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Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Tighter border control wins support

Norway’s northern border to Russia will no longer offer a gateway for Russians keen on entering not just Norway but the entire European economic area. The Norwegian government’s latest tightening of border control has won widespread support, except from Russian officials who claim it’s discriminatory.

Norway’s border to Russia is likely to become even quieter after new restrictions against entry by Russian tourists or other Russians without “important’ errands in Norway. PHOTO: NewsinEnglish.no/Nina Berglund

As of May 29, Norwegian border police will turn back Russian citizens who lack a “necessary or important” reason to enter Norway. The rule change will mostly affect Russian tourists, many of whom cross the border just east of Kirkenes and then fly on to other destinations.

The stricter border control is aimed at boosting security and even preventing potential Russian spies from traveling around the country, taking photographs and gathering information about Norwegian infrastructure. While Justice Minister Emilie Enger Mehl linked the ban on Russian tourists to security measures, though, others worry that “the Russians aren’t coming, they’re already here.”

That’s what former Norwegian border inspector Frode Berg, jailed in Russia after being convicted of spying himself, told newspaper Aftenposten recently. He described how Russian agents likely have been infiltrating Norwegian business, academia and civilian organizations for years already. He’s among those supporting closed borders for Russian tourists, and claiming that “it’s about time” the Norwegian government is further tightening border control.

“Russia has become a more dangerous neighbour,” Berg, who’s back home in Kirkenes after his release from a Russian prison, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). He thinks Norwegian authorities have been “too naive,” even though he was accused of the same when arrested as a courier carrying cash to alleged spies for Norway in Russia.

The tensions with Russia after it invaded Ukraine more than two years ago present a dilemma for people like Berg and other Kirkenes residents who have lived in peace with their Russian neighbours for decades. Residents living close to both sides of the border have long been able to move freely between Russia and Norway, and that will continue, also for Russians with family connections in Norway or other important ties.

Some Russian opponents to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian regime fear the crackdown will make it harder for would-be Russian refugees to flee to Norway. Justice Minister Mehl stressed, however, that the new restrictions “are in line with the Norwegian approach of standing by allies and partners in the reactions against Russia’s illegal war of aggression against Ukraine.” It’s meant to further strengthen sanctions against Russia as well. The Kirkenes-based Barents Observer reported it will also bring an end to organized cross-border shopping: Russians have long traveled by mini-bus or in their own cars to shop in Kirkenes, where selection can be better and cheaper than in Murmansk, for example.

Closing a ‘loophole’
In addition to those with resident permits on both sides of the border, entry will also still be allowed for Russian citizens working or studying in Norway or other European “Schengen” countries that allow free movement over borders.

Kari Aga Myklebost, a professor of Russian history at the University of Tromsø, noted that Norway’s border closure to Russian tourists has grabbed headlines in Russia, with Russian authorities vowing a reaction. She thinks the closure was correct.

“Norway has provided a loophole or been a transit country for Russian tourists who have traveled beyond Norway,” she told NRK. Local mayor Magnus Mæland was relieved those living on both sides of the border won’t be affected and told the Barents Observer that he doesn’t otherwise fear any major consequences of the new entry restrictions.

NewsinEnglish.no/Nina Berglund

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