Protruding from the snowdrifts along the Finnish-Russian border, there is a symbol of Moscow’s biggest provocation yet towards NATO’s newest member: a massive pile of broken bicycles. These battered bikes are sold for hundreds of dollars on the Russian side to asylum seekers from countries as far as Syria and Somalia. These individuals are then encouraged, and sometimes forced, to cross the border. Finland sees this as a form of hybrid warfare against their country, as desperate people are being used to advance Russia’s agenda. As Finland prepares to vote for a new president, the issue of their border with Russia takes center stage.
Finland’s 830-mile border with Russia is the longest of any NATO country, and how Finland handles the challenges there is critical not only for them but also for their allies on both sides of the Atlantic. This presidential election is the first since Finland officially joined NATO last year, and the country is fixated on the border issue as it seeks to secure its own safety following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Russia had warned Finland of „countermeasures“ for joining NATO, and Finland suspects that these countermeasures have come in the form of infrastructure sabotage and cyberattacks. However, the arrival of approximately 1,300 asylum seekers in recent months has caused the most attention and anxiety. European officials are concerned that Russia is encouraging migrants to cross into European countries to destabilize governments and create discord. In response, Finland closed all of its crossings with Russia in December and is now preparing a law that may allow them to force people back over the border, a practice that goes against European and international law.
Both presidential candidates, Pekka Haavisto and Alexander Stubb, have taken a hard line against Moscow and the asylum seekers. The winner of the election will shape Finland’s new role in NATO, but the migration issue is likely to dominate their attention, potentially distracting from other pressing matters. Finland’s security and intelligence services have suggested that Russia may try to recruit some of the migrants as spies, although no evidence has been provided to support this claim. Others argue that Finland risks undermining its reputation as a nation that upholds liberal values and respects international conventions regarding asylum.
Finland has taken measures to secure its border, including the use of drones and the construction of fences. They have also increased technical surveillance with the help of Frontex, the EU’s border agency. These measures have largely blocked new arrivals, but there are still hundreds, if not thousands, of asylum seekers stuck in Russian border towns who may attempt to cross through the woods, especially in the spring. Despite the dangers they face, the asylum seekers remain determined to find safety and reject the notion that they are being used as weapons.
As Finland’s election approaches, the border issue has sparked debate about the risks associated with the arrival of asylum seekers. Finland must balance its national security with its commitment to humanitarian protections and international conventions. The country faces a complex challenge in managing its border while upholding its values.