Experts have cautioned that further sanctions against Russia could stem the flow of Russian visitors to Finland. Traffic on the border between Finland and Russia would decrease substantially, if the European Union decides to go ahead with its next phase of sanctions against Russia.

MTV3 on Tuesday reported that the European Union is mulling over suspending its so-called cross-border programmes with Russia for the next seven years. The suspension, it highlighted, could cost Finland up to 200 million euros in lost subsidies due to the country's involvement in three EU-funded cross-border programmes.

A spokesperson at the Prime Minister's Office emphasised to Helsingin Sanomat that the quoted losses represent the worst-case scenario – the suspension of all cross-border programmes. The European Union, the spokesperson reminded, has yet to take a decision on the sanctions.

The 200 million euros is to be used for the development of border-crossing points and the co-operation between Finnish and Russian higher education institutions. “This would be a significant blow to the eastern border,” says Päivi Ilves, a programme director at the Regional Council of South Karelia.

The development of border-crossing points, she says, would stop entirely if the mooted sanctions are introduced.

“It would immediately affect our revenue. If there's no way across the border, you're not going to make as many shopping trips as you used to,” Ilves explained.

In addition, the proposed sanctions would affect the collaboration between Finnish and Russian higher education institutions. The subsidies have enabled the Lappeenranta University of Technology, Aalto University and the University of Lapland to collaborate with Russian universities, for example in the St. Petersburg region.

“Without funding, [the collaboration] would end,” says Ilves, pointing out that in the current economic climate it is unlikely that national funds can be scraped together to fund the collaboration.

Ilves also cautions that the suspension of the cross-border programmes would complicate the bilateral relationship between Finland and Russia. “It would take years to get back to the current level after you start re-building the relationship. Trust can be lost in a moment, but building it takes time.”

The European Union is to decide on the sanctions in an extraordinary summit in Brussels today on Wednesday. The representative of Finland in the summit will be Prime Minister Alexander Stubb (NCP).

“One can only hope that people in Brussels understand that this is not the right place to use sanctions,” Ilves says.

Jussi Sippola – HS
Aleksi Teivainen – HT
Photo: Johannes Wiehn