Finland will close on Friday night at Saturday half of its border crossing points with Russia, accusing Moscow of trying to destabilize the country by letting undocumented migrants cross the border.
Finland, which shares a 1,340 km border with Russia, has seen an influx of visa-free migrants from the Middle East and Africa since the end of August, particularly from Iraq, Somalia and Yemen, according to its border guards.
“The government has taken the decision to close the Vaalimaa, Nuijamaa, Imatra and Niirala crossing points,” Interior Minister Mari Rantanen said during a press conference on Thursday.
This closure of the four points on the south-eastern border will be effective at midnight on the night of Friday to Saturday, with four crossings remaining open further north. It will last until February 18, 2024, with the study of asylum applications being concentrated in two centers.
The Finnish government warned on Tuesday that it was considering closing this border, suspecting Moscow of trying to destabilize the country which joined NATO in April.
The border fence on the Finnish-Russian border in Imatra, in Finland, October 26, 2023 © Lehtikuva – Jussi Nukari
“We have prepared for different kinds of actions, malicious acts on the part of Russia, so the situation is not a surprise,” said Prime Minister Petteri Orpo.
“We want this phenomenon to stop, we want border activity to return to normal,” he added. “If the situation spreads to other crossing points and becomes more difficult, we will take the necessary measures.”
– New “fractures” –
“This negative development events will naturally lead to retaliatory measures,” responded the Russian Foreign Ministry.
“This is the emergence of new fault lines in Europe which do not resolve anything, but raise new questions, problematic questions,” its spokesperson, Maria Zakharova, told the Tass agency.
For Henri Vanhanen, researcher at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, “Finland sends the message that there is a political will to take additional measures if necessary (…) an important message addressed to Russia “.
The Kremlin vowed in April to take “countermeasures” after Finland joined NATO, calling the expansion of the Western alliance an “undermining of Russia's security.”
The range of these countermeasures “is limited only by the imagination”, Mr. Vanhanen told AFP, citing actions of disinformation, threats of environmental disasters or obstacles to the freedom of travel in the Baltic Sea.
“These types of malicious actions, which remain below the threshold of war, are applied where they work,” according to the expert.
Some 280 asylum seekers presented themselves at the Russian border -Finnish since September, according to the coast guard, but “the figures are not the problem”, noted the Minister of the Interior.
“This is not a normal question on asylum policy. This is a case where we have indications and information that people are being manipulated into entering Finland,” she stressed.
– NATO “monitors” –
Relations between the two neighbors have deteriorated considerably since February 2022 and the Russian offensive in Ukraine, an attack that led Finland, worried about its own security, to join NATO.
The Alliance is “carefully monitoring the situation” at the border, assured NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. “We must exchange information” then “take the necessary actions if necessary”, he said during a press conference with the Latvian president.
Finland unveiled a project at the end of 2022 vast fence over 200 km of its border.
On Tuesday, the Kremlin said it “deeply regrets” Helsinki's plan to close their common border.
Neighboring Norway, which has a border post with Russia in the Far North, said it was ready, through its Minister of Justice Emilie Enger Mehl, to close its border “if necessary, on short notice”. “We do not observe any abnormal traffic,” the minister told the Norwegian agency NTB.
During the migration crisis of 2015, thousands of migrants without visas crossed the Russian-Norwegian border at bike. An influx seen by specialists as an attempt at destabilization while, on the Russian side, it is difficult to enter the border area, closely guarded by the FSB (Russian State Security), without authorization.
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