Finland is to ban Russian tourists from entering the country in the coming days, becoming the last EU neighbour to do so after Vladimir Putin’s decision to order a mobilisation prompted a flood of Russians to flee the country.
Under pressure both from the Finnish public, who strongly favoured a ban, and the rightwing opposition, Finland’s centre-left government said on Friday evening that it would stop Russian tourists from crossing the border in the next few days.
“The aspiration and purpose is to significantly reduce the number of people coming to Finland from Russia,” President Sauli Niinistö told state broadcaster Yle.
Finland’s decision came as the Czech Republic, current holder of the EU presidency, called an urgent meeting of the bloc’s crisis response mechanism.
Ambassadors from member states will convene on Monday under the EU’s Integrated Political Crisis Response — a format designed to co-ordinate across the bloc during disasters — to discuss the prospect of higher levels of emigration from Russia and possible future developments in the war.
Officials will be briefed by the EU’s intelligence unit and “will be invited to exchange views on preparation for possible scenarios in case of further escalation”, according to an agenda seen by the FT.
Finland has come under increasing pressure ever since it declined to follow the three Baltic states and Poland, the other EU states neighbouring Russia, in banning Russian tourists. Helsinki cited EU law, hoping that the bloc would draw up a common policy.
Pekka Haavisto, foreign minister, said on Friday night that the ban would apply to visas issued both by Finland and by other European countries.
The parking garage at Helsinki’s airport has been filled in recent weeks by upmarket Russian cars as tourists have driven across the border and then flown on to other destinations as direct flights to the EU are suspended.
Russians will still be able to travel to Finland for family reasons, work or study, according to Haavisto. “Finland is in danger of becoming a major transit country,” the foreign minister added.
Finnish border guards said on Friday that the number of crossings from Russia had more than doubled in the past three days as Russians sought to escape Putin’s mobilisation order. But the numbers were still well below their pre-pandemic levels.
As Finland’s five-party centre-left coalition government hesitated, opinion polls showed 70 per cent of Finns in favour of banning Russians.
The country had long exercised caution over its Russia policy but since its decision this year to apply for Nato membership, Helsinki has gradually become more assertive with its biggest neighbour to the east.
EU member states are struggling to find a joint position on how to respond to a surge in Russians attempting to leave the country, particularly adult men.
The bloc has suspended its visa facilitation agreement with Russia, making it far harder for Russians to get short-term travel permits, while Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have closed their borders to Russians regardless of visa status, with exemptions only for those seeking asylum or fleeing persecution.
With flights between Russia and the EU suspended, land borders have become the primary way for Russians to enter the bloc. Western states are internally divided over whether frontier states should seal their borders or offer refuge to those attempting to avoid being drafted into the Russian army to fight in Ukraine.
Attempting to avoid being conscripted would not be treated as a humanitarian exception to Latvia’s border closure, the country’s foreign minister said this week.
“Many Russians who now flee Russia because of mobilisation were fine with killing Ukrainians. They did not protest then. It is not right to consider them as conscientious objectors,” Edgars Rinkēvičs said. “There are considerable security risks admitting them and plenty of countries outside EU to go [to].”
The integrated crisis meeting will not only focus on migration issues, a person involved in its organisation told the FT. “We want everybody to have the same information about what is happening and how the situation evolves to be able to prepare all variants of reactions.”