Lawmakers amended border legislation to allow for construction of barriers along its eastern border as Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine has Russia’s neighbors increasingly nervous. The amended legislation will permit fencing and new roads to facilitate border patrolling amid concerns Russia could flood Finland with asylum seekers as a means of applying political pressure.
“Later on, the government will decide on border barriers to the critical zones on the eastern border, on the basis of the Finnish Border Guard’s assessment,” minister of internal affairs Krista Mikkonen said in a statement.
Helsinki’s concern that Russia could send asylum seekers to overwhelm the border, which is currently just marked with signs and plastic lines, has precedent: The European Union accused Belarus of sending a wave of migrants into Poland at the end of 2021.
Current EU rules dictate that migrants have the right to apply for asylum at any given point of entry to an EU member state. Finland’s proposed legislation would concentrate asylum seekers to a smaller number of entry points to make such a scenario more manageable.
Last month, both Finland and Sweden applied for NATO membership after long histories of neutrality. Finland has spent the majority of the last few centuries under the Swedish and Russian empires and only gained independence in the wake of the Russian Revolution of 1917. The small Scandinavian nation fought off a Soviet invasion during the Winter War (1939-1940), but in the post-war period, the looming threat of Russian military reprisals kept it from formally aligning with the West, despite extensive cultural and economic ties.
Russia has responded negatively to Finland’s prospective NATO membership, which would expand its contentious land border with the alliance by hundreds of miles.
“Russia will be forced to take retaliatory steps, both of a military-technical and other nature, in order to stop threats to its national security arising,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement last month.