A significant increase in flow from Russia was recorded at the only land gate to the Schengen country, currently still open to Russian tourists. We are talking about the Norwegian-Russian border, where, according to the Barents Observer, traffic from Russia increased by 33% in January 2023 compared to the “hot” autumn period of 2022.
The routes of Russians traveling to the Schengen countries changed significantly in the fall of 2022, when at the end of September Finland closed entry for compatriots with tourist visas. Against the backdrop of closed Finnish borders, traffic from Russia rushed to the Storskog checkpoint, which currently remains the only land border with Europe for Russians. In January, the flow there increased by another 1/3 compared to October and November – also “hot” months, because. the day before, in September, Suomi restricted entry for Russian citizens.
Due to restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic, the numbers for January this year are not comparable to previous years, experts say. Russia lifted restrictions due to COVID-19 in mid-July last year, and especially in autumn, the number of border crossings to Norway increased sharply. At the end of September, Finland decided, following Poland and the Baltic states, to declare Russians traveling on a tourist visa as unwanted guests in their country. Consequently, the road from Murmansk to Norway in the north became the only land border with Schengen Europe still open to travelers with a tourist visa.
For example, six times as many travelers crossed the Norwegian-Russian border post in November compared to combined traffic at Finland's two northernmost checkpoints in Lapland. At the Raya-Jooseppi and Salla checkpoints, 3,752 passengers were registered in September, and in October this number decreased by almost a third – only 1,385 people. In November, traffic dropped even more – only 1,130 people crossed the border between the Murmansk region and Finnish Lapland.
“January figures show that there were 9,271 border crossings in Storskog,” Finnmark border guard officer Katrina Beddari told the Barents Observer in an email. According to the source, 94 crossings were made by Russians holding the so-called visa-free border crossing permit, under which local residents living within 30 km of the Norwegian-Russian border are allowed to visit the other side of the border checkpoint without a visa.
“Russians with a Schengen tourist visa can still fly to many European destinations, but the route north through Kirkenes is much cheaper for most than flying through popular hubs like Dubai or Istanbul. January is also the peak season for Russian fishing boats, which call at the port for crew changes in Kirkenes, one of the three remaining ports in Northern Norway that are still open to Russian-flagged ships. Fishermen from Murmansk and the Far East are transported by bus across the border to Norwegian ports and back,” the publication said.
Recall that the Norwegian government decided not to follow the recommendation of Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin, who called for the adoption decisions to restrict the entry of Russian tourists into Europe. But last fall, Justice Minister Emily Anger Mehl made it clear that all changes in traffic at the border checkpoint are carefully monitored. “The border may be closed in a few hours,” she told the publication. We add that Russians traveling on tourist visas can stay in Europe for no more than 90 days.
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Help: Storskog is a settlement in Norway, where the only regular automobile checkpoint on the Russian-Norwegian border is located. On the Russian side, the point is called Borisoglebsk.