Finland extends closure of Russian border, saying Moscow hasn't stopped sending migrants

  • Finland’s government has decided to extend the closure of its border with Russia until April 14, citing ongoing concerns over Moscow’s “hybrid operation” of directing migrants towards Finland.
  • The closure, initiated last year, came after a significant influx of over 1,300 migrants from the Middle East and Africa arrived without proper documentation or visas, shortly after Finland joined NATO.
  • Most of the migrants have sought asylum in Finland, raising concerns about national security and public order.

Finland’s government said Thursday that it would extend the closure of its long border with Russia for another two months until April 14, because it sees no signs that Moscow was stopping its “hybrid operation” of funneling migrants toward the frontier with the Nordic nation.

Finland closed the 832-mile land border late last year after about 1,300 migrants without proper documentation or visas had arrived across the frontier since September — an unusually high number, just months after Finland joined the NATO alliance.

Most of the migrants hail from the Middle East and Africa. The vast majority of them have sought asylum in Finland, a nation of 5.6 million people.

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The government said in Thursday’s statement that “instrumentalized migration” from Russia poses “a serious threat to Finland’s national security and public order.”

Mari Rantanen speaks

Finnish Interior Minister Mari Rantanen speaks during a press conference on the situation of the eastern border stations of Finland in Helsinki on Feb. 8, 2024. Finland will continue the closure of the eastern border stations until April 14, 2024. (Heikki Saukkomaa/Lehtikuva via AP)

Based on the information provided by the border, security and other authorities to the Cabinet, “it is likely that instrumentalized migration would resume if border crossing points were opened at the eastern border,” the government said.

“We have seen no signs that Russia is changing its behavior. On the contrary, the information we have received confirms our assessment that Russia is continuing its hybrid operation,” Interior Minister Mari Rantanen said. “We have reason to believe that this situation will continue for some time.”

According to Rantanen, there are “hundreds, if not thousands, of migrants” who are currently staying close to the border on the Russian side and waiting for the chance to cross into Finland.

Finland has earlier accused Russia of deliberately ushering the migrants to its normally heavily controlled border facing the Nordic country.

In comments given to the Russian news agency RIA Novosti, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova on Wednesday accused the Finnish government of an unwillingness to hold dialogue on the border issue.

“Helsinki stubbornly refuses to discuss with us the threats allegedly posed to Finland’s security from Russia’s side of the border,” Zakharova was quoted as saying by RIA Novosti.

According to Zakharova, Finland is also avoiding direct contact between the two countries’ border authorities — a claim that was quickly refuted by the Finnish Border Guard, which said it has remained in regular touch with its Russian counterpart throughout the border conflict.

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All eight Finland-Russia border crossing points for people have been closed since Dec. 15. The southeastern rail checkpoint for cargo trains in Vainikkala remains open for now.

In January, the government agreed to keep the crossing points closed until Feb. 11.

Prime Minister Petteri Orpo’s government originally chose to close the border with Russia in November, citing security concerns and Moscow’s “hybrid warfare.” It later opened two selected checkpoints in eastern and northern Finland on a trial basis, but the migrant influx continued.

Finland acts as the European Union’s external border in the north and makes up a significant part of NATO’s northeastern flank.

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