Tensions between Russia and Finland are set to rise after Helsinki decided to close the last remaining border crossing in its frontier with Russia on November 29.
The Finns had been accusing Moscow of “orchestrating” a crisis when it observed a sudden spurt in the number of asylum seekers, which it alleged was a part of an influence operation.
Earlier the same day, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov lashed out at the amassing of Finnish forces at the border, calling it an “unnecessary,” “redundant,” and “excessive” measure, reasoning that the Scandinavian country faced no military threats from Russia.
Despite Moscow’s criticism of Finland joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) this April, the 1,340-kilometer-long border did not see any tensions or faceoffs. This was especially true since the Finnish government and the military alliance had openly declared that they did not plan to host any nuclear facilities or permanent military bases there in a signal to Moscow to assuage its concerns.
But November 29’s turn of events rapidly escalated into a diplomatic standoff. After Helsinki declared it would shut the last remaining Raja-Jooseppi border crossing in the far north, Poland announced it would send military advisors to mentor the Finns on a possible military scenario. This drew an angry reaction from Russia, which said it would view these steps as a “threat.”
Migrant Influx From Middle East To Europe Via Russia
Finnish Prime Minister Petteri Orpo declared the border crossing closing from November 29 to December 13 following a cabinet meeting. He said the decision had been made after learning “new information” that strengthened the government’s belief that Russia was deliberately sending migrants across the border.
Helsinki had noted nearly a thousand migrants attempting to enter the country in November, which was a massive spurt from just a few dozen in previous months. It perceived this as an attempt to “destabilize” via “hybrid warfare,” where tensions are stoked to put pressure on a country without resorting to open conflict, according to a report in Financial Times.
Earlier this month, Finland closed its seven other checkpoints with Russia, claiming Moscow could be using the migrant traffic as cover to smuggle soldiers and criminals into the EU. Finland’s interior ministry said the previous closures had failed to stop the traffic, and the risk of more migrants attempting to cross Finland’s land borders posed “a serious threat to national security and public order.”
Under new rules, the interior ministry added that people seeking asylum in Finland must apply at airports and ports. Cargo rail traffic between Russia and Finland remains open. These asylum seekers are coming from Somalia, Yemen, Syria, and other conflict zones.
Russia Lashes Out
Peskov’s reaction was extreme in his media briefing. “Nothing and no one is threatening Finland; in this case, this is a redundant security measure because there is no threat and no tension. Tension may arise during the concentration of additional units on our border because the Finns must be aware that this will threaten us,” he said at a briefing.
But what riled the Russians was the announcement from the Polish side about sending its military officers to assist Finland’s border guards. The head of the Polish National Security Bureau, Jacek Siewiera, said in a post on X (formerly Twitter) late on November 28 that this was in response to “an official request for allied support in the face of a hybrid attack on the Finnish border. A team of military advisers will provide on-site knowledge on border security, also in operational terms.”
Poland’s Statement Made Without Consulting Finland?
However, the Polish announcement was made without consulting Helsinki, and the latter would not be comfortable having NATO member military personnel on its border with Russia.
A Reuters report said, “Finland’s Border Guard and the interior ministry both said they were unaware of any plan to bring Polish military advisers to Finland’s eastern border.”
Finnish President Sauli Niinisto held talks with his Polish counterpart Andrzej Duda in Warsaw last week but did not discuss military cooperation on the Finnish border with Russia, Niinisto’s office said.
BBC quoted Finnish border guard officers saying the Poles would mainly be “helping with border surveillance in the heavily forested areas between crossing points, as Finnish guards had endured a heavy load in the past few weeks.”