The Washington Post

Finland building fence along Russian border

- BY LEO SANDS Loveday Morris contribute­d to this report.

Finnish authoritie­s are chopping down trees along the country’s snowy Russian border, making way for a 124-mile-long fence, 10 feet high and topped with barbed wire, that the government has started installing because it says it “cannot rely” on Moscow to maintain border security.

The constructi­on is part of a colossal effort by Finland and four other nations to fence off the European Union from Russia and its ally Belarus that has accelerate­d since the invasion of Ukraine a year ago.

The prospect of a physical border dividing the European continent is evocative of the Iron Curtain, the 4,300-mile-long collection of barriers, including the Berlin Wall, that divided the communist East and capitalist West during the Cold War.

The new fencing could be seen as a “barbed-wire curtain,” said Klaus Dodds, a professor of geopolitic­s at Royal Holloway, University of London.

Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland — all E.U. countries — have each cited concerns that foreign government­s, identified by some as Russia and Belarus, are permitting immigrants to illegally cross their borders, or could do so in the future.

Many of the fencing plans were unveiled after Belarus retaliated against E.U. sanctions in 2021 by inviting immigrants to fly in and then pushing them to cross illegally into neighborin­g countries.

The constructi­on efforts have accelerate­d since Russia’s invasion over fears that Russia, too, could seek to use illegal border crossings to destabiliz­e the E.U., which has welcomed millions of Ukrainian refugees.

“In the assessment of the Finnish Border Guard, the changed security environmen­t has made it necessary to construct a barrier fence along part of the eastern border,” Ismo Kurki, project manager for the eastern border barrier fence, said in an interview Wednesday. The fencing was first announced in September.

Finland shares an 832-mile border with Russia, the largest of any E.U. country, but the government has said that it was “not a sensible option” to build fencing along the entire expanse.

Finnish border officials said they hoped that by the time the $404 million barrier is completed in 2026, it will span 15 percent of the border with Russia — concentrat­ed primarily in southeast areas around existing crossing points.

The barrier is intended to prevent large numbers of migrants from trying to cross the border illegally from Russia in a short space of time, including in situations where crossings might be encouraged by foreign authoritie­s, Finnish officials said.

In September, Finland announced restrictio­ns on Russian nationals entering the country after the Kremlin announced a “partial military mobilizati­on,” although Kurki said current traffic levels at Finnish-russian border crossings are low.

“A physical barrier fence is essential in situations of widespread immigratio­n, where it serves to slow down and guide the movements of any crowds that form,” Finland’s Border Guard said on its website. “Even if people skirt the fence, it still fulfills its task by slowing down illegal entry and helping the authoritie­s to manage the situation.”

In addition to the fence, authoritie­s are installing an adjacent road for patrol vehicles and a camera surveillan­ce system.

In 2021, Poland and the three Baltic states — Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia — issued a joint statement accusing Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of deliberate­ly sending migrants across the E.U.’S eastern border as part of a “hybrid war” in retaliatio­n against the bloc’s punitive sanctions targeting his regime.

At the time, more than a dozen migrants told The Washington Post that Belarusian border guards had helped them through the border fence and into Poland. They described Belarusian forces pulling down or cutting through barbed wire and shuttling migrants all along the 250-mile border — now heavily guarded and fortified by Poland — to find the best places to cross.

In 2021, Latvia announced it was building a fence along the Belarusian border. Lithuania began constructi­on of its own fence with Belarus, and Estonia accelerate­d plans to build fencing along its Russian border — an effort originally announced three years earlier.

In November, Poland announced plans to build eightfoot-high razor-wire fencing along its border with the Russian exclave of Kaliningra­d to prevent illegal crossings. Last week, Polish Deputy Prime Minister Mariusz Blaszczak shared images of some of the fortificat­ions that had been installed.

“In 1989, the Berlin Wall was dismantled and this paved the way for an aspiration that Europe could think of its borders as friction-free,” said Dodds, the geopolitic­s professor. Now, three decades later, he said, hard borders are reemerging — this time against a bellicose Russia and its ally Belarus.

“Barbed-wire fencing, drones and surveillan­ce cameras are being put to work,” he said. “Europe is fortifying.”

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