MOSCOW, September 12 (RIA Novosti) - Differing views on the Ukrainian conflict should not impede relations between Russia and Norway, the head of the Norwegian Barents Secretariat told RIA Novosti on Friday.
Although the general level of Russia-Norway relations is weakening because of the difference in perspectives on the conflict in Ukraine, near-border cooperation between the countries is of paramount importance and should not be affected by the "mainstream policy," Rune Rafaelsen said.
"What we need is strengthening ties and broadening contacts. One of the aims is to expand the visa-free zone which is already as big as 40 kilometers [25 miles]," he said. "I have always thought it is wrong to have one kind of relations with Russia, and different kind of relations with, say Finland. The major aim of our work is normalization on the border," Rafaelsen added.
"Kirkenes, a town on the border, is the place where Norway meets the rest of the world, it's the geopolitical center of the country," the secretariat chief stated.
Rafaelsen expressed frustration over the fact that the importance of near-border cooperation with Russia is often overlooked, saying, "Those in Oslo know nothing about Barents Cooperation."
The Barents Cooperation was formally established in 1993. Its main aim is to strengthen infrastructure, establish people-to-people contacts and thereby contribute to the economic, cultural and social development of the Barents region.
The Norwegian Barents Secretariat is focused at developing the Norwegian-Russian relations in the north by promoting and funding Norwegian-Russian cooperation projects on behalf of the Norwegian Foreign Affairs Ministry.
Rafaelsen is leaving his position as the Secretariat's head in fall of 2014 after 12 years at the helm. He plans to continue working in the secretariat as its senior advisor. Moreover, in 2015 he plans to run for mayor of Kirkenes.
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