Finland suspects Moscow uses migrants to stir trouble on eastern border

The Finnish border. (The Independent Barents Observer/Thomas Nilsen)

Following a sharp increase in illegal border traffic, the Finnish Border Guard Service now prohibits border-crossing with bicycles. Additional measures will be taken if needed, the Finnish Minister of Interior underlines.

Since the beginning of August, more than 90 people have made it across the border from Russia to Finland and subsequently applied for asylum. The individuals are all third-country citizens that have used Russia for transit, the Finnish Border Guard Service informs.

The number is significantly higher than usual.

Normally, the Russian FSB Border Service does not allow third-country citizens to enter the Russian border zone without a valid Schengen visa. Lately, that practice appears to have been altered. Most of the migrant travellers that recently have made to the border-crossing points in southwest Finland do not have visas.

The situation raises growing concern in Finland, and the country’s authorities this week announced that it will no longer be possible to cross the border by bicycle. From before, border-crossing by foot is illegal.

Minister of the Interior Mari Rantanen on Wednesday underlined that the government is keeping a close eye on the situation and that further measures would be taken if necessary. She does not exclude a full closure of the border, Yle reports.

The growing influx of migrants bears resemblance with the situation in late 2015 and early 2016 when several thousand third-country citizens without visas made it to northern Finland and Norway from the Russian Kola Peninsula.

The migrants stirred a chaotic situation in the Finnish and Norwegian border towns and villages.

Migrants on Norway’s Storskog border crossing point in November 2015. Migrants on Norway’s Storskog border crossing point in November 2015. (The Independent Barents Observer/Atle Staalesen)

Authorities in Helsinki believe Russian security services back then deliberately stirred the migrant crisis and that it was part of a planned provocation against the Nordic neighbours. The same might be the case now, Finnish Foreign Minister Elina Valtonen argues.

In this week’s EU foreign ministers’ meeting, Valtonen said it might be part of Russian tactics.

“I wanted to highlight the situation at the border and also that Russia has previously employed similar tactics towards Finland and perhaps also along its other western borders,” Valtonen said.

Her speech at the meeting is quoted by Yle.

Finland has a more than 1300 km long border to Russia and there are a total of nine border crossing points that connect the countries.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: CSIS warning Inuit leaders about covert foreign investment in Arctic, documents show, CBC News

China: Satellite imagery reveals construction progress on new Chinese Antarctic base, Eye on the Arctic

Denmark: Danish policy prioritizes low-conflict Arctic amidst Russian tensions, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: China ship is focus of pipeline damage probe, Finland says, Reuters

Iceland: Nordics should aim for common approach to China’s Arctic involvement says report, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: Svalbard’s travails in a changing Arctic, Blog by Marc Lanteigne

Russia: Putin tells Xi: We will connect Kola Bay with Persian Gulf, The Independent Barents Observer

United Kingdom: Russia’s growing dependence on China altering dynamics in Arctic, UK committee hears, Eye on the Arctic

United States: White House releases U.S. Arctic strategy implementation plan, Eye on the Arctic

Atle Staalesen, The Independent Barents Observer

For more news from the Barents region visit The Independent Barents Observer.

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