After facing robust border controls in Poland and the Baltic States, human traffickers have abandoned routes into the EU from Belarus and are now marketing the Russia-Finland route as the best way for illegal migrants to reach the bloc, Finland’s Security Intelligence Service (SUPO) has confirmed.
Since mid-November, human traffickers have been advertising the rarely-traveled Russia-Finland migration route into the EU, according to an intelligence and risk assessment firm who’s analyzed Kurdish and Arab forums on social media, especially Facebook, established to help migrants make their way to Europe.
“Right now, it is very difficult to say whether this will result in a new route for the migrant flows and whether we will see people arriving at the Finnish border, for example. But on social media, the reactions have been very positive,” Monika Richter, the head of the intelligence firm Semantic Visions, said while speaking with Radio Free Europe.
Milla Meretniemi, the communications director of Finland’s intelligence service SUPO, also confirmed that security services had observed an uptick in online marketing for the Russia-Finland migration route.
“We are aware that this kind of marketing has occurred. As one of the EU’s external border countries, Finland is following the development stage very closely. But we cannot comment on our operational tasks any more than that,” Meretniemi told the Finish daily newspaper Hufvudstadsbladet, adding that increased marketing of a specific route doesn’t necessarily mean it will be used.
She then noted that the situation along the EU-Belarusian border had been directed by the Belarusian authorities.
“Right now we have no reason to assume that Russia would act in the same way at the Finnish border,” Meretniemi continued, adding that the decisive factor in whether or not a new migration route would be opened is whether Russia decides to grant tourist visas to countries from the Middle East as Belarus did.
In November, amid the height of the EU-Belarusian border crisis, Finland’s Interior Minister Maria Ohisalo announced that the country would seal off its borders if Russia began conducting itself like the Lukashenko government, as Remix News previously reported.
Mikko Lehmus, the head of the Situation and Risk Analysis Center at the Broder Guard Headquarters, has acknowledged that Finland’s lengthy eastern flank may not be able to be secured so easily.
“Finland has a long EU external border. It must be clear to everyone that it cannot be comprehensively fenced or covered by other obstacle devices,” Lehmus said.
According to Teija Tiilikainen, the director of the European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats, it’s possible that Russia could use migration as a tool to wage “hybrid warfare” against Finland and the EU if relations deteriorate further over Ukraine.
“At the moment, it is difficult to comment on whether Russia would like to make bilateral relations with Finland more difficult if it intends to conduct a military operation in Ukraine. But that’s not an impossible thought,” Tiilikainen told Hufvudstadsbladet.