Kirkens (Norway) - Murmansk (Russia) 


Norway and Russia share a land border spanning 196 km., from the Finnish border to the South to Grense Jakobselv in the Northern coast.

The Norwegian town of Kirkenes in the Sør-Varanger Municipality and Nikel, in the Pechenga Municipality in the Murmansk Region, Russia were divided by a hard political border for most of the 20th century. The fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the subsequent creation of The Barents Euro-Arctic Region led the way to a re-negotiation of the border allowing for ease of border crossings, economic exchange, and people-to-people contact.  The creation of the Barents Region, as with other political regions in Europe set the foundation for the possibility of breaking down borders and more cooperation among the signatory countries. While open borders were and are not of great concern to the Nordic signatories of the Kirkenes Declaration, the border with Russia to the East remains a visa-controlled border within the Barents Region. 

For Norway, this has placed Kirkenes, which is 14 km. from the Russian border in the High North, at the centre of bilateral relations between Russia and Norway. Kirkenes has a population of 3400, within the Sør-Varanger Municipality, which has 9700 altogether. Since the early 1990s and coincident with the establishment of the Barents Region, Kirkenes has transformed itself from a town dependent on mining of iron ore to a border town (Viken, et al. 2008). Faced with de-industrialization and economic decline, Kirkenes and the Sør Varanger Municipality set their sights on Russia and cross-border co-operation and exchange as a possible replacement for the mining industry that was closing down in the mid-1990s. (Favourable world market price for iron ore led to the re-opening of the mine in 2009.) The great ambitions for robust cross-border economic development has not been fulfilled, but residents still the border region still see the border as a resource and an opportunity for economic development.

The other side of this Norwegian-Russian divide is the Pechenga Municipality, with Nikel being the closest town to Kirkenes. Nikel, with a population of 12,771 (2010 census), like Kirkenes, was established as a one-industry town. Nickel was first mined and processed here in the 1930s while under Finnish control. The town of Nikel was industrialised intensively in the post-World War II Period under Stalin, and has been dependent on the processing of nickel ever since. Nikel town also lies in a military border zone, which has limited its choices and possibilities with regards to the town's engagement with its Norwegian neighbour and also with regards to travel to Norway. Also extant are asymmetries of social welfare and economies between the residents of this borderland. This was particularly acute in the late 1990s when Norwegian neighbours were sending aide to Russians in the Murmansk Region. Up until recently, most cross-border visits and shopping by Russian residents to Kirkenes came all the way from Murmansk City, some 250kms away.  On 29 May 2012, the long-negotiated 30km resident border pass (grenseboerbevis) came into effect, which would allow residents living within 30kms of the borderland to cross without visas and stay within the 30 km zone for up to 15 days.

Research team:

Aileen A. Espiritu, The Barents Institute at the University of Tromsø 

Elena Nikiforova, Centre for Independent Social Research,St Petersburg

Research area:

Project area news:

Article by Thomas Nilsen at Barents Observer, 04.09.2012 "Never before have so many people crossed the Norwegian- Russian border in the north, due to the newly introduced visa-freedom for the inhabitants in the border area"

The newly introduced visa-freedom for the inhabitants in the border area counts for part of the increase. Cross-border contacts increase sharply over Europe’s northernmost border check-point, the Storskog, Borisoglebsk land border. 22,904 crossings where counted in August, up more than 4,000 compared with the same month last year, or twice as many as in August 2009.

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Dr. James Scott
Project manager
Ph: (+358) 50366 0653
Project information
Project duration: 01.03.2011-28.02.2015
Lead partner: University of Eastern Finland
Total budget: 3 386 700 €
EU contribution: 2 644 090 €