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27 Nov, 2023 14:08

NATO state threatens to close its eastern border

Finland has accused Moscow of funneling asylum-seekers through checkpoints
NATO state threatens to close its eastern border

The Finnish government is reportedly mulling full closure of its land border with Russia, a decision from which it shied away last week over concerns that it would clash with Helsinki’s commitment to provide refuge to asylum-seekers. Moscow has protested the restrictions and Finnish claims that it was reacting to Russian ‘hybrid warfare.’

The deliberations reported on Monday by the daily Helsingin Sanomat (HS) came after Finland shut down travel through all but one border crossing with Russia. Equality Commissioner Kristina Stenman criticized the government’s proposal for a full blockade as contradicting national and EU law.

The northernmost Raja-Jooseppi link was kept open on Friday, operating four hours a day to allow asylum-seekers to enter Finland. But Prime Minister Petteri Orpo stressed on Sunday that his government was prepared to completely stop land traffic with Russia.

Commenting on the issue on Yle Radio 1, he accused Moscow of “shamelessly exploiting” citizens of foreign nations to put pressure on Western countries, including Finland. He said refugees would still be able to apply for asylum at Helsinki Airport, with which Russia has no air connection.

Finland imposed travel restrictions after reporting an uptick in asylum applications by people arriving from Russia, which Helsinki perceives as an orchestrated campaign.

According to border guard service statistics cited by HS on Monday, over 900 applicants entered the country from Russia since August, compared to around 3,600 in total this year. Between Friday and Sunday, 61 came through the Raja-Jooseppi crossing, the data showed.

The number of arrivals from the east is dwarfed by the 32,500 people, who sought refuge in Finland in 2015 during the EU-wide migration crisis, the newspaper noted, Helsinki is supposedly pre-empting a larger border crisis.

Interior Minister Mari Rantanen argued last week that Finland’s asylum laws were vulnerable to abuse, considering that they allowed the Russian president to apply for one.

“If Vladimir Putin crosses the border and says ‘asylum!’ he will remain here for the rest of his life,” she said during a panel discussion on Yle TV, to which the audience laughed.

Last week, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the border row and Finland’s actions “regrettable,” considering that during the previous decades, the two nations used to have “pragmatic relations based on mutual respect.” He rejected the allegations that Moscow weaponized migration and noted that Russian border guards were letting through people who had a legal right to cross over.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said that Finland made no attempt to engage Moscow to resolve the tensions and accused Helsinki of trying to scapegoat Russia for problems that stem from a wider breakup of relations that the nation initiated itself.