Border town Kirkenes scraps cooperation with Northern Fleet stronghold Severomorsk
It was put on hold when Russian forces launched their full-scale attack on Ukrainian lands in February 2022. But it was only today that the agreement between Sør-Varanger and Severomorsk was formally abandoned.
In a town council meeting, the local politicians unilaterally scrapped the so-called friendship agreement between the municipalities.
“We neither need, nor want, such an agreement with a closed military town,” says Harald Sunde, one of the initiators of the bill. “Severomorsk is the home base and headquarter city of the Northern Fleet, and has responsibility for naval, air force and army capacities that take part in the illegal war against Ukraine.”
“Furthermore, it will be very hard to welcome Ukrainian refugees to Kirkenes as long as we have a friendship agreement with the home town of the Northern Fleet. After all, the Northern Fleet is part of the reason why they have had to flee their country,” he adds. Sunde represents the Socialist Left Party, a junior partner in the local government.
The decision was supported unanimously by all local political parties.
But there was uncertainty until the last minute of the vote. The biggest party in town, the Labour Party, originally opposed the scrapping of the agreement, and even voted against in an earlier meeting.
The party ultimately backtracked and ended up supporting the withdrawal from the agreement. But at the same time, it voted against an additional proposal to address also two other friendship agreements.
The Labour Party does not support a proposal to review also agreements with the Russian municipality of Pechenga and the Chinese town of Harbin.
The local party representatives have on a number of occasions expressed reluctance to review relations with nearby Russia. Town Mayor Lena Norum Bergeng in late February 2022 underlined that relations with Severomorsk must remain intact.
“Severomorsk is our friendship municipality and I will do what I can to continue our people-to-people cooperation with them and maintain our friendship,” the Mayor told the Barents Observer. “I condemn Russia’s actions towards Ukraine, but I do not condemn the Russian people, who are our citizens, colleagues, neighbors, friends and family,” Bergeng underlined.
Today’s decision by the town council appears as a blow to Mayor Bergeng and the local Labor Party.
In a comment, Bergeng underlines that she refuses to inform the administration of Severomorsk about the cancellation of the agreement, arguing that “there is no contact between the two towns at the moment.”
The Norwegian municipality that is located only a few kilometers from the Russian border first entered into an agreement with Severomorsk in 1994. The document that was signed by the town mayor of Kirkenes and the head of local government in Severomorsk outlines cooperation in fields like business development and information exchange.
An updated agreement from 1996 expanded cooperation to fields like healthcare, education, social sector, nature and environment, and even the legal sector and mass media.
Another six updates of the document was made over the years, the last one in 2016. It describes cooperation also in “technical management.”
Harald Sunde recalls how a delegation from Severomorsk, based on the agreement, wanted to come to Kirkenes to study local infrastructure and drinking water supply. The visit was halted when a local police raised the alarm about the plans.