The war in Ukraine has reduced the workload and made it more difficult to maintain the offices in Russia," says Lars Georg Fordal, leader of the Norwegian Barents Secretariat.
The Norwegian Barents Secretariat has been present in the Russian cities of Arkhangelsk, Murmansk, and Narjan-Mar, but operations at the offices will be discontinued from the 1st of February next year. That means that the Barents Secretariat employees in Russia will be laid off.
"We have a group of very talented colleagues at our offices in Russia. It is sad that we have ended up in the situation that we find ourselves in now," says leader Lars Georg Fordal of the Barents Secretariat in a press release.
The decision comes as a consequence of the challenges Russia's war against Ukraine has created for the Barents cooperation.
"The offices in Russia have had a particular responsibility to follow up large cooperation projects on the Russian side, but as of now the war and the reactions to it, place major limitations on our activity. The challenges with money transfers to Russia have also made it financially difficult to continue further operations at the offices," explains Fordal.
Still supports projects
Following the war in Ukraine, the Barents Secretariat has continued to support Norwegian-Russian cooperation projects where it has been possible within the current sanctions regime as well as the guidelines from Norwegian authorities.
This has also been requested by the Barents Secretariat's clients in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its owners, the county councils of Nordland, Troms, and Finnmark.
It is a sad day for Norwegian-Russian cooperation.
The number of cooperation projects has significantly decreased since February 2022.
"However, we believe that it is more important than ever that independent actors in civil society keep contact with their friends and cooperation partners across borders. These relationships are important both today and the day the war ends and the future hopefully looks brighter," says Fordal.
He says this work will be followed up by the employees of the Kirkenes office, which is still open to inquiries and project applications in the time coming.
"A sad day"
The Barents Secretariat has had representatives in Russia since the opening of the Arkhangelsk office in 1996. At the turn of the millennium, the offices in Narjan-Mar and Murmansk were also established.
"It is a sad day for Norwegian-Russian cooperation. Our employees in Russia have a lot of experience in the Barents cooperation, which makes it extra hard to have to close down the offices," says Fordal.
Barentssekretariatet har hatt representasjon i Russland siden åpningen av kontoret i Arkhangelsk i 1996. Ved årtusenskiftet ble også kontorene i Narjan-Mar og Murmansk etablert.
"Sadly, this is a direct consequence of Russia's offensive war against Ukraine. If we eventually see a more peaceful and open Russian society, it could be possible that we will be present there again. In the short-term, it is not realistic," concludes the leader.
This article was originally published in Norwegian and has been translated by Birgitte Annie Molid Martinussen.