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Border Guard: 20,000 Russians may arrive this weekend; opposition leaders see potential threat

Reservists fleeing Russia could pose a security threat to Finland, according to opposition NCP chair Petteri Orpo.

Vehicles waiting to enter Finland from Russia on Saturday. Image: Sasu Mäkinen / Lehtikuva

Incoming traffic remains heavy at border crossing points in Southeastern Finland, the Border Guard said on Saturday morning.

Col. Matti Pitkäniitty, head of the Border Guard's International Affairs Unit, estimated that up to 10,000 Russians might arrive in Finland on Saturday. He told the news agency STT that as many as 20,000 may come to Finland during the whole weekend.

According to the Border Guard, there have been more arrivals than usual at the three border stations in the region: Vaalimaa, Nuijamaa and Imatra.

The number of arriving Russian citizens nearly doubled from a week earlier, as young men in particular flee military conscription.

More than 8,000 people arrived via the three border points on Friday, almost 7,000 of them Russian nationals. That was compared to about 3700 on 16 September.

Only about a dozen people sought temporary protection on Friday, while one applied for asylum.

Queues of up to half a kilometre in length built up at the three border crossing points.

Young Russian men in particular have begun leaving the country in droves since President Vladimir Putin announced a partial mobilisation on Wednesday. There have also been long lines of cars on the borders with Kazakhstan and Georgia, for instance.

Russia's Defence Ministry said that the partial mobilisation aimed to add about 300,000 troops, but the presidential decree keeps the door open for a broader call-up.

Halla-aho: No direct military threat

On Saturday leaders from the two main opposition parties discussed the influx of Russians as a potential security threat to Finland.

However former Finns Party leader Jussi Halla-aho, who chairs the parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee, told Yle that the Russian mobilisation does not pose a direct military threat to Finland.

According to Halla-aho, those subject to the mobilisation are to be sent to Ukraine, where most military units that were stationed near Finland have already been deployed.

In Halla-aho's view, the mobilisation is unlikely to succeed because there is no infrastructure to implement it. In addition, it is likely to cause considerable civil disobedience and unrest in Russia, he predicted on Yle's current affairs programme Ykkösaamu on Saturday.

Purra warns of "weaponised entry"

Riikka Purra, his successor as Finns Party chair, said on Friday evening that she was satisfied that Finland was "finally" making a decision that her party had been demanding since summer.

"At the same time, we have to wonder about this process again…It was said that European Union legislation and international agreements would not allow this. Then, when the issue was discussed more in Parliament, among the chairs and in committee, in the end this was possible with a completely national solution," she observed.

"We don't know who's coming in from Russia. People who may be risk factors may also become asylum seekers. The distinction between weaponised and non-weaponised entry may be razor-thin. I believe that Putin may also take advantage of that," she said.

Orpo: Security threat is "obvious"

National Coalition Party (NCP) chair Petteri Orpo argued that reservists fleeing Russia could pose a security threat to Finland.

Speaking at an NCP meeting in Hämeenlinna on Saturday, the main opposition leader said that Finland should not accept reservists from Russia as asylum seekers.

"The risk of security threats in this group is obvious. We must put national security first," Orpo said.

Orpo also criticised the government's slow decision-making in blocking Russian tourists from entering Finland.

"The government announced late on Friday that it plans to finally prevent Russian tourists from entering the country. The reasons for the decision are the same ones that the government has so far dismissed as impossible. If there had been a will, a way would have been found earlier," Orpo charged.

Mikkonen: Number of arrivals much lower than pre-Covid

Interior Minister Krista Mikkonen (Green) meanwhile pointed out that the number of travellers arriving at the border still remains very low compared to before the pandemic.

According to Mikkonen, authorities are able to ensure that potential security threats do not cross the border.

"Even if you have a visa, you may be denied entry at the border if you are [deemed a potential] security threat – and that is what's done," said Mikkonen.

She said that there have been more such negative decisions at the border than usual since the beginning of the Russia's attack on Ukraine.

17.45: Updated with Pitkäniitty estimate.

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