"You protect our freedom," King Harald tells soldiers guarding border to Russia
“It is high time to come. I have not been here since 1969,” King Harald V said as he arrived to the Sør-Varanger Garrison.
The 86-year old monarch on Monday flew in to Kirkenes, the border town that houses the military base. On his agenda were meetings with conscript soldiers that guard the 198 km long border.
“I am here to meet with the soldiers that do this important job along Norway’s border to Russia,” the King said and highlighted the increasing importance of border guarding in today’s military service in Norway.
“They protect our freedom,” he said about the soldiers.
During the visit, he sat down for lunch together with the conscripts and was guided around in the base facilities.
King Harald is formally the supreme commander of the Norwegian Armed Forces. His visit comes as nearby Russia continues it aggressive onslaught on Ukraine.
“There is a rather special situation, we have had war in Europe since 2014,” the monarch underlined in a statement.
Harald was accompanied by Defense Chief Eirik Kristoffersen and head of the Sør-Varanger Garrison Michael Rozmara.
According to Kristoffersen, the war is an important background for the King’s visit to the Sør-Varanger base
“There is a serious situation in Europe, we have a brutal war in Ukraine which Russia stands behind, and the Norwegian Armed Forces have been clear that we can have no military cooperation with Russia since 2014,” Kristoffersen says.
At the same time, the Defense Chief highlights the need for continued dialogue with the Russians.
“There is a special situation with war in Europe and military cooperation is halted, but at the same time we have a neighbour with whom we have a dialogue in order to uphold relations despite the war,” he said and explained that Norway and Russia keep a dialogue in fields like border guarding and search and rescue in the Barents Sea.
The Sør-Varanger Garrison houses border guards and a recently established ranger company. About 800 soldiers serve in the base, most of them conscript soldiers.
King Harald has on a number of occasions visited Kirkenes. In 2019, he attended a ceremony devoted to the 75 years anniversary of Soviet forces’ drive-out of German Nazi troops from the Kirkenes area. The ceremony was attended also by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Head Commander of the Northern Fleet and several more Russian state dignitaries.
Back then, despite Russia’s annexation of the Crimea and incursions in eastern Ukraine, there were still open channels between Norway and Russia.
In 1998, the King himself visited Russia and in 2002 Vladimir Putin came on a state visit to Oslo. In 2010, also his tandem partner Dmitry Medvedev visited Norway.