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Finland to close last operating checkpoint on Russian border

Finland will close the last operating checkpoint on its Russian border on Thursday, entirely shutting off the NATO country’s eastern border with Russia for two weeks.

Finnish Prime Minister Petteri Orpo said in the release that “Russia is enabling the instrumentalization of people and guiding them to the Finnish border in harsh winter conditions. Finland is determined to put an end to this phenomenon.”

The last checkpoint will shut at midnight on November 30, closing the eastern border until December 13, Finland’s Ministry of Internal Affairs said in a press release on Tuesday.

It comes amid an increasing effort by Helsinki to restrict crossings from Russia, a push that intensified following the invasion of Ukraine last year and Finland’s ascension to NATO earlier this year.

Finland’s Interior Minister Mari Rantanen said in the press release that it is necessary to close the entire eastern border with Russia, adding that the decision was taken to “protect Finland’s national security against this Russian hybrid operation.”

The Finnish Border Guard said in a social media post that “Finland’s goal is to end the illegal entry from Russia.”

“Finland takes care of its own border security and the Finnish Border Guard is ready to quickly implement new decisions of the Government,” the border guard added.

Finland shares an 830-mile-long border with Russia. The crossing was one of the few entry points for Russians after many Western countries shut their air space and borders to Russian planes in response to the Ukraine invasion.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko said on Tuesday that Finland’s decision to close all border checkpoints with Russia will harm Finnish citizens, also calling it “irrational.”

“They closed the border, how can we react? Finnish citizens will suffer,” said Grushko on the sidelines of the Primakov Readings forum in ​Moscow.

“We can comment on some rational decisions, then we can look for some kind of logic. But sometimes the decisions are simply irrational,” he said, adding that only about 700 migrants during this period tried to cross the Russian-Finnish border.

On November 16, the Finnish government announced it would temporarily close four crossing points along its border with Russia from this week until February 2024, in an effort to stop illegal border crossings.

In Tuesday’s press release, Finland’s interior ministry said entry into Finland at the eastern border has continued despite restrictions.

“Since the beginning of August, almost 1,000 third-country nationals have arrived in Finland without a visa via the border crossing points at the eastern border. Most of them have applied for asylum in Finland,” the ministry said.

“In such very exceptional circumstances, the short-term total closure of the eastern border is a necessary and proportionate measure to put an end to this phenomenon and to limit the serious consequences that it has for national security and public order,” the ministry added in Tuesday’s press release.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg on Tuesday accused Russia of using migration as a “tool” to create “pressure” along its border with Finland.

“We have seen them using energy, we have seen them using cyber attacks, we have seen them using different kinds of clandestine operations to try and undermine our democracies. The fact that Russia is using migration as a tool is now another example of the attempt to put pressure on neighbors,” Stoltenberg said at a news conference in Brussels.

NATO has not received a request from Finland for support in guarding its borders, Stoltenberg said, adding that he is “confident that Finland is capable of dealing with” the issue itself.

He welcomed the move by the European Union’s border agency, Frontex, to deploy 50 guards along the Finnish border.

Helsinki closed its border at the end of September 2022, around the time traffic over the frontier intensified as Russians tried to flee President Vladimir Putin’s “partial mobilization” of hundreds of thousands of citizens to fight in the war. More than 8,500 Russians crossed the border in one day alone.

Earlier this year, the Finnish Border Guard also began the pilot phase of constructing an eastern border barrier fence along some key parts of the border.

This post appeared first on cnn.com

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