The Murmansk Express

The vast bulk of the Syrian (and not so Syrian) immigrants to the EU have been making their way through the “sluice” countries of the Med such as Greece and Italy. Germany has joined Sweden Yes! in the level of its enthusiastic affirmativeness, while the Visegrad countries are locked in a surly and impotent position that is only made tolerable for them by the fact that none of the “refugees” actually want to settle in their welfare-less countries.

Russia has been largely in the sidelines, but not entirely so.

wsj-northern-routeLike most countries outside the Hajnal zone, it is not very enthusiastic about giving out refugee status; to date only 2,000 Syrians have been granted temporary asylum, with a mere one case being given the status of a refugee. The actual numbers of refugees without status is considerably more, perhaps 10,000 (I wrote about the phenomenon back in February 2013, though that concerned persecuted Egyptian Christian Copts).

Russia has a Visegrad-level GDP per capita, with even less in the way of welfare, so naturally the vast bulk of immigrants are only interested in it as a transit country. This is a burgeoning industry, albeit one beginning from a very low base. See the map to the right via the WSJ.

When Ali Al-Salim and a fellow Syrian arrived at the port city by train from Moscow earlier this year, they were greeted by officers from the FSB, Russia’s domestic security agency.

“We said we were visiting the place but they replied: Nobody comes here for tourism, it’s a military city,” Mr. Al-Salim said, adding the officers made him and his friend buy a return ticket to Moscow.

Days later, as Mr. Al-Salim prepared to travel from Murmansk to the Norwegian border, the FSB officers came to his hotel. Mr. Al-Salim said he disclosed his real plans.

“We don’t have any problem with that, but you must get a ride there yourself,” one of the FSB officers said, according to Mr. Al-Salim.

For $150, the two Syrians found a driver who took them to the border.

And according to a Komsomolskaya Pravda report, apparently it’s really good days for Russian taxi drivers and bicycle retailers near the Norwegian border.

“My colleagues take $200-$800 from foreigners. The more people, the more expensive. I personally take $500-$600,” says Oleg, a taxi driver from the border town of Nickel.

The prices for rides straight from Murmansk are even wilder. Syrians are ready to pay up to $1,400 and not even all taxi drivers agree to that sum. The Norwegians can take away visas for transporting refugees or even take apart their cars and be completely in their legal rights to do so… Bicycles in Nickel are becoming short in supply. They can be found at twice the price of those in Murmansk at one local shop…

Even with the recently inflated prices, though, the Arctic Route is still far cheaper and far safer than traveling in an overcrowded dinghy organized by shady mafia types who don’t really much care where you make it to your destination in one piece. There are also even fewer bureacratic obstacles. Hungary and Co. at least have to abide by the formal requirements of European treaties, whereas Russia quite rightly considers Schengen issues to be none of its concerns and just let’s them go on their merry way, the sooner the better.

With Mutti apparently having some second thoughts on all this, the prominence of the Arctic Route may well increase in the months ahead.

Anatoly Karlin is a transhumanist interested in psychometrics, life extension, UBI, crypto/network states, X risks, and ushering in the Biosingularity.


Inventor of Idiot’s Limbo, the Katechon Hypothesis, and Elite Human Capital.


Apart from writing booksreviewstravel writing, and sundry blogging, I Tweet at @powerfultakes and run a Substack newsletter.


  1. With several hundred thousand refugees from Ukraine, Russia has every reason to allow easy passage to those going to the West . Typical Putin asymmetric response; Norway annoyed the bear with a TV series about a Russian invasion, but didn’t expect the type of invasion from Russia they got in retaliation. Russia is a kind of anti-fragile country that bounces back with a vengeance.

  2. I’ve noticed Russia’s welfare state is mostly for retirees (especially military/security type retirees), not poor people. There is some logic in this -makes it harder for migrants from the South (all parts) to scam the welfare system.