Border guards walked alongside a migrant at the Vartius border-crossing point in Kuhmo, Eastern Finland, on Sunday, 19 November 2023. Helsingin Sanomat on Sunday reported that the situation at the border-crossing point has at times become chaotic following the government’s decision to close four more southern border-crossing points on the eastern border, Imatra, Niirala, Nuijamaa and Vaalimaa. (Miska Puumala – Lehtikuva)


SITUATION at the Vartius border-crossing point in Kuhmo, Eastern Finland, was at times chaotic yesterday as people continued to arrive at the border on foot, bicycles and even kick-boards, prompting border officials to twice close the border-crossing, for a total of three-and-a-half hours, reports Helsingin Sanomat.

The Finnish government decided last week to close four more southern border-crossing points for the next three months and only accept asylum applications at Vartius and Salla.

The Kainuu Border Guard District has revealed that yesterday a total of 16 people applied for asylum at the Vartius border-crossing point, which is located about 250 kilometres east of Oulu. Preliminary information indicates that the asylum applicants are from Morocco, Somalia and Syria.

The border-crossing point closed for the day according to plan at 6pm and is scheduled to re-open at 8am on Monday.

Jouko Kinnunen, the official in charge of the border-crossing point, said the point was closed temporarily in response to Russian authorities directing people into the border zone and closing the gates behind them. Kinnunen stated to Ilta-Sanomat that the conduct of the last group to arrive at the border on Saturday suggested they did not even want to come to Finland.

Many Russian border guard posts line the road from Kostomuksha, Russia, to Kuhmo, Finland, according to Helsingin Sanomat. Typically people are not allowed to pass through the posts without a Schengen visa.

Minister of the Interior Mari Rantanen (PS) confirmed to Helsingin Sanomat on Sunday that the Ministry of the Interior is devising additional measures to promote border security, adding that the closure of four border-crossing points has had “partly” the desired effect.

“I won’t be commenting more on [the measures] at this point. The matter will be made public once it has been processed. We’re moving forward with it quickly,” she said.

The government, she added, continues to try to put a stop to the phenomenon.

Temporary obstacles have already been erected at the border with the assistance of the Finnish Defence Forces. Finland has also asked the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) for assistance with security of the border, with the two presently discussing the kind of support that is required.

Arkady Moshes, a programme director at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, told Helsingin Sanomat on Sunday that the Russian Border Service would have unlikely been able to change its approach without a political decision, meaning the current practice should at least have the approval of President Vladimir Putin.

“From Finland, it’s impossible to say whether the initiative came from him, but there had to have at least an approval,” he analysed.

The Kremlin, he estimated, wants to concoct as complicated a crisis as possible in order to shift the attention of western states away from the war in Ukraine and to possibly enter into negotiations with Russia.

Speaker of Parliament Jussi Halla-aho (PS) on Sunday asked on X how some can be so sure that the people arriving at the eastern border are not members of the mercenary group Wagner or special troops of Russia. The mercenary group, he added, has recruited members in both Africa and the Middle East.

“I want to say this out loud now because when our high-voltage wires, power plants and data cables start blowing up, there’ll be plenty of people saying: no one could’ve predicted this!” he wrote on the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.

Russia has to have a reason to direct people to its border with Finland, according to Halla-aho.

“They aren’t arriving at the border because they’ve just now become vulnerable in Russia but because Russia for one reason or another wants them to come to Finland just now,” he said, adding that based on media reports the arrivals appear to be “young, healthy men in spanking new winter clothes”.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT