Finland announces new Russian border closure

The Vaalimaa checkpoint on the Finnish-Russian border reopened at midnight. (Kalle Purhonen /Yle)

Finland will once again close all checkpoints on its eastern border with Russia, Interior Minister Mari Rantanen (Finns) announced at a press conference on Thursday evening.

The re-closure of the Vaalimaa and Niirala checkpoints will be effective from 8pm on Friday 15 December, Rantanen said, and will remain in force until at least 14 January.

“Attempts to enter the country [by asylum seekers] began faster than expected when the Vaalimaa and Niirala border crossings were opened,” Rantanen said, adding that the Finnish government aims to put an end to the phenomenon of undocumented migrants applying for asylum at the eastern border checkpoints.

“It is clear that the phenomenon of illegal immigration has occurred due to the influence of a foreign power, and it is also associated with crime. Finland decides on matters related to Finland,” Rantanen stated.

Interior Minister Mari Rantanen (Finns) at Thursday evening’s press conference. (Jussi Nukari / Lehtikuva)

The move is a reversal of the decision announced on Tuesday, when the government revealed that Vaalimaa, in the southeast of the country, and Niirala, further north, would re-open to cross-border traffic at midnight and 8am on Thursday respectively.

Vaalimaa and Niirala, along with six other checkpoints along the Finnish-Russian border, were closed last month as Finland responded to suspicions Russia was deliberately directing undocumented migrants to the Finnish side of the 1,300km-long frontier.

The checkpoints at Vaalimaa and Niirala opened from 14.12. (Nanna Särkkä / Yle)

Border officials reported on Thursday that by around 6pm a total of 21 people had applied for asylum at the Vaalimaa checkpoint, while about 50 arrived at the Niirala station.

Speaking to reporters earlier in the day, Deputy PM Riikka Purra (Finns) indicated that the government was preparing to make changes to the decision announced on Tuesday.

“It seems to have happened exactly as we feared, that the pushing and encouraging of people to travel to the border and to apply for asylum started almost immediately,” Purra noted.

When announcing the re-opening of the two border checkpoints at Tuesday’s press conference, Prime Minister Petteri Orpo (NCP) said Finland would react quickly if Russia restarted its hybrid influencing tactics.

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: U.S. report claims Trudeau told NATO Canada will never meet military spending target, CBC News

Finland: With northern focus, Finland applies EU funding to improve military mobility, The Independent Barents Observer

Norway: British & Norwegian F-35s scrambled in North to intercept Russian military plane, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Putin beefs up naval nuclear arsenal, promises more subs, The Independent Barents Observer

United Kingdom: UK urged to bolster Arctic defense as grey-zone threats rise: report, Eye on the Arctic

United States: First U.S. deep water port for the Arctic to host cruise ships, military, The Associated Press

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