According to a survey the pollster Sentio performed for the Norwegian newspaper Klassekampen, 76 percent of residents in northern Norway would like their government to improve relations with Russia. Remarkably, the percentage grows progressively the closer as we get to Russia, which in the Norwegian media is habitually portrayed as "aggressive," reaching 81 percent in the border county of Finnmark.
This obvious incongruity with Oslo's policy should hardly be surprising, since northern Norway has had close economic ties with Russia ever since the Middle Ages.
The Tromsø Mekaniske shipyard in the city of Tromsø has maintained close relations with Norway's Russian neighbors for years. Today, nearly a third of the shipyard's activity comes via Russian fishing vessels, despite sanctions.
Kimek has many Russian employees and maintains close relations with Russia. The town Kirkenes is often nicknamed "Little Murmansk" because of its close ties to Russia, which is only a stone's throw away. Kimek, which has a total of 87 employees, also has an office in Murmansk.
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"We are neighbors, and my philosophy is simple: you have to talk to those you share the garden fence with," Greger Mannsverk told the Norwegian daily Dagens Næringsliv.
Rafaelsen believes the good relations in the far north should inspire Norwegian Foreign Minister Børge Brende to work for an end to the reciprocal sanctions.
"There is no doubt that the sanctions have affected our relationship. We need to talk to the Russians and get at least some of the sanctions lifted, in particular those related to fish exports," Rafaelsen told Dagens Næringsliv, citing annual losses of 6 billion NOK ($720mln).
In November 2016, Norwegian ministers took the first steps to unfreeze contacts with Russia, which were put on ice in 2014 to the detriment of Norwegian industries and exports.
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