forth much more smoothly.