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17 Jan, 2024 10:17

EU state pledges to keep its Russian border closed

The denial of passage protects the EU from illegal migrants, some of whom have 'war criminal records.' according to Helsinki
EU state pledges to keep its Russian border closed

Finland will keep its border with Russia closed for at least another month due to concerns about illegal migration, Foreign Minister Elina Valtonen has said. Local media, however, suggested that the ban could persist much longer, with officials in Helsinki unsure whether the border crisis can be solved at all.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Tuesday, Valtonen confirmed that the Nordic nation’s lengthy frontier with Russia would remain closed for another month. For now, the ban is expected to last until February 11.

Explaining the rationale for the restrictions, the foreign minister complained about what she called “harassment” from Russia that started last year. As part of its “hybrid operation,” Moscow is pushing citizens from third countries to cross the Finnish border without valid documents, Valtonen claimed. “That’s obviously not something that we can accept. That’s part of our sovereignty.”

The minister added that the border ban also protects other EU members from illegal migrants, some of whom she said have “war criminal records.” “Many of them stay in Finland… but many also continue towards the rest of the Schengen area. We can’t have that.”

Finland first closed almost all of its border checkpoints with Russia in mid-November, and later the rest, saying hundreds of migrants from Middle Eastern and African countries were trying to enter the country illegally. The restrictions do not apply to freight traffic.

While the current ban is in effect until early February, the Finnish daily Ilta Sanomat reported on Tuesday that the restrictions are likely to remain in place beyond the deadline. The article suggested that “there is no permanent… solution to the border problem yet, and the government is not sure whether it is possible to find one.” It added, citing sources, that Helsinki is ready to lift restrictions “immediately” once Russia stops its “hybrid operation.”

The crisis comes while Finnish-Russian relations are at a low point amid the Ukraine conflict and Helsinki’s decision to join NATO. Moscow has for decades viewed the bloc’s expansion as an existential threat.

In November, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova denounced Finland’s border restrictions, suggesting that they create new “dividing lines” in Europe. In addition, Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov dismissed Helsinki’s accusations, saying only those who have the right to cross Russian border checkpoints are allowed to do so.