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Norway’s Northernmost County Proposes To Expand Visa-Free Zone With Russia

The authorities of the Norwegian northeastern county of Finnmark, which borders Russia’s northwest region of Murmansk, propose abolishing visas for travel to the entire Barents region, Remi Strand, a lawmaker of the Finnmark administration, told Sputnik.

“There are many people living in the Barents region and, particularly, in Finnmark, who are interested in easing the visa regime. Ideally, we would like to have visas suspended, but we realize that it is impossible to do in the short term. But it is possible to start small, for example, to consider the possibility of 72-hour visa-free stay in the Barents region,” Strand said.

According to the official, people on the both sides of the border are interested in amendments to the visa regime.

The official added that the Finnmark authorities have been promoting visa-free travel across the entire Barents region for years and now that Finnmark was presiding in the Barents Regional Council, such ideas had become more common.

Russian Consul General in Norway’s Kirkenes Sergey Shatunovskiy-Byurno told Sputnik that the Finnmark authorities had proposed to extend the bilateral visa-free zone up to Norway’s town of Vardo.

“They propose expanding [the zone] to Vardo. It’s near the sea border, but about 300 kilometers (186.4 miles) from the land border. Initially, the restriction was established by Regulation of the European Union a 30-50-kilometer zone [to establish visa liberalization]. We do not have a border crossing across the sea border. But, how to cross the land border and then go to Vardo and how to monitor this it’s complicated,” Shatunovsky-Byurno said.

However, any initiatives on visa liberalization should be backed by inter-governmental agreements, and Russia has yet to receive any such proposals from Oslo, the diplomat said.

Since 2012, Russians and Norwegians living within the range of about 18 miles from the border between the two states have been able to apply for local border traffic permits allowing them to stay for up to 15 days in the visa-free zone of the neighboring country.

The Barents region is comprised of 14 neighboring counties or their equivalents of northernmost Finland, Norway, Sweden and Russia.

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