Finland to Close the Last Border Crossing With Russia for Two Weeks

Finland said Tuesday it was temporarily closing its only remaining open border crossing with Russia to stem an influx of asylum seekers that it accuses Moscow of orchestrating in retaliation for Finland’s decision to join NATO.

The Finnish authorities have been raising alarms for weeks over an increased number of migrants crossing into the country to seek asylum, describing it as a Kremlin bid to sow discord. They had already closed seven of the eight crossings along Finland’s vast frontier with Russia, leaving just the Raja-Jooseppi checkpoint in hard-to-reach northern Lapland, above the Arctic Circle, open to travelers.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Petteri Orpo said that Raja-Jooseppi would also close for two weeks at midnight on Wednesday to help the government get a handle on a situation that he said threatened Finland’s national security. Asylum applications will be restricted to airports and seaports.

“The government’s goal is that the exceptional situation on Finland’s eastern border is normalized as soon as possible,” he said at a news conference. “The activity witnessed on Finland’s border must end.”

The message to migrants, Interior Minister Mari Rantanen said during the news conference, “is don’t come — the border is closed.”

The dispute comes two years after Belarus, Russia’s close ally, granted short-term visas to thousands of people from Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq, arriving on one-way airline tickets, and then directed them to the border with Poland, a NATO and European Union member that had strongly opposed migration from those countries.

There was no immediate response from Moscow to Finland’s move, which underscored how sharply relations between the two neighbors have deteriorated since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year.

Finland shares an 830-mile border with Russia, along with a combative history. The neighbors have fought numerous wars through the centuries, and Finland was ruled by Russia for more than a century before gaining its independence in 1917. Finns have strong memories of the 1939 “Winter War” and World War II, when their country fought the Soviet Union and lost territory.

After the war, Finland adopted a form of neutrality, bowing to the Soviet threat, and remained outside the Atlantic alliance for more than 70 years. But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine raised fears in Finland, a country of some 5.6 million, that it could be one of Moscow’s next targets.

Casting aside the tradition of nonalignment, Finland and Sweden quickly moved to join NATO, a step that Russia described as “clearly hostile.” The Finnish authorities have said they were prepared for “nastiness” from Russia in response, and pointed to the influx of migrants crossing its border as one manifestation of it.

Finland has accused Russia of encouraging and helping asylum seekers — who the border authorities say are largely from the Middle East and Africa — to reach the border even though they lacked the proper documents. About 900 people arrived in November, a sharp increase from previous months, according to Finland’s national broadcaster, Yle.

But “it’s not a question of numbers only, but of a phenomenon,” Mr. Orpo said at the news conference on Tuesday. “It’s a question of a hybrid operation by Russia, and we do not accept that.”

Maria V. Zakharova, a spokeswoman for Russia’s Foreign Ministry, has called the accusations “unsubstantiated” and dismissed them as “misinformation.”

Frontex, the European Union’s border and coast guard agency, said last week that it would deploy 50 officers and other staff members, along with equipment such as patrol cars, to bolster security at the Finnish crossings. It called the security of Finland’s eastern border “a matter of collective European concern.”

Finland is a member of the European Union, and is part of a 26-nation area of Europe where people can travel freely from country to country without border checks.

On Tuesday, Jens Stoltenberg, the secretary general of NATO, accused Russia of “using migration as a tool” in what he called an “attempt to have pressure on neighbors and allies.”

“They will not succeed because we stand together, we support each other,” he said during a news conference in Brussels.

Cassandra Vinograd and Lara Jakes contributed reporting.

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