Finland, which has the longest border with Russia in the European Union, is moving to restrict Russian tourists from entering the country as the war in Ukraine continues to intensify into its eighth month.
On Thursday, the Finnish government announced that it would close its border to Russian tourists beginning at midnight local time and that it would remain shut “until further notice.”
“The decision in principle aims to completely prevent Russian tourism to Finland and the related transit through Finland,” Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said during a news conference.
Haavisto justified the long-discussed move by saying that the continued arrival of Russian tourists is endangering Finland’s international relations. He also cited security concerns related to the war, the “illegal” referendums arranged by Russia in Ukraine to annex territory and the recent leaks in the Nord Stream pipelines as factors in Finland’s decision.
There have been fears that Russians have been circumventing the EU’s flight restrictions by crossing into Finland before flying to other European countries from Helsinki’s airport. Finland is the last EU nation with a land border with Russia still allowing Russian citizens to cross as tourists.
Beginning Friday, Russians will be permitted to enter Finland only for family visits and work and study purposes. The transport of essential materials will also be allowed and Russian political dissidents may still seek to enter Finland on humanitarian grounds.
On Monday, Finnish authorities said there has been an 80 percent increase in Russians crossing the border. “The queues continue to be a bit longer than they’ve usually been since the pandemic,” Captain Taneli Repo at Finland’s southeastern border authority told Reuters.
Almost 17,000 Russians traveled to Finland last weekend in the wake of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s announcement of a partial military mobilization of 300,000 citizens to aid the war efforts in Ukraine.
Following the announcement, long lines were reported at many of Russia’s borders as many military-aged men scrambled to leave the country before being drafted to fight in the Ukrainian war. Flights to countries that still allowed visa-free travel from Russia were also reportedly sold out.
Finland already moved to limit the influx of Russian travelers earlier this month, when the number of tourist visas issued to Russians was cut by 90 percent. Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland have also begun implementing entry restrictions for Russian citizens.
Last month, EU foreign ministers agreed to fully extend the visa facilitation agreement with Russia, which makes it much more difficult and longer for Russians to obtain visas to an EU nation.
Newsweek has reached out to Russia’s foreign ministry for comment. (Newsweek)