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NATO member extends closure of border with Russia

Finland has decided to keep land crossings closed indefinitely and to ban boats from entering several ports

The Finnish government has indefinitely extended a shutdown of its land border with Russia and banned maritime boundary crossings by leisure boats near its Baltic Sea ports.

Finland’s Interior Ministry announced the decision on Thursday, saying crossing points on the country’s land border with Russia will remain closed “until further notice.” Crossing points for maritime traffic near the Baltic Sea islands of Haapasaari  and Santio – as well as Nuijamaa, on the banks of an inland lake shared with Russia – will be shut down as of April 15.

Finland, which joined NATO last year, closed its eastern land border in late November, after more than 1,300 asylum seekers – primarily from Africa and the Middle East – crossed over from Russian territory during a four-month period. The flow of migrants had previously averaged just a few hundred per year, and the Finnish government blamed Moscow for the influx.

“Finnish authorities see this as a long-term situation,” Interior Minister Mari Rantanen said in a statement. She added, “There are hundreds and possibly thousands of people close to Finland’s border on the Russian side that could be instrumentalized against Finland.”

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The Finnish Interior Ministry said the port closings were necessary to prevent “instrumentalized” migration as the weather warms. “This would be dangerous to people seeking to enter Finland and would burden maritime search and rescue,” the statement said.

Relations between Moscow and Helsinki deteriorated after Finland abandoned its longtime policy of military neutrality, joining the US-led NATO bloc amid security fears triggered by the Russia-Ukraine conflict. The border shutdown was extended in February to at least April 14.

Russian officials have denied being responsible for the surge in migrant traffic. 

Refusals by Finnish officials to hold any talks with Moscow about their security concerns show the political nature of the border shutdown, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in February. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov expressed “deep regret” that Finland had replaced friendly relations with an “exclusively Russophobic position.”

READ MORE: Finland avoiding dialogue – Moscow


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