Moscow has countered Helsinki’s claims of “hybrid warfare,” saying no attempts have been made to resolve an ongoing migration issue
Finland will completely close its eastern border with Russia on Thursday, shutting down the last open checkpoint for two weeks, Prime Minister Petteri Orpo announced during a press conference on Tuesday, blaming Moscow for the “exceptional” situation.
The Raja-Jooseppi crossing, located above the Arctic Circle, will remain closed until December 13. Seven other checkpoints on the Finnish-Russian border were closed earlier this month due to a surge in incoming migration Helsinki claimed was initiated by Moscow in retaliation for its accession to NATO earlier this year.
“Finland is the target of a Russian hybrid operation. This is a matter of national security,” Interior Minister Mari Rantanen told reporters.
Finland is required to keep at least one border crossing open to asylum-seekers under international law. The Finnish border guard has reportedly been instructed to direct new arrivals to the country’s airports and ports, where they can then apply for asylum.
However, the UN refugee agency’s representative to the Nordic and Baltic countries warned Helsinki on Tuesday that this was insufficient, arguing the impending border closure would be “contrary to international law.”
Orpo has claimed to have intelligence suggesting Russia was helping asylum-seekers reach the Finnish border and argued the move was legally justified. “This is an organized activity, not a genuine emergency,” he told reporters on Monday, alleging the “ease with which the migrants found their way to the remote border crossing point” proved they were sent there by Moscow.
Russia has dismissed the allegations as “completely baseless,” insisting its border guards are only allowing people to cross who have the legal right to do so and countering that Helsinki had not even tried to reach a solution through diplomatic channels regarding the migration issue.
“No preliminary consultations were held with the Russian side regarding the closure of checkpoints,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters last week, accusing Russia’s neighbor of acting unilaterally: “We were presented with a fact.”
Russia lodged a formal complaint with its Finnish ambassador regarding the initial checkpoint closures, claiming Helsinki violated the rights and interests of Finns and Russians alike with the “rushed” decision.
Over 600 migrants seeking asylum have arrived at the Finnish border this month alone, a Finnish border patrol officer told The Guardian last week – a massive increase over the usual single-digit numbers – with 62 reportedly arriving on a single day.
The migrants’ origin countries include Yemen, Afghanistan, Kenya, Morocco, Pakistan, Somalia, and Syria, according to immigration authorities.
Finnish President Sauli Niinisto earlier this month called on the EU to put an end to uncontrolled migration into the Schengen area, lamenting it had become impossible to repatriate migrants who do not meet asylum criteria.