Finland said on Tuesday that it would reopen two border crossings with Russia, partly rolling back a decision to seal the countries’ land frontier after a dispute about increased numbers of migrants in the area.
In recent weeks, Finland had gradually closed all its land crossings with Russia, accusing Moscow of facilitating a potentially destabilizing influx of migrants. The Finnish prime minister, Petteri Orpo, said on Tuesday that his government would monitor the effect of the partial reopening and assess whether Russia had stopped what he described as its “operation.”
“Without scaling down restrictions, we cannot verify if there will be a change for the better,” Mr. Orpo said at a news conference. But, he added, if Russia continued to funnel migrants to the area, the crossings would close again.
Why did Finland close its border?
The relationship between Moscow and Helsinki deteriorated significantly after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, which prompted Finland to join NATO. The Finnish authorities have said that Russia has encouraged migrants to travel to the countries’ border in an attempt to undermine Finland’s national security and public order.
The Finnish authorities argue that a much higher number of migrants seeking asylum puts immigration services under pressure and increases the risk that “radicalized” people could enter.
In November, about 900 migrants — mainly from Africa and Asia — crossed the 830-mile border between Finland and Russia to apply for asylum in Finland, a marked increase compared with previous months, according to the Finnish authorities.
Russia says the accusations that it has helped migrants reach the border are “unsubstantiated.” Since Finland started closing crossings, the Russian authorities have told reporters that they have returned some asylum seekers who had the right to stay in Russia to St. Petersburg, while fining and deporting others who were in the country illegally, according to the Russian news agency Interfax.
When did the border close?
Finland began closing border crossings in mid-November; the last one to remain open — the Raja-Jooseppi crossing in northern Lapland — was shut on Nov. 30.
Only the Vainikkala rail crossing in southeastern Finland was open for commercial traffic via land. Air and water crossings remained open, including to asylum seekers, according to the Finnish border guard.
The announcement on Tuesday about reopening two crossings referred to the Vaalimaa and Niirala crossings in southern Finland.
Have other countries had similar issues?
Last month, Estonia’s foreign minister, Margus Tsahkna, said that his country was also prepared to close its border with Russia over similar complaints.
“What is happening on Finland’s border is nothing less than a blatant hybrid attack,” Mr. Tsahkna said at a meeting of Nordic and Baltic foreign ministers in Brussels. He said that Moscow’s actions were “aimed at sowing anxiety and instability.”
Estonia also advised its citizens against any travel to Russia in case the Estonian authorities decided to close border crossings.
Frontex, the European Union’s border agency, has deployed staff to bolster security at the border in Finland, which is a member of the bloc. The agency said that the security of Finland’s eastern border was “a matter of collective European concern.”
In the past, Poland and Baltic countries have also accused Belarus of using migrants as a political weapon.
Do Finnish people support the closures?
Public opinion in Finland has largely been in favor of the border closures, with 75 percent of the population supporting them, according to a poll by one of Finland’s main newspapers, Helsingin Sanomat.
Only 10 percent opposed them, the poll suggested, though left-wing opposition parties have expressed criticism because of concerns about the effect on asylum seekers.
Li Andersson, the chairwoman of one opposition party, Left Alliance, said that closing the crossings reduced opportunities for refugees to seek international protection, which is a human right established by the Geneva Convention, to which Finland is a signatory.
Speaking to the Finnish public broadcaster YLE this month, the Finnish president, Sauli Niinisto, said that the Geneva Convention on refugees referred to “a totally different situation from the one we’re witnessing,” because, in this case, Russia was using migrants to “confuse and divide.”
Ivan Nechepurenko contributed reporting from Tbilisi, Georgia.