Helsinki plans border fence – The end of the Finnish-Russian thaw – News

Finland is planning a border fence on certain sections of the Finnish-Russian border. The country wants to control its border with Russia more strictly. For SRF employee Bruno Kaufmann, the border also has a symbolic value in addition to physical security: the thaw between Russia and Finland after the end of the Cold War is finally over.

Bruno Kaufman

Northern Europe staff

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Bruno Kaufmann has been reporting regularly for SRF on Northern Europe, from Greenland to Lithuania, since 1990. He also works as a global democracy correspondent for the international service of the SRG,

SRF News: What is the government in Helsinki hoping for from this planned border fence?

Bruno Kaufmann: She is hoping for a clear signal both internally and externally. They want to show Russia that they are serious about turning away from the Ukraine war. They want to send a signal to NATO, which Finland would like to join: We know how to protect our external borders. In Finland itself, the aim is to show that Moscow’s aggressive neighborhood policy towards Helsinki has major consequences.

The border between Finland and Russia is over 1300 kilometers long. It is the longest border of an EU country with Russia. A fence is only to be built on a fifth of this distance – 240 kilometers. What’s the point?

At first glance, this may seem somewhat inconsistent. But 99 percent of the Finnish-Russian border lies in deep forests with no road access. Crossing the border there is practically impossible. However, there are a few places where roads and sometimes also railways lead to the border. In this environment you want to secure the border. One wants to avoid that there are still border posts in open fields that stand next to each other without physical security.

Like Sweden, Finland wants to become a member of the western military alliance NATO. What signal is Finland sending with the planned fence for this membership?

Finland is sending a very clear signal to NATO and the West in general that it feels like it belongs and wants to make a contribution. The neutrality that has characterized Finnish foreign policy since World War II has been abandoned. Finnish President Sauli Niinistö only said on Wednesday that confidence in Moscow’s leadership had been gone since the invasion of Ukraine.

There are tens of thousands of families who are at home on both the Russian and Finnish sides. How they will continue in this almost new Cold War is an open question – and a great tragedy of the last few months.

This also reflects what Finland signaled when it joined the EU almost thirty years ago. At that time it was said that it was less about economic policy and more about security policy. One wants to stand on the western side of the dividing line.

Fear of hybrid warfare involving migrants

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Migrants at the Polish-Belarusian border in November 2021.

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People fleeing Russia are likely to be critical of the Kremlin’s policy of aggression. According to the Finnish government, the border fence is not initially aimed at making it more difficult for people who are afraid and want to flee Russia undetected.

Finland has already closely monitored the external border with Russia. Prime Minister Sanna Marin’s government emphasizes that the right to asylum should be upheld. “That doesn’t suit all parties in the Finnish parliament either,” explains SRF employee Bruno Kaufmann. “The right-wing populist ‘True Finns’ demanded that the borders be closed and the right to asylum abolished.”

Helsinki also fears hybrid warfare. “For example, that a foreign regime carts refugees to the border and puts pressure on them. Russia has already experienced that twice.” Reference is also made to the events between Belarus and Poland last year, when suddenly thousands of refugees from Iraq were standing at the border.

The border between Finland and Russia is to be controlled much more strictly. What does this mean for families living on both sides of the border?

In the last thirty years there has been a certain thaw, normality has returned to relations between Finland and Russia. The fast train could take you from Helsinki to St. Petersburg in a few hours. Many Russians had summer cottages in Finland, and in eastern Finland Russian became the second official language, so to speak. All of that is over now.

But there are tens of thousands of families who are at home on both the Russian and Finnish sides. How they will continue in this almost new Cold War is an open question – and a great tragedy of the last few months.

The interview was conducted by Claudia Weber.

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