For a few days now, significantly more asylum seekers have been arriving at the Finnish-Russian border than usual. Finland has closed border crossings in response. Now Finland is accusing Moscow of having a hand in it.
Snow and ice characterize the weather in Finland right now. In the eastern part of the country, temperatures rarely rise above zero degrees, and the further north, the icier. Despite these adverse conditions, dozens and hundreds of asylum seekers have been reaching Finland’s eastern border from Russia on bicycles for several days and weeks. On Monday, 35 people from Russia came to the Salla border crossing alone, as the Finnish border guard reported on X.
The unusual arrivals from Russia into the northern European country are causing further tensions at the border – also between the governments in Helsinki and Moscow.
In response to the increasing number of illegal border crossings and asylum seekers, the Finnish government decided on Thursday to close several border crossings: Vaalimaa, Nuijamaa, Imatra and Niirala were closed on Saturday. Asylum seekers only have the option of submitting their applications at two other border crossings – Vartius and Salla.
Finland blames “foreign authorities or other actors” – meaning Russia
The Prime Minister of the NATO and EU state, Petteri Orpo, emphasized that the situation on the eastern border should not escalate. Interior Minister Mari Rantanen said that closing border crossings on the eastern border will stop illegal entry into Finland. The government is ready to take even stricter measures if necessary.
The situation has now shifted towards the border crossings to the north. Since last week, asylum seekers have also been coming to Vartius, about 500 kilometers from St. Petersburg – according to the border guard, for the first time this year, but now every day. Additional barriers have now been erected to ensure security, as the border guard announced on Monday. According to border protection, 16 people applied for asylum in Vartius on Sunday, compared to 67 on Saturday. There were no more asylum seekers reported from the southeast on Sunday.
The migrants come from the Middle East and Africa, primarily from Iraq, Yemen and Somalia. According to Interior Minister Rantanen, the migrants appeared to be legally staying in Russia.
However, the people do not seem to be making the journey to Finland of their own free will. There is evidence that “foreign authorities or other actors” helped people who crossed the border into Finland illegally to enter the country, according to the conservative government in Helsinki.
“They push people to the border and close the gates behind them”
Although Finland did not specify who these “actors” might be in its border closure communication, it is quite clear that this refers to Moscow. Reports seem to support this.
The head of the Vartius border crossing point, Jouko Kinnunen, told the STT news agency that Russian officials were actively involved in bringing asylum seekers across the border. “They push people to the border and close the gates behind them.” According to Kinnunen’s impression, some of the people did not want to cross the border and resisted. In addition, not everyone applied for asylum. However, the situation is currently calm and under control.
Finland wants to join NATO. It has been preparing for an emergency for a long time – with an underground city
Finland’s Defense Minister Antti Häkkänen also became more specific: “We have evidence of how Russia operates in Europe and other parts of the world. For example, in the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean, there are signs that Wagner is operating in the background on Russia’s orders to solve the migrant crisis in “To speed up Europe and destabilize its unity. In the Baltic countries he has exploited the migration crisis to destabilize the Baltic countries and Poland.” The Wagner Group is a Russian mercenary group that has often acted on behalf of the Kremlin in the past. Their leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, died in a plane crash a few months ago; the background to this is still unclear.
Häkkänen pointed to a similar operation against Finland in 2015 and 2016, when many asylum seekers arrived at border crossings in Lapland on bicycles. “There are signs that this is starting to happen again,” he said.
Russia denies allegations
According to the Finnish newspaper, Russian border officials are taking the migrants directly to the Finnish border. “The border guards carry out checks and take the migrants away,” a hotel receptionist in Russia told the newspaper.
EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen also criticized Russia on Thursday on X, formerly Twitter. Its “instrumentalization of migrants” is “disgraceful” and she supports Finland’s steps.
Russia, however, is washing its hands innocence. “We do not accept such accusations,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Monday in Moscow regarding allegations that Russia was smuggling undocumented migrants across the border in order to destabilize Finland.
He emphasized that only those who are authorized to do so are allowed to use the border crossing. He described the Finns’ accusations as “far-fetched” and criticized Finland’s “clear Russophobic attitude.”
Will the border with Russia be completely closed on Wednesday?
Arkady Moshes, program director of the Foreign Policy Institute, told the Helsingin Sanomat newspaper that Russian border guards could have changed their activities only because of a high-level political decision. This means that Russian President Vladimir Putin must have at least approved the action. “From Finland it is impossible to say whether the initiative came from him, but at least the authorization must have been given.”
However, Finland could actually implement stricter measures at the border very soon. Interior Minister Rantanen told the newspaper “Helsingin Sanomat” that new measures were being prepared. The public broadcaster also reported that the military is helping to build barriers at border crossings in preparation for a potentially long-lasting situation. According to the reports, the EU border protection agency Frontex was also asked.
According to information from the Finnish newspaper, the Finnish-Russian border could be closed as early as Wednesday night. The paper learned this from foreign and security policy sources. The decision could be made as early as Monday.
Defense Minister Häkkänen described the possible closing of the entire eastern border as a “crystal clear message to Russia.” However, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko warned on Monday of the impact of such a decision on Finland’s interests.
Finland wants to have the border fence completed by 2026
However, according to “Iltalehti”, the government has determined that the right to apply for asylum guaranteed in international treaties has de facto lost meaning at the eastern border due to Russian actions. However, since there are fears that rejected people will not be accepted into Russia, the border is to be closed completely. Asylum applications could then possibly be submitted at the airport in Helsinki.
Russia and Finland share a 1,340 kilometer long land border. Due to Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, the EU’s northernmost country became a member of NATO in April after decades of military freedom from alliances. As a result, relations between Helsinki and Moscow have cooled significantly over the past two years.
Until now, Finland’s borders have mainly been secured with light wooden fences, which were primarily intended to keep livestock in the country. In the meantime, however, a 200-kilometer-long fence is being built along a section of the Finnish-Russian border, which is being erected by the country with a population of 5.5 million. Completion is scheduled for 2026.
Sources: news agencies AFP and DPA, , , , , , ,
I have been working in the news industry for over 6 years, first as a reporter and now as an editor. I have covered politics extensively, and my work has appeared in major newspapers and online news outlets around the world. In addition to my writing, I also contribute regularly to 24 Hours World.