A growing number of asylum seekers arriving on the EU’s eastern frontier is forcing Baltic countries to consider border closures with Russia, due to fears the Kremlin is weaponizing desperate people to create a migration crisis on the Continent.
Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia are increasingly concerned after Finland last week shut all of its crossings with Russia for two weeks after undocumented migrants from crisis-hit countries in the Horn of Africa and Asia entered the Nordic nation.
The Latvian Ministry of Internal Affairs told POLITICO that Riga “does not currently plan to close the border with Russia and Belarus completely” but revealed officials are “carefully monitoring the further development of the situation with illegal immigration flows. If the situation changes radically and threatens the security of the country, it is not excluded that Latvia can also close its eastern border completely.”
Estonia has previously said it is braced for a potential rise in the number of would-be migrants trying to cross into the EU via Russia and could close the frontier in response. A Finnish minister told POLITICO last week that some of the most common countries of origin included Somalia, Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, as Russia uses migrants to carry out “deliberate, cynical, hybrid actions.”
Between them, Finland, Estonia and Latvia are the only three EU countries that border mainland Russia and — while sanctions have been imposed on a range of goods since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his full-scale invasion of Ukraine — have continued to act as a thoroughfare for trade and travel.
A senior Lithuanian government official, granted anonymity to discuss sensitive preparations, confirmed that the Baltic country is carefully monitoring its own border with Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave “and will react if there are any changes.”
“We support decisions of Finland, exposed to a hybrid attack organized by Russia,” the official added.
NATO has warned that “Russia is using migration as a tool to put pressure on other countries in Europe” in the wake of Finland’s decision to join the transatlantic military alliance.
The Kremlin denies it is encouraging undocumented migrants to try and cross the border, but Finnish border guards say their Russian counterparts have been assisting people on the journey and even closing checkpoints behind them to prevent their return.
In 2021, Moscow’s ally Belarus was accused of similar tactics after putting on dozens of flights from countries like Syria and Iraq, helping migrants to cross the border with Poland illegally.
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