Fronts are sharp and political disagreement touch. But Norwegian and Russian politicians fully agree about Barents regional cooperation.
Organized in the borderlands between Norway and Russia, the Kirkenes Conference has a long tradition as arena for dialogue between the two countries. This year, the conflict in eastern Ukraine cast dark shadows over the event and discussions ran high both on the podium and in the conference corridors.
“We have to distance ourselves from Russia’s actions in Ukraine”, Norwegian Foreign Minister Børge Brende underlined in his speech at the conference, which took place this week. “Russia, whose border is just few kilometers from here, is the same country which is using force against its neighboring people of Ukraine […] We cannot accept such policy”, he added.
Murmansk governor responds
A Russian response soon followed from Murmansk Governor Marina Kovtun. “For an overwhelming number of Russians, the military action in eastern Ukraine is perceived with personal agony”, she said, adding that the conflict is a fight against Nazism. “We equally understand the role of the Soviet forces who liberated eastern Finnmark from the German-fascist aggressors, however what is happening in Ukraine today has the same nazi nature”, the governor argued.
However, the tone between the politicans softened as soon as they reoriented towards their joint high north. This is a region of cooperation, and the sanctions must not put a stop to cross-border relations, they both consented.
Improving cross-border conditions
Minister Brende underlined that his government wants to preserve people-to-people cooperation, continue to facilitate visas and improve conditions for bordercrossing, work permissions, local border shopping and trade.
Just ahead of the event, he announced that his ministry allocates several million kroner extra for the Norwegian Barents Secretariat, a company supporting cross-border cooperation in the region.
On her side, Marina Kovtun highlighted her region’s commitment to continued Barents Cooperation. Cross-border relations in the region are unique for all of Europe, she said.
Murmansk and northern Norway are key stakeholder in the Barents Cooperation, the cross-border initiative which includes four countries and 13 regional administrative-territorial units.
Related stories from around the North:
Canada: Will Russia’s actions in Ukraine affect relations in the Arctic Council?, Eye on the Arctic
Finland: Rouble collapse hits Finland, Forex stops buying Russian currency, Yle News
Iceland: From Arctic Circle 2013-2014, a big drop in the price of oil, Blog by Mia Bennett
Norway: Nuclear waste cooperation with Russia will continue says Norway, Barents Observer
Russia: Russia wants Total out of Arctic project, Barents Observer
United States: Oil price collapse prompts agency to lower Alaska credit outlook, Alaska Dispatch