Severomorsk. Photo: Thomas Nilsen

A fiend in need. Will Norwegian towns give up twinning ties with Russia?

There are discussions in Finnmark's municipalities about severing ties with sister cities in Russia. The municipality of Sør-Varanger has rejected the proposal.
November 10, 2022


On November 2, the municipal council of Sør-Varanger considered the proposal of the Conservative Party to break twinning ties with three Russian towns. Two of them, Pechenga and Severomorsk, are located in the Murmansk region.

A party representative shared the draft proposal with the Barents Observer. It reads that the foundations of cooperation were laid under Mikhail Gorbachev, and that this cooperation was quite successful in the 1990s, but today the Russian state is such that it is impossible to deal with it.

“Since 2009, the Putin regime began to show its true face. Kleptocracy, corruption, persecution of dissidents, state takeover and suppression of the media. In 2014, Russia annexed Crimea and entered eastern Ukraine… The West is described as a depraved place where a mixture of ethnicity, homosexuality, pedophilia, same-sex marriage and other liberal values is destroying society. On February 24 of this year, Russia attacked Ukraine again. Strong evidence has been collected that Russia is involved in war crimes … They carry out terrorist attacks against civilians, rape, torture, execute, steal and tyrannize the Ukrainian population. Despot Putin is increasingly threatening with nuclear weapons,” the authors of the initiative write in their address to council members.

We in Sør-Varanger must stand up for the forces of good in Russia. We cannot but take a stand on what is happening. Today we see Pechenga and Severomorsk. The mayor of Pechenga drives his car with large “Z” symbols pasted on it. The mayor of Severomorsk is a military man. He is an officer in the Russian Northern Fleet. Our friendship agreements are with municipalities and municipal leaders who are at the forefront and defend ongoing war crimes… The day we see a new Russia that has withdrawn from Ukraine, laid down its arms and come to terms with its history, we will of course resume our partnership. We will also provide aid and humanitarian aid, as the West has done many times in the past”, the statement reads.

In addition to cutting twinning ties, the authors of the initiative also demand to remove signs with street names in Russian. They also propose to raise Ukrainian flags at the town hall, the monument to a Soviet soldier and on the embankment.

Representatives of the Conservative Party also insist on breaking sister city relations with Harbin in China. China has not condemned the military invasion of Ukraine and is threatening Taiwan, while violating human rights inside its own borders.

“We will not force ourselves on them”

“We can’t do anything about our geography. We are a border municipality. Many have relatives and friends in Russia and Finland. Some have parents from Russia, but they were born and raised in Norway. Bonds built on love and friendship across borders must be maintained and are to be proud of. I want everyone who lives in Sør-Varanger, wherever they are from, to know that they are welcome in Sør-Varanger. This is a municipality where you can speak your mind, where you can speak out against politicians, where you can love anyone, where you can write critical articles against the authorities, and where diversity is valued. Therefore, it is difficult to be a free port for those who want to fight the authoritarian and totalitarian law of the Putin regime, while Sør-Varanger is a friendly municipality with Severomorsk. We must terminate friendship agreements. It is striking that Sør-Varanger has friendly municipalities in countries like Russia and China which the PST considers the biggest intelligence threat to Norway. We can choose who we are friends with,” says Conservative Party representative Magnus Mæland.

The Barents Observer has asked the authorities of Severomorsk and Pechenga to comment on the prospect of severing twinning ties between the cities.


If they make such a decision, we will not insist and force ourselves upon them,” Ivanna Mikitenko, press secretary of the Severomorsk Administration, said. “However, we had a very good relationship. Friendly, mutually beneficial.”

“There was an exchange of experience, visits. The Severomorsk delegation came to them, we, accordingly, invited them to our place. There was cultural interaction — representatives of our music school performed on their square in the presence of the King of Norway. Social institutions exchanged experience. This was all before the pandemic. In 2019, we even celebrated 25 years of cooperation, and the mayor of Sør-Varanger was awarded the Order of Friendship, and it was presented to him in Severomorsk,” Mikitenko said.

Photo: official social media page of the Severomorsk administration


A BO journalist texted Pechenga Mayor Andrey Kuznetsov. The authors of the initiative claim that it is him who drives a car with a sticker in the form of the letter Z. The reporter asked how the official feels about the initiative to break twinning ties between Pechenga and Sør-Varanger, how strong these ties are and whether their elimination will be a loss for Pechenga. Kuznetsov read the message, but did not respond at the time of writing the article.

Friendship on paper

Earlier, the city of Tromsø terminated its twinning ties with Russian cities. According to an open letter published in the Nordlys newspaper, it froze relations with the three cities shortly after Russia’s brutal attack on Ukraine. Now the agreements will be terminated officially.

“We believed in our friendship. That people, who come together across borders, cultures and languages can look each other in the eye and see themselves there. That we all have the basic needs for security, freedom and democratically elected leaders,” Mayor Gunnar Wilhelmsmen said.

The Barents Observer decided to find out if similar processes are taking place elsewhere in Norway. As it turned out, this assumption was not unfounded. The possibility of terminating twinning ties is being considered, in particular, in Hammerfest. According to Wikipedia, its sister city in the Murmansk region is Kola. But the mayor of Hammerfest, Terje Wigström, believes that this is inaccurate.

“Now I’m trying to establish what kind of agreements we have with Russian cities. As far as I understand, we have twinning ties with Arkhangelsk, as well as with Kola. We will discuss the issue of termination at a meeting of the municipal council, but not now, it’ll be in December. This issue has been raised by the Progress Party here in Hammerfest”, the official said.

Hammerfest. Photo: Atle Staalesen


The municipality of Berlevåg has twinning ties with the Karelian city of Belomorsk. Municipal authorities also intend to discuss the idea of severing these relations, Mayor Rolf Laupstad said. However, no initiatives on this subject have yet been received. The council meeting was scheduled for November 3.

However, Laupstad noted that ties with Belomorsk exist only on paper.

“They haven’t been active since the nineties. Back then, yes, there were relations between municipalities, but for the last twenty years there has been no activity, as far as I know,” the official said.

The lack of real twinning ties makes it pointless to abolish them, says Helga Pedersen, mayor of the municipality of Tana. According to her, there have been no contacts with its sister municipality of Tersky district in the Murmansk region for thirty years.


The municipal council of Sør-Varanger debated the proposal of the Conservative Party for more than an hour. According to the Barents Observer sources, the idea of severing twinning ties has also been supported by the Green party. However, the majority of council members spoke in favor of maintaining relations with Russian cities.


This is a translation of a story originally published on the Russian pages of the Barents Observer





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