Finland on Thursday said it would ban Russians on Schengen tourist visas from entering the country at midnight (2100 GMT) after a surge in arrivals occurred following Moscow’s mobilization order.
“The decision aims to completely prevent the current situation of Russian tourism to Finland and the related transit through Finland,” Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said at a press conference.
Haavisto cited damage to “Finland’s international relations” as reason for the decision and said Russia’s mobilization had a “significant impact” on Finland’s assessment.
The “illegal referendums in Ukraine” and the alleged sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines in the Baltic Sea “have increased concern,” Haavisto said.
The restrictions include exceptions for human rights reasons, and Russians can still enter Finland to meet family, work or study.
“The decision must not prevent travel for humanitarian reasons either,” Haavisto added.
Interior Minister Krista Mikkonen said it was possible the restrictions would lead to an increase in asylum applications and illegal border crossings.
Mikkonen said that being called up for mobilization is not in itself a ground for asylum – unless it can be shown, for example, that the person was being coerced into committing war crimes or being disproportionately punished.
“But these decisions are always made individually by the authorities,” she said.
Even before Russia’s mobilization order, Finland had restricted the number of visas issued to Russians because tourism in its eastern neighbor had caused dissatisfaction with the war in Ukraine.
However, Haavisto noted that the restrictions in place are not “sufficient” in the current situation.
– “Awfully uncomfortable” –
Fearing that Russia may close its border “forever” following the mobilization order, growing numbers of Russians, many of fighting age, have rushed to neighboring Finland in recent days.
Most of them have rushed to the Vaalimaa border crossing to the south.
The number of daily crossings was around 7,000 or 8,000 this past weekend and earlier this week, but the numbers started falling on Wednesday.
“I just got through it, I don’t know how the others will get through. It’s sad, sad,” Andrei Stepanov, a 49-year-old Russian, told AFP about the new restrictions.
“I feel sorry for the others, they’re already in prison there. Now it’s even worse,” says Stepanov, who originally comes from Samara, around 100 kilometers from the Kazakh border.
“We were already behind the Iron Curtain, now the curtain is getting even thicker. It’s terribly uncomfortable,” said Aleksander Veselov, a 64-year-old from Saint Petersburg.