Finland Begins Fencing Off Russia

New NATO member says invasion of Ukraine was the main prompt
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Apr 15, 2023 1:20 PM CDT
Finland Starts Work on Russian Border Fence
The construction site of the Finland-Russia eastern border barrier fence near Pelkola crossing point in Imatra, south-eastern Finland, on Friday.   (Roni Rekomaa/Lehtikuva via AP)

The construction of barbed-wired fence along Finland’s long border with Russia—primarily meant to curb illegal migration—has broken ground near the southeastern town of Imatra less than two weeks after the Nordic country joined NATO as the 31st member of the military alliance. The Finnish Border Guard on Friday showcased the building of the initial 1.8-mile stretch of the fence to be erected in Pelkola near a crossing point off Imatra, a quiet lakeside town of some 25,000 people, the AP reports. Finland's 832-mile border with Russia is the longest of any European Union member. The project is estimated to cost $422 million and is scheduled to be completed by 2026.

Construction of the border fence is an initiative by the border guard that was approved by Prime Minister Sanna Marin's government with wide political support last year. The main purpose of the 10-foot-high steel fence with a barbed-wire extension on top is to prevent illegal migration from Russia and give reaction time to authorities, Finnish border officials have said. In 2015-16, Moscow attempted to influence Finland by organizing large numbers of asylum-seekers to northern Finnish crossing points in the Arctic Lapland region. Russian authorities were seen deliberately ushering thousands of asylum-seekers—mostly from Iraq, Afghanistan and other Middle East nations—to those border crossing points. The move was seen as a show of muscle by Moscow. The issue was settled when Finnish President Sauli Niinistö held talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The flow of migrants stopped shortly thereafter.

This is a scenario that Finland, a nation 5.5 million people that officially became a NATO member on April 4, wants to prevent from repeating itself. Border officials are quick to acknowledge, however, that it was Russia's invasion of Ukraine last year—the main reason for Finland’s quick push to join NATO after decades of military nonalignment—that prompted construction of the border fence. "Border barrier fence was no kind of political topic before the war," said Brig. Gen. Jari Tolppanen of the Finnish Border Guard, per the AP. Finland's long eastern frontier runs mainly through thick forests. In some places the Finnish-Russian border is marked only by wooden posts with low fences meant to stop stray cattle.

(Read more Finland stories.)

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