Russia Escalates Border Conflict – Migrants 'Like Soldiers'

On the border with Finland, Russia is using migrants as a means of pressure to weaken the EU's unity. Finland is working with countermeasures.

Finland has been part of NATO since April 2023, abandoning its decades of neutrality. Since then, tensions have risen with neighboring Russia. In addition to canceling the bilateral border agreement, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the deployment of troops to the border area with Finland. This is evidenced by the Estonian government's annual report this year, which shows that Russia plans to station new units near the Finnish border.

Finland has built up to 200 kilometers of border fence in response to Russian operations – not least to counter irregular migration along a border area allegedly controlled by Russia. The “Frankfurter Rundschau” reports on this.

The Finnish government has information that “thousands of people are waiting on the Russian side to get to Finland,” Finland's Interior Minister Mari Rantanen revealed at a press conference on Tuesday. According to Rundanan, it is expected that more migrants will try to cross the border when the temperature rises in the spring.

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Randanen announced that the laws would be adjusted to adequately address the alleged Russian activities. It is intended to ensure effective border security. The changes to the law will help “strengthen security at the borders and effectively combat any attempts to instrumentally pressure Finland on migration,” Randon's interior ministry said in a statement on Monday.

Finland's border with Russia is currently closed. According to the conservative Finnish government, this will not change until May of this year after the number of migrants at the border rises sharply at the end of 2023. According to the Finnish border authority, around 1,300 migrants from countries such as Yemen, Somalia and Syria tried to reach Finland via Russia between August and December 2023. Previously, only one asylum seeker applied per day on average.

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Finland-Russia is to Belarus-Poland

According to Armida van Rij of the Chatham House think tank, Russia's strategy of using controlled migration as a means of pressure, thereby undermining the unity of the West, is a so-called gray zone tactic. According to Van Rij, such tactics involve actions that go beyond purely political pressure, but do not clearly constitute an act of aggression. It is therefore difficult to assess such actions under international law.

The issue of migration is particularly apt to divide EU member states, as the issue is particularly polarizing within the Union. According to van Rij, the √©migr√©s would be used “like pawns” to advance Russian interests.

Between 2021 and 2022, Belarusian ruler Alexander Lukashenko deliberately stopped migrants at the border with Poland in order to put pressure on the European Union and end economic sanctions against Belarus.

This time the EU seems better prepared for such measures. According to Van Rij, the European Union has already started providing personnel, equipment and financial support to Finland in order to mitigate the effects of Russian actions. Finland also offers state education programs to Finnish citizens to make Russian activities more understandable and prevent “fake news”.

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