Norwegian border town finally scraps cooperation agreement with Russian neighbor

A Soviet-era GAZ Pobeda car decorated with World War II memorials on a visit to Kirkenes, the Norwegian town bordering Russia’s Pechenga municipality. (The Independent Barents Observer/Thomas Nilsen)

Wednesday, the municipal council of Sør-Varanger, where Kirkenes is the town center, ended its friendship agreement with next-door Pechenga Rayon.

For the Russian leadership, Pechenga Rayon is mostly known for hosting the 200th Motorized Rifle Brigade and 61st Naval Infantry Brigade, two war units that have fought in Ukraine since early 2014. In the two years that have passed since the all-out war started, these two brigades have lost thousands of soldiers and killed Ukrainians in illegally occupied territories.

Meanwhile, Pechenga’s Western neighbor town has not been in a hurry to abandon long-lasting official ties.

Scrapping the agreement has been up for debate at several meetings in the municipal council in the course of the last two years, each time turned down, until the March 20 meeting.

“The only thing totalitarian regimes understand is clarity,” says Mayor Magnus Mæland to the Barents Observer after the council’s majority vote on Wednesday.

“We cannot have friendship agreements with municipalities like Petsjenga when the mayor over there drives around with a Z on his car,” Mæland continues.

“In Pechenga, Putin’s soldiers are being trained to fight in Ukraine. Enough is enough. The friendship agreement has been terminated. As we promised in the election campaign.”

The two municipalities on each side of the border have developed a broad range of mutual contacts over the years since the Soviet Union in the late 1980ties made an opening in the Iron Curtain. The friendship agreement was renewed periodically, like the 2016 version highlighting cooperation between schools and the exchange of pedagogical personnel, joint meetings and seminars.

Today’s weapons training in the educational institutions in Nikel, the nearest town to the border in the Pechenga Rayon, was not on mind when the agreement was signed. However, many children at the local schools at the time had dads fighting for Russia’s armed forces in Eastern Ukraine.

Weapons training of kids takes place in Nikel, a few kilometers from the border with Norway. (Photo from video by Yunarmiya in Pechenga)

Condemning Putin

Scrapping the agreement did not come without debate. 14 of the council’s members voted in favor of discarding the friendship agreement, while 11 voted against it.

The ruling Conservative Party (H) secured the majority together with the Centre Party (Sp), the Progress Party (FrP), and one member of the Socialist Left Party (SV). Against abandoning the agreement were the Labor Party (Ap), The Red (Communist) Party, and two members of the Socialist Left Party (SV).

All 25 voting members, however, agreed on a very strong condemnation of Vladimir Putin and Russia’s illegal war against Ukraine.


Harald Sunde, the single Socialist Left member voting with the majority, says to the Barents Observer that the brutality of the war makes it impossible not to scrap the agreement.

“What we could see of war crimes committed by Russian forces in Bucha changed everything,” Sunde argues.

“Having cross-border contacts made life in Kirkenes exciting before the war started. Today is a dark day, but abandoning the official agreement was a necessity because of Russia’s brutality,” Harald Sunde says.

In January this year, the Barents Observer could tell how political leaders of Pechenga Rayon together with other politicians in the Murmansk region went to the occupied Ukrainian town of Primorsk.

Like most other Russian regions, Murmansk has been commissioned by Moscow to take stewardship of occupied Ukrainian towns and municipalities. An agreement between Murmansk and Primorsk reportedly outlines more than 40 measures in fields such as the housing sector, education, culture and sports. Many of the same topics Pechenga Rayon previously cooperated with Kirkenes on.

The car of municipal Mayor of the Pechenga region. (Photo: Andrei Kuznetsov at VK)

Last April, some 14 months after Russia’s all-out war against Ukraine started, the council of Sør-Varanger Municipality (Kirkenes) unanimously decided to discard its friendship agreement with the Russian Navy headquarters city Severomorsk.

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: U.S. report claims Trudeau told NATO Canada will never meet military spending target, CBC News

Denmark: Danish policy prioritizes low-conflict Arctic amidst Russian tensions, Eye on the Arctic

FinlandNATO membership strengthens Arctic Security, deepens Canada ties: Finnish Ambassador, Eye on the Arctic

IcelandIceland authorizes U.S. submarine service visits, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: Russian jamming disrupting GPS signals for Norwegian aviation almost daily, The Independent Barents Observer

RussiaAs NATO forces move north for exercise, Northern Fleet sails out frigates, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Swedish forces exercise in northern Norway as country officially joins NATO, Reuters

United States: U.S. nominates Alaskan as first Arctic ambassador, Eye on the Arctic

Thomas Nilsen, The Independent Barents Observer

For more news from the Barents region visit The Independent Barents Observer.

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