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Monday, July 22, 2024

Border closure between Russia and Finland signals the end of practical cooperation

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Moscow’s decision to allow a growing number of asylum seekers to enter Finland prompted Helsinki to take decisive action.

Finland became the first Russian neighbor to completely close its border with Russia on November 30, following a sharp rise in the number of asylum seekers entering the country from other parts of the world. Even the Baltic states, traditionally very wary of Russia, have no intention of following Finland’s example, raising questions about the move.

For example, when a similar refugee crisis occurred in 2015, it was determined that immediate retaliatory measures were necessary, but why was it resolved through dialogue with Moscow? How could we close a border that was crossed 12 million times in the record year of 2013? Even in the first seven months of this year, despite all the restrictions currently in place? , exceeded this limit almost 1 million times. Why is Finland, which has made great efforts to attract Russian tourists and was issuing more than 1 million Schengen visas a year to Russians a decade ago, now trying to isolate itself from Russia? Is it?

Data provided by Finnish authorities is revealing. In September, 13 people crossed the Russian border to seek asylum in Finland. In October, the number rose to 32, and in the first two weeks of November it reached 500. It doesn’t take any special insight to realize that something has changed on the Russian side. Such a rapid increase would only have been possible if Russia’s border guards had stopped checking whether people crossing the border had documents allowing them to enter Finland. And in Russia, such policy changes could only be approved at the highest political level.

As Moscow and Helsinki were unable to find a solution through diplomatic channels, the Finnish government closed the border in stages, citing national security concerns, with the last border crossing closed on November 30. Ta. Currently, asylum applications can only be made at Helsinki Airport. or at a port in that country.

There are several reasons why Finland chose to close its borders so quickly. Above all, there is a consensus in Finnish society that this situation requires a swift and decisive response. Unlike the 2015 immigration crisis, when there was a public debate between those who opposed and supported immigration, this time the opponents had a clear majority.

As of November 27, no asylum seekers who entered Finland from Russia had their applications approved. As a result, online misconceptions about how easy it is to enter Finland via Russia should start to disappear. In this respect, the closure of borders was an essential step. Additionally, migrants have reportedly left the border area, and Finnish authorities may consider reopening the border soon.

More importantly, most Finns viewed the unfolding situation as a Russian hybrid war, making it easier for Helsinki to close the border quickly. And there’s plenty of evidence that that’s actually the case.

Ever since Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Finns have viewed everything related to Russia through the prism of security. This is the same public reflex that led to Helsinki’s decision to join NATO in 2022. Finland currently perceives its neighbors as a threat, and there is public support for any measures to strengthen national security in the face of the Russian threat.

The Kremlin’s assurances that it has nothing to do with the unexpected increase in asylum seekers crossing Finland’s borders are unconvincing. After all of Russia’s past lies, from pretending it wasn’t involved in the annexation of Crimea in 2014 to denying an imminent attack on Ukraine in 2022, few people take Russian statements at face value. .

Finally, the larger migration crisis that occurred on Belarus’s western borders in 2021 provided conclusive evidence that closing borders and preventing refugees from crossing is an effective strategy. Sooner or later, the flow of people will reduce and the organizers of the artificial pressure will have to accommodate migrants or even pay the costs of returning them to their home countries.

Still, to fully understand Finland’s reaction, it needs to be seen in the broader context of Russian-Finnish relations. Recently, we have seen the entire structure of bilateral cooperation, built over decades, rapidly disintegrating.

A year ago, masked men hurled sledgehammers at the grounds of the Finnish embassy in Moscow, an apparent reference to gruesome executions by Wagner’s mercenaries. This fall, Russia closed the Finnish consulate in St. Petersburg, which used to issue the most Schengen visas to Russians. In response, the Finns closed the Russian consulate in Turku.

As for business ties between the two countries, it is questionable whether Finland’s state-run energy giant Fortum, which lost billions of dollars when Russian authorities seized its assets in April, would risk investing in Russia again anytime soon. Would Finnish companies actually think of returning to Russia?

It is unclear what exactly Russia wanted to achieve by directing asylum seekers to the Finnish border. Perhaps it was some kind of test balloon. Had Finland not closed its borders, the crisis would have perpetuated, draining the country and its European partners of resources and diverting attention from Ukraine.

Sensing the weakness and indecision of its neighbor, Russia could have “tested” the borders of NATO countries with “lost” armored vehicles, for example, again to gauge Helsinki’s reaction. Alternatively, if incidents began to occur at closed borders, such as asylum seekers freezing to death in subzero temperatures, Moscow could have played the human rights card and accused Helsinki of breaking its international obligations. But that didn’t happen. There appears to have been little success on the Russian side to report the operation to the Kremlin.

Finland has only benefited from the current situation, which not only gave it the opportunity to test the diplomatic solidarity of its EU partner countries, but also to receive practical support from the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex). It was given to me.

The main losers were Russians living in Finland, numbering 66,000 in 2021, including dual nationals. Finns who have friends or family in Russia will also be affected. Both groups need open borders, but that can no longer be taken for granted.

To make matters worse, the idea of ​​outlawing dual citizenship for citizens of countries that do not recognize dual citizenship, especially Russian citizens, is being discussed again in Finland. In the worst-case scenario, people could be forced to choose between giving up their Finnish passports or giving up their Russian passports, which would be practically impossible.

A long period of practical cooperation between Russia and Finland, in which Helsinki sought to avert conflict and act as a mediator between Russia and the West, has come to an end. We are now entering an era in which Finland, a member of both the European Union and NATO, acts as a responsible member of the “Western Alliance.” Russia will consider Finland a hostile country. And the latter will respond accordingly.

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