Empty streets as border crossings plunge

No peak hour for Russian shoppers in the central street of Kirkenes.

Russia’s Christmas season is normally peak hour for cross-border shopping, but not so today. Traffic from the Murmansk region to Kirkenes was down 30 percent in December.


January 2nd marks the start of the traditional influx of people from Russia’s Kola Peninsula driving to their favourite shops abroad. Located a 20 minute drive from the border, malls, grocery stores and other shops in the small Norwegian town of Kirkenes rolls out the red carpet for the week the Russians have holiday for Orthodox Christmas. 

Mid-Friday is however abnormally quite in the central shopping street of Kirkenes. There are some few Russian cars, but not at all like it was last January.  

Road signs in Norway’s northeastern corner is also written with cyrillic letters.

The Norwegian town is like a thermometer measuring Russia’s economic crisis. A 40 percent drop in value for the ruble makes shopping in Norway way less attractive for the nearly 800,000 inhabitants on the Kola Peninsula.

“The amount of border crossings with people holding a visa plunged with nearly 10,000 this December compared with December 2013,” says Stein Kristian Hansen, police officer in charge of Storskog border check point.

26,850 border-crossings with visa were registered in the last month of 2013, plunging to 15,879 in December 2014.

A year ago, Russia’s economy was riding high, while today it is widely believed to be entering a recession.  

The sudden sharp drop in border-crossings in October, November and December last year comes after a year-by-year increase of around 30 percent annually since 2009.

Visa-free travel up
The decrease over the last three months in 2014 would have been even more dramatic, wasn’t it for the local border traffic regime introduced two years ago for people living in a 30 kilometer distance from the border. Under the regime, locals in Kirkenes, Nikel and Zapolyarny can visit each other without holding a visa. 

24,306 of the 318,135 border crossings counted over the Norwegian-Russian border last year were Russians traveling under the local border traffic regime. 42,429 border crossings were Norwegians driving to the near-border towns of Nikel and Zapolyarny without visa.

“In total for 2014, traffic declined with 0,6 percent from all-time-high 2013 when 320,042 border crossings were counted,” says Stein Kristian Hansen.

Storskog border check-point.

Still a need for new facilities
Despite far less travellers, Hansen argues there is a need for new facilities to be built at Storskog. The new border check-point has been in pipe for years, but delayed because of uncertainties around the cost estimates

“We believe there is still a need for a new building. Traffic will assumable start to increase again in a few years and it will be beneficial to get started with new building now, while traffic is quiet, so we are ready when it eventually will grow,” says Stein Kristian Hansen.