While Canada has been casting a wary eye on Russian plans in the Arctic, Norway has no such qualms about the Kremlin’s plans for the High North. On March 27, the Russian Security Council revealed its Arctic strategy through the year 2020 and beyond. The plan includes improving and enlarging the capabilities of Russia’s military forces in the Arctic.

However, the Norwegian Minister of Defense, Espen Barth Eide, said that “Russia’s plan to create an Arctic Group of Forces is not a step towards military conflict in the High North and could actually help foster increased co-operation in the region.”

He added,

“I don’t think an increased military presence needs to increase tensions if the interested parties are informed. Indeed, it can have the opposite…during the Cold War, for example, good intelligence was important to promote peace, as it could tell you what another country was not doing as well as what it was doing.”

Norway has historically emphasized maintaining friendly relations with Russia. Its border with the country is the most stable of any of Russia’s borders, while there has been no war between the two countries in over 1,000 years.

Article here (Mosnews.com)

On the other hand, the Norwegian police in the town of Kirkenes, high above the Arctic Circle and fifteen kilometers from the border with Russia, are not so happy about plans for a more open border between Norway and Russia. Currently, the two countries’ foreign ministries are discussing plans to grant “exclusive travel conditions” to people living within 30 to 50 kilometers from the border. But according to an article in BarentsObserver, the Kirkenes police are worried that lax travel regulations would result in more crime.

Opening the Russian-Norwegian border would be in line with the Barents Cooperation, an agreement signed in 1993 between Russia, Finland, Sweden, and Norway. It is administered at both an intergovernmental level by the Barents Euro-Arctic Council and at a regional level, and its purpose is

“to strengthen east-west infrastructure, establish people-to-people contacts and thereby contribute to the economic, cultural and social development of the Region.”

Cooperation between Russians and Norwegians across the border has deep roots. A pidgin language called Russenorsk (Russian-Norwegian) developed thanks to frequent contact and relationships between Russian and Norwegian traders as part of the so-called “pomor trade.” It lasted from 1740 until the Russian Revolution in 1919, with Russian grains traded for Norwegian fish.

If the travel agreement is passed in both countries, it would mark an important step towards reestablishing these types of links and towards cementing bonds between two major players in the Arctic.

Map of the Barents Region. © Testbedstudio
Map of the Barents Region. © Testbedstudio

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