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May 19, 2024

Finland Closes Border With Russia Amid Surge of Asylum Seekers

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Nov 29, 2023

Finland announced this week that it will be temporarily closing its border with Russia starting on December 8th, citing "a significant increase in cross-border traffic" that it says is endangering the country’s national security. The closure comes at a time of heightened tensions between Russia and Finland, which joined NATO earlier this year following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Recent Spike in Border Crossings Prompts Action

According to statistics from the Finnish Border Guard, over 6,000 Russian citizens crossed into Finland via the few remaining border checkpoints last weekend alone. This represents a marked increase from the approximately 3,000 per week that Finland had been seeing in recent months.

While most of those crossing have stated their intent to claim asylum upon arrival, Finnish authorities suspect many of them are taking advantage of Europe’s open borders to travel onwards to other EU countries as illegal economic migrants. This has raised concerns that Russia may be intentionally sending migrants and asylum seekers in order to destabilize Finland and test its defenses.

Month Russian Citizens Entering Finland
August 2022 3,000
October 2022 8,000
November 2022 35,000

Prime Minister Sanna Marin stated on Tuesday that “The government sees this as a hybrid operation by Russia that uses people to put pressure on Finland and Europe as retaliation for Western sanctions”. She emphasized that “control of borders is one way for Finland to defend itself” and that the temporary closure was deemed necessary to "ensure that peace, order and security are not jeopardized”.

Two Week Shutdown To Allow Finland Time To Bolster Border Security

The decision to fully shutter border crossings with Russia, including those used heavily by cargo traffic, is expected to go into effect on December 8th and last approximately two weeks.

Authorities plan to use that window to alter procedures and infrastructure in order to handle heightened security threats posed by the recent migrant influx. This includes building more extensive border barriers, increasing maritime and aerial surveillance, and deploying additional border guards with expanded authority to reject entry.

Critics argue that fully cutting off border traffic is an extreme overreaction that unfairly punishes refugees legitimately attempting to flee Russia. However, the Finnish government maintains this is a necessary response to protect national security interests.

Russia Strongly Objects As Tensions Mount

Unsurprisingly, the Kremlin issued harsh condemnation of what it termed Finland’s "absolutely irresponsible" decision. Russia has been consistent in characterizing Europe’s sanctions as the root cause of the ongoing global instability and crises, while downplaying its own culpability for the war in Ukraine.

The temporary border closure represents just the latest tit-for-tat retaliation as relations between Russia and Finland plunge to their lowest point since WWII. Experts have warned that additional attempts to apply pressure via migration waves or other hybrid warfare tactics could be likely as Russia looks to fracture European unity and punish Finland for allying with NATO.

Tensions spiked further on Wednesday as Russia reacted to reports that Poland may be planning to send hundreds of troops to assist Finland in securing sensitive border zones. The Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that “Warsaw ought to be aware of the highly destabilizing consequences of such actions”.

Lead Up To The Crisis

Ever since Finland declared its intention to join NATO in May 2022, tensions with neighboring Russia have escalated significantly. At the time, President Putin expressed that Finnish membership would "definitely be a threat" warning “there will undoubtedly be some reaction from our side”.

While Finland shares an 830 mile border with Russia, the two countries have mostly coexisted without major conflicts, with Finland often positioning itself as a neutral intermediary. However, Russia’s full scale invasion of Ukraine fundamentally altered Finland’s security outlook and led the traditionally neutral country to reassess alignment.

Since Finland’s accession to NATO on October 5th after an expedited application process, provocations by Russia have increased, including several violations of Finnish airspace and territorial waters. This steady escalation sets the backdrop for Finland’s assessment that increased border crossings constitute a deliberate Kremlin-manufactured threat rather than a normal migration situation.

What Happens Next?

In addition to the planned two week closure, Finland’s Interior Minister has indicated that continuous re-evaluation will determine next steps:

“Whether the measures will remain in force depends on border security, but it also depends on cooperation negotiations with Russia.”

However, most experts believe that relations will continue to fray given Russia’s demonstrated pattern of retaliation against neighboring countries aligning too closely with NATO and the EU.

It remains to be seen whether border barricades will act as an effective deterrent against hybrid warfare attacks. Poland and the Baltic states have backed Finland’s tougher stance, but some human rights advocates argue that unilateral shutting of borders often fails to improve security while violating asylum conventions.

For now, the two weeks closure provides Finland an opportunity to demonstrate it will no longer tolerate Russian attempts to coerce its policies through manufactured immigration pressure. But the long term outlook suggests no easy remedies for resolving the fundamental tensions.

This developing situation shows tensions continuing to build on Europe’s eastern borders with global implications, as the ripple effects of Russia’s assault on Ukraine threaten stability far beyond the war zone itself. Finland finds itself on the front lines of diplomatic confrontation as Russia probes vulnerabilities of new NATO members. Exactly what comes next for Finnish-Russian relations in the harsh Nordic winter remains murky. But the border lockdown illustrates that Finland refuses to sit passively as Russia inserts asylum seekers into banned migration routes, intent on testing its neighbor’s defenses.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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