Russia warns of escalating tensions as Finland closes last border crossing

The closure of the last border crossing between Finland and Russia has prompted a warning from Russia about escalating tensions between the two countries. Finland closed the northern crossing at Raja-Jooseppi for two weeks after accusing Russia of channeling asylum seekers towards Finland. The influx of asylum seekers has dramatically increased, with 900 crossing the border this month, compared to previously only one per day. Russia has condemned Finland’s decision, calling it an “absolutely redundant measure.”

The closure of the border crossing comes after Finland closed its seven south-eastern border crossings last week and announced the temporary closure of its far-northern crossing. The closure does not include a rail-freight line and does not completely shut down the border, as asylum seekers can still reach Helsinki by plane. However, the closure is viewed as a matter of national security by Finland and has led to concerns about the potential dangers faced by asylum seekers who may attempt to cross the border through forests and rivers.

The closure of the border crossing and the increase in tensions between Finland and Russia are the result of complex geopolitical factors. Last April, Finland completed its accession to NATO’s defensive alliance, a move that Russia warned would result in “counter-measures.” The decision to join NATO was made after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, which Finland viewed as a threat to its security. Russia criticized Finland’s decision, claiming it was a “dangerous, historic mistake” that ended Finland’s tradition of military non-alignment.

The closure of the border crossing has also raised concerns about the concentration of military units on the Russian side of the border. Russia’s Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, warned that any increase in military units near the border would be seen as a threat. The border area is currently experiencing extreme winter conditions, with temperatures dropping to -30C (-22F) and heavy snowfall. This poses additional risks to asylum seekers attempting to cross the border.

Finland has taken steps to prepare for the influx of asylum seekers, exchanging information with neighboring countries such as Norway and Estonia. The EU’s border agency Frontex is also sending additional officers to assist with border surveillance. However, concerns remain about the safety of asylum seekers who may be forced to traverse forests and rivers along the long border. The Finnish Refugee Advice Centre has warned that closing the borders could lead to even more dangerous situations for asylum seekers.

The closure of the last border crossing and the escalating tensions between Finland and Russia have drawn comparisons to the situation in Belarus two years ago. Belarus drove large numbers of asylum seekers across its borders into neighboring countries such as Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania. Poland, in response, strengthened its eastern border with a giant metal fence and increased surveillance. Finland’s decision to close its border may be seen as a similar attempt to protect its borders from an influx of asylum seekers.

The closure of the last border crossing has significant implications for the relationship between Finland and Russia. It remains to be seen how the closure will affect diplomatic relations and whether it will lead to further escalations. The safety and well-being of asylum seekers also remain a concern, as they may be forced to take more dangerous routes to reach their desired destinations. The closure of the border crossing highlights the complexities of immigration and border security issues, and the need for countries to carefully balance national security interests with their obligations towards those seeking asylum.