The Finnish government has announced that it could seal off its borders in the event it is subjected to the same kind of hybrid warfare that Belarus is accused of waging against Poland and the Baltic states.
While speaking with the Swedish newspaper Yle last week, Finland’s Interior Minister Maria Ohisalo said she would not hesitate to close the country’s borders if its eastern flank begins to experience the same kind of migrant pressure that Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania are experiencing presently.
“It is quite clear that this is a hybrid impact. Belarus is trying to divide EU countries while at the same time making them violate international conventions,” Ohisalo said, referring to migrant crisis along the European Union’s northeastern border, which began in September after Belarusian President Aleksander Lukashenko attracted thousands of Middle Eastern migrants to the region with visa-free travel.
Historically, migrants have used Finland’s eastern border with Russia as an entry point into the European Union before. However, due to harsh terrain and cold weather, the so-called “Arctic Route” has never been as popular as the Balkan, Mediterranean (West, East, Central), or now the Baltic routes.
Ohisalo also spoke of the need for dynamic policy in order to swiftly deal with irregular challenges.
“We can close our borders if we’re exposed to something like [hybrid warfare],” she began. “In fact, we have already closed the borders in exceptional situations, such as during the pandemic. At the same time, of course, one must be aware that we cannot patrol every single meter of the long border with Russia. In that case, the help of electronic monitoring methods is needed.”
The interior minister said that Finland would deal with asylum seekers on a case-by-case basis, and mentioned that vulnerable individuals should receive protection, but also stated that migrants massed at the Polish-Belarusian border were being used by Lukashenko as weapons against the European Union.
Ohisalo’s optimism that Finland’s eastern flank can be adequately protected from a surge of migration is not exactly shared by her colleague Mikko Lehmus, who heads the Situation and Risk Analysis Center at the Border Guard Headquarters. According to Lehmus, migrants have already arrived in Finland via Belarus.
“There has already been some secondary movement of people from Belarus to some extent… About 30 people have already arrived, who are known to have first arrived in Poland, Latvia, or Lithuania from Belarus,” Lehmus told the Finnish newspaper Ilta Sanomat
“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 added.
On Monday, the EU agreed to slap Belarus with a new round of sanctions that will target “everyone involved” in facilitating the transportation of migrants to the bloc’s eastern border with Belarus. Although officials have not released a sanctions list just yet, the targets include airlines, travel agents, and other entities such as businesses, government officials, and private individuals believed to have been involved in engineering the crisis.