COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — A battle of wreaths erupted Wednesday when a Russian diplomat in the Arctic town of Kirkenes in northern Norway reportedly put his garland on top of Norway’s at a monument for the 1944 liberation of the region by Soviet troops.
Magnus Mæland, the municipality mayor, then angrily removed the Russian wreath — only to have a woman, described by Norwegian public broadcaster NRK as being Russian, put it back.
”You don’t behave like that here,” Mæland told NRK. “One should be able to lay flowers at a monument, but not over the municipality’s official wreath.”
Several local people in the border town only 7 kilometers (4.3 miles) from the Russian border, had called on Russian officials to stay away from the ceremony.
In an op-ed published last week, local historians Marit Bjerkeng and Harald Sunde wrote that “official representatives of Russia should not hold any commemoration or appear at memorials on Norwegian soil,” saying it will be seen “as an insult to Norway, to Ukraine and to victims of war in all countries.”
The ceremony commemorates the Oct. 25, 1944 liberation in World War II of Kirkenes by the Soviet army, which had entered neighboring Norway, then occupied by Nazi Germany.
Since then, the date is marked annually. In 2019, on the 75th anniversary, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov laid wreaths at the monument and stood side-by-side with Norway’s foreign minister.
There was no immediate comment from Nikolai Konygin, who heads Russia’s Consulate in Kirkenes, which has three diplomats.
Tensions run high between Norway and Russia, which share a nearly 200-kilometer- (124 mile-) long border. Kirkenes is the largest town in the region.
On Saturday, Konygin gave a speech at the war memorial in the same Norwegian border town.
Visiting locals from the Russian border town of Nikel faced the diplomat while residents from Kirkenes silently turned their back to him, according to the online outlet the Barents Observer.
Locals had already placed a wreath at the monument before Konygin arrived, with the text “to our Ukrainian heroes from 1944 and 2022,” according to the Barents Observer.
Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union during World War II.