INTERNATIONAL

Finland to close all but one border crossing with Russia. Here’s why

Finland’s prime minister said Wednesday that the country will close all but its northernmost border crossing with Russia, following a surge in migrants which Helsinki claims Russia is intentionally pushing.

Prime Minister Petteri Orpo (AFP)

Since the beginning of August, around 700 asylum seekers have entered Finland without a visa over its 1,300-kilometre (800-mile) border with Russia.

“The government has today decided to close more border posts. Only Raja-Jooseppi station will remain open,” Prime Minister Petteri Orpo told a press conference.

After seeing a surge in migrants seeking asylum on its eastern border in November, Finland last week shut half of its eight crossings to Russia.

“Unfortunately, these measures have not been able to stop this phenomenon,” Orpo said.

The government said that “it is clear that foreign authorities and other actors have played a role in facilitating the entry of persons crossing the border into Finland.”

“The situation also involves international crime,” the government said in a statement.

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In October, the Finnish border guard sounded the alarm about a change in Russia’s policy, as it began allowing migrants without proper documentation to cross the border.

“This is a systematic and organised action by the Russian authorities,” Orpo said on Monday.

Border crossings will be closed starting Friday and will initially remain closed until December 23.

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova has rejected allegations that Russia is deliberately pushing migrants to the Finnish border.

“Finnish authorities are beginning to make clumsy excuses, warming up Russophobic sentiments,” she said in a statement.

– ‘Hybrid attack’ –

Orpo called the “instrumentalisation of migration” an attempt to “influence the internal situation and border security in Finland and the EU.”

Finland’s interior ministry said Wednesday that the influx of migrants from Russia “poses a serious threat to national security and public order.”

“We do not accept this kind of action,” Orpo said.

Orpo stated that the current legislation also permits the complete closure of the entire border, but as of now, the necessary conditions have not been met.

Polish President Andrzej Duda on Monday labelled Russia’s actions as a “hybrid attack” and likened it to the situation at Poland’s eastern border with Belarus.

The EU has claimed Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko pushed tens of thousands of migrants across its border to Poland in retaliation for sanctions in 2021.

“Finland can absolutely count on Polish political support on the one hand, but also on sharing our experiences,” Duda said.

– Border fence –

Finland’s relationship with its eastern neighbour soured following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — prompting Finland to accede to the US-led NATO alliance in April.

Moscow warned the Nordic country of “countermeasures” after the move.

Anticipating that Moscow could use migrants as a means of political pressure, Finland modified its laws in July 2022 to streamline the construction of a robust barrier along its eastern border.

In February, Finland started the construction of a planned 200-kilometre fence.

The barrier will be three metres (10 feet) tall with barbed wire at the top, with particularly sensitive areas equipped with night vision cameras, lights and loudspeakers.

However, only three kilometres have been completed so far and most of the border remains as uninhabited wilderness secured by only light wooden fences.

The Finnish defence forces have been called in to aid in the construction of temporary barriers around some of the border crossing points.

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