Kirkenes, Norway: A journey from the government offices in Oslo to Kirkenes on the Russian border is not just a geographical relocation. It is also a mental journey. Foreign Minister Børge Brende demonstrated that upon landing in the easternmost part of Norway.
Behind him lay a few weeks with strong turbulence in the relationship between Norway and Russia.
The media was overflowing with denied visas for Members of Parliament, cyber attacks on computer servers of political parties and escalating actions of war in Ukraine.
On his way to Kirkenes, after a seemingly failed diplomacy towards Russia, Børge Brende took a detour past Kabul to discuss Taliban with Afghanistan's Foreign Minister.
The background was, in other words, everything but harmonious.
However, that luggage was something Børge Brende left behind when opening the Kirkenes Conference:
"In a world marked with insecurity, it is encouraging to arrive in the North, where optimism rules the ground."
He shrugged off the turmoil of the past week.
I will not go in-depth on the insecurities that have arisen for the past few weeks. That has not affected the development in the North, and it is crucial that it remains that way.
The Foreign Minister thus revealed that he had not just traveled far.
A mental journey
He also demonstrated that he knew where he had arrived.
It has not always been like that.
When the very same Foreign Minister three years ago visited the same conference, he took the opportunity of strongly criticizing Russia. That was understandable, insofar that Crimea lay was closer in time than it was the other day.
It was a principally correct point of view back then, but brought forward in a way that testified to lack of in-depth knowledge about the Barents cooperation, and about the special cooperation that exists between people who live on the northern borders.
During this year's and last year's Kirkenes Conference, Børge Brende has demonstrated that he not only journeys physically.
He also undertakes the mental journey that demonstrates respect for those who completely legally and every day work to ensure good cooperation between Norway and Russia.
During the Cold War too
That is why the Foreign Minister emphasized that the last weeks' turbulence does not affect the development in the north.
He placed in a required historical context when underlining that our achieving good results in times of trouble is not a new feature.
"We did that during the Cold War too," Børge Brende said.
And with that he encountered Rune Rafaelsen, Mayor of Kirkenes and leader of the Barents Secretariat for many years, who in his introductory speech had emphasized the significance of extensive cooperation projects with Russia.
Because the High North is still Norway's most important priority in its foreign policy, and therefore the work carried out all over Northern Norway is decisive for a peaceful and positive development. Surrounded by an erratic Donald Trump and with the sanctions regime towards Russia the people who live in the north are our key security policy card.
Squeezed between superpowers
An active and forward-leadning High North policy is decisive for our not being squeezed between two superpowers with national and international ambitions of which we do not know the full range.
Which is why it is good that Foreign Minister Børge Brende in Kirkenes promises to continue prioritizing the Barents cooperation. It is good that he promises what he refers to as 'full steam ahead' in the High North politics.
And it is good that he emphasizes the legitimate cooperation in the North like this:
"We are to maintain our cooperation with Russia, and most of it works. The disagreements of recently have not kept us from maintaining cooperation in the north, or from entering into new agreements."
Read in Norwegian.