30 September 2022

Finland closes border to Russians with tourist visas

30 September 2022

Finland’s border with Russia has been closed to Russians with tourist visas, cutting off one of the last easily accessible routes to Europe for Russians trying to flee a military mobilisation aimed at bolstering the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine.

Long queues were reported until midnight at the border crossings. Among the last to enter Finland were two cyclists who arrived a little before 11pm, Finnish broadcaster YLE reported from Vaalimaa, one of the main border crossings between the Nordic country and Russia.

It came as the European Union’s top migration official urged the bloc’s 27 nations to clamp down on issuing visas to Russian citizens.

Finland has the longest border with Russia of all European Union member countries.

With the exception of the one border crossing between Russia and Norway, Finland had provided the last easily accessible land route to Europe for Russian holders of European Schengen Zone visas.

The Finnish government justified its decision by saying that continued arrivals of Russian tourists in Finland is endangering the country’s international relations, and cited security concerns related to Russia’s war in Ukraine, the “illegal” referendums arranged by Russia in parts of Ukraine, and recent sabotage of the Nord Stream gas pipelines from Russia under the Baltic Sea.

Russian citizens can still enter Finland for family reasons, study or work. Political dissidents may also seek to enter for humanitarian purposes.

As of September 1, Finland slashed the number of visas — including for tourism purposes — issued to Russian citizens to a 10th of the typical number, in a show of solidarity with Ukraine.

Earlier this week, Finnish border guards said they want a fence along the border, “due to the changing security environment” in the Nordic country. Such a fence requires the approval of the Finnish parliament.

The fence would not run the entire 830-mile the border, but should be in “riskier areas, such as border crossings and their nearby areas”, the border guards said.

Norway said on Friday it was considering imposing an entry ban for Russians with Schengen visas. The Scandinavian country has a border in the Arctic with Russia which is 123 miles long. The sole crossing point is at Storskog.

“We will close the border quickly if necessary, and changes can come at short notice,” justice minister Emilie Enger Mehl said.

EU migration commissioner Ylva Johansson said Russia’s annexing of four Ukrainian regions is “clearly an escalation and that means also an escalation of the security threat towards the European Union”.

She urged EU countries to enforce more stringent checks on Russian citizens and deny documents to anyone who might pose a threat.

More than 194,000 Russian citizens have fled to neighbouring Georgia, Kazakhstan and Finland since Mr Putin last week announced a partial mobilisation of reservists to bolster his troops in Ukraine. In Russia, the vast majority of men under 65 are registered as reservists.

Ms Johansson said EU authorities must stop short-term visa holders from Russia from renewing them in Europe. “If a Russian person intends to stay longer than 90 days in the EU, he or she should not be issued a visa,” she told reporters.

She also said Russians who have fled the country should not be allowed to apply for visas abroad.

“They have to do that from their home country, Russia,” she said, but underlined that they should be allowed in for humanitarian reasons, or other exceptional circumstances.

Ms Johansson also urged countries to reassess whether already valid visas should have been issued. She said that none of the measures the European Commission is recommending would stop Russian citizens from applying for asylum in Europe.

“The right to have a short-term visa into the EU is not a fundamental right. It’s privilege. The right to apply for asylum is a fundamental right,” she said.

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