Discussions of the economic fallout stemming from the Russian invasion of Ukraine have centred squarely on energy, and, increasingly, wheat and maize. But as Western countries mull closing their ports to Russian ships, businesses in northern Norway are warning that doing so will cost jobs and strain commercial relations that business leaders say have taken decades to build up.
So far, only the UK and Canada have formally blocked Russian ships from entering their ports, but, even in countries that do not have similar rules, the sailing is far from smooth: dockworkers on the American west coast have been told by their union not to unload cargo from Russian ships, for example. For now, the EU appears unlikely to follow suit, but attitudes there are just as unfriendly: the European Parliament on 1 March called on the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, to do the same. It did not, but it imposed an export ban on naval technology and other measures that were aimed at Russian ships.
For the most part, such measures should hurt Russia most. A tenth of the world’s merchant marines are Russian, while, in the UK, for example, just 3% of traffic is Russia. In northern Norway, however, European-wide ban on Russian vessels would hit the local economy hard, local businesses fear. In Sør-Varanger, a council bordering Russia, the economy is heavily oriented toward servicing Russian ships, primarily fishing vessels, and as many as 600 jobs — in a community where there are 5,000 private-sector employees — could disappear if the EU closes its ports. Though not a EU-member, Norway its line and has said it would do the same.
Even without sanctions directly targeting ships, local firms say that they are already preparing to to lay off workers. The problem is not that there is no work for them to do. In part, it is because official measures, such as kicking Russian banks out of the SWIFT bank-transfer network, mean Russian firms cannot pay foreign firms for their work. Making matters worse is that some Norwegian companies have imposed their own unofficial sanctions by refusing to do business with Russian firms or other Norwegian firms that continue to do so.
“That hurts those of us who make our living off servicing Russian customers most,” Greger Mannsverk (pictured above, in white helmet), the managing director of Kimek, wrote on social media last week in advance of a visit by the commerce and finance ministers.
Kimek, a maritime services firm that employs 80, does 60% of its business with Russian firms, and Mr Mannsverk had been hoping to get help in the form of more flexible rules for laying off idled workers, as well as cheap loans and other forms of financial support for firms that lose business because of sanctions. Jan Christian Vestre, the commerce minister, admitted that sanctions were in indeed landing on the wrong side of the border, but was unable to offer anything in the way of assistance or promises that Norwegian ports would remain open.
Kevin McGwin, PolarJournal
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