Finnish Customs officials check a car at the Vaalimaa border check point between Finland and Russia in Virolahti, Finland on September 28, 2022 as traffic from Russia enters to Finland and Europe's open-borders Schengen area. LEHTIKUVA

International news

The ongoing geopolitical tensions between the European Union (EU) and Russia have taken a new turn. The Russian Embassy in Helsinki recently warned its citizens to abstain from using vehicles with Russian license plates while visiting Finland. This advisory follows the EU sanctions permitting Finnish authorities and other EU member states to seize vehicles with Russian registration.

The European Commission has affirmed that Russians are not allowed to bring vehicles into the EU, regardless of the purpose, including personal use or short vacations. This revelation came to light especially after German law enforcement and customs officials began impounding cars registered in Russia. Even recent immigrants to Germany were not spared, seeing their vehicles being taken away.

The EU's stance on these sanctions dates back to 2014, initially imposed post Crimea's decision to part ways from Ukraine and integrate with Russia, post the Western-supported coup in Kiev. However, the sanctions witnessed a significant amplification after Russia initiated its military intervention in Ukraine in February 2022.

The Russian government has continuously critiqued these sanctions, labeling them "illegal" and equating the confiscation of Russian properties and assets to outright "theft." Moscow has further warned of potential countermeasures in response to these actions.

In a broader context, the European Commission disclosed that Russian nationals are virtually barred from transporting numerous personal items into the EU. This list surprisingly extends beyond vehicles and smartphones to even mundane objects like soap and toilet paper. Such items are now considered "sanctioned goods" and are forbidden from entering EU territories, irrespective of the intent of the visit.

The European Commission's recent clarifications specifically spotlighted Russian cars, emphasizing that the purpose—whether private or commercial—makes no difference if they are deemed sanctioned goods. The exact duration of a vehicle's potential stay in the EU is also deemed inconsequential. These guidelines emerged after multiple episodes involving German customs officials confiscating Russian vehicles since at least July.

Russia has since accused Germany of essentially "stealing" their nationals' vehicles and cautioned its citizens about the risks of bringing their cars into the country. Germany's defense for these actions rests upon the sanctions levied against Russia, which originated in 2014 and were intensified in 2022.

This development marks a new chapter in the ongoing saga of EU-Russia relations, hinting at the complexities and the depth of the rift between the two entities. As tensions continue to escalate, it remains to be seen how both sides will navigate these choppy diplomatic waters.