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Finland to close border to Russian tourists amid conscript exodus

Finland announced Thursday it would shut its border to Russian tourists at midnight as thousands of men fled to avoid getting drafted in the war with Ukraine.

Helsinki said the tourist ban would lead to a significant drop in cross-border traffic after almost 17,000 Russians entered Finland over the weekend.

“The entry of Russian citizens [for] tourist purposes into Finland endangers Finland’s international relations,” Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said at a news conference, explaining the decision followed talks with Ukraine and neighbors.

Haavisto also cited security concerns related to Russia’s war, the “illegal” Kremlin-backed referendums to justify the annexation of large swaths of Ukrainian territory, and recent leaks in the Nord Stream pipelines as factors leading to the decision.

A border guard installs tape along a road, at the border crossing in Vaalimaa, Finland, on Thursday.
Vehicles coming from Russia wait in lines at the Vaalimaa border checkpoint between Finland and Russia on Wednesday ahead of Friday's tourist ban.
Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto and Interior Minister Krista Mikkonen address a news conference on the government's resolution regarding the right of Russian citizens to enter Finland as tourists.

Russian citizens can still enter Finland, which shares an 830-mile land border with Russia, for family visits, study or work purposes. Also, Russian political dissidents may seek entry for humanitarian purposes.

Just hours before the ban was to go into effect, there was a steady stream of cars coming through at the Vaalimaa border crossing, though not nearly as many as over the weekend.

“We have indications that the Russian authorities have changed their policy,” said head of the border controls Tuomas Laosmaa, adding the number of young Russian men coming through had dropped Wednesday.

“According to information provided by border crossers, there are military authorities at crossing points,” Laosmaa told Reuters, adding it was unclear if officials were conducting voluntary recruitment or mandatory call-ups.

Passengers disembark a bus coming from Russia at the Vaalimaa checkpoint, Finland, on the border with Russia.
AFP via Getty Images

“The passenger profile has clearly changed. There are fewer young men than before,” he said.

One Russian man who had just crossed, software architect Andrei Antonov, said he had seen an improvised building on the other side with military colors and signs saying “call-up center or contract service, something like that.”

Travel agent Maria Muratova confirmed there was an enlistment office on the Russian side. “But I didn’t see anyone being brought in so far. They are launching it on the way back, it will be there on the way back,” she said, referring to Russians returning to Russia from the Finnish side.

The decision means the Finnish government, wary of being a transit nation into western Europe’s passport-free Schengen zone, joined other EU member countries sharing land borders with Russia that have already barred Russian tourists.

The EU bans were part of a series of sanctions and other steps taken against Russia by the West since Moscow invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.

Russian citizens can still enter Finland, which shares an 830-mile land border with Russia, for family visits, for study or work purposes.
AFP via Getty Images

Baltic states and Poland argued Russian tourists posed a national security threat. Estonia expressed frustration that Finland had not joined them — and Ukraine has said Russians should stay at home and try to stop the war.

The EU has banned all flights from Russia, leaving only rail and road transport links available, and agreed to limit issuing free-travel Schengen zone visas.

Norway, an EU outsider but a member of the Schengen zone, still kept open its arctic border with Russia where arrivals have recently risen to number a few hundred people a day, Norwegian officials said.

Last week’s announcement of Russia’s aim to draft at least 300,000 reservists to shore up its faltering Ukraine war triggered a rush for the border and the arrest of protesters.

With Post Wires