Russia has belatedly responded to Finland’s accession to NATO by attempting to engineer a migration crisis along the two countries’ shared border. Russian border guards have begun to allow hundreds of refugees from the Middle East without proper documentation to cross the Russian border with Finland. Helsinki responded by closing several of its border crossings in a move which is already hitting Russian citizens. The situation is reminiscent of when Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko prompted a migration crisis on his own country’s border with Poland in 2021.
- The Finnish government recently announced that since August they have seen a significant increase in the numbers of refugees from Middle Eastern countries (Syria, Iraq and others) attempting to enter the country from Russia. Russia has historically not let people pass through its side of the border without proper documents that would allow them to also enter Finland. But Helsinki says this approach changed in late summer and escalated significantly in November. Since August, 900 refugees have attempted to enter Finland — 800 of them in the last month. Some of the would-be asylum seekers, who have paid thousands of dollars for the journey, arrive at the wintry Russo-Finnish border wearing sneakers and only light clothing.
- In response to the increase in attempted border crossings, Finland closed seven of the eight border posts on its 1,340-kilometer border with Russia. Only the northernmost crossing, deep in the Arctic, remains open. The Finnish border has been closed to Russians who only hold a tourist visa since last year, but had remained open for Finns and Russians with family visas or real estate in Finland, and residents of border areas who had always enjoyed simplified entry procedures.
- The Finnish authorities say that Russia is not only allowing migrants to cross without documents, but is actively helping them to do so. Russian media outlets found no direct proof of this, but there is plenty of circumstantial evidence of the role Russian authorities are playing. Fontanka reported that refugees are driven to the border by people smugglers in cars with both Russian and European plates. The service costs €2000–3000, and includes an official invitation letter to receive a visa to Russia, a plane ticket to Minsk or Moscow, transfer via road to St. Petersburg and onward travel to the border. The cost of a bicycle, necessary for crossing the border, is paid separately, the outlet reported.
- Both the Finnish authorities and analysts are certain that the situation has been artificially engineered by Moscow. They recall similar events in 2015-2016, when Russia allegedly took revenge on Finland after it took part in NATO military exercises, as well as the parallel situation in 2021, when Belarus’ Lukashenko staged a far larger migration crisis on the border between Belarus and Poland. The current crisis is seen as Russia’s response to Finland’s accession to NATO in April 2023.
Why the world should care:
Trying to create difficulties for democratic countries through engineering a migration crisis is typical of Russia’s approach to “hybrid warfare.” The main thing is to ensure that these attempts do not result in an Iron Curtain coming crashing back down along Russia’s western borders.