It is hard to make any sense out of the on-and-off Russian border closings.
Whether these will have any real effect in the long run on numbers of asylum seekers remains to be seen.
The way the war is going in Ukraine this winter almost guarantees an influx of hundreds or thousands more from that country, all of whom have so far been granted humanitarian protection. The impact of the Gaza conflict looks increasingly scary.
Ostensibly some of those who come from Ukraine have other destination options and as many might be diverted elsewhere as the number seen to be trickling across the Russian border when allowed. That way the objections about the social costs of accepting asylum seekers could be managed. A place in a refugee reception center has the same price, regardless of nationality.
But then there is this political contention that we should be helping Ukraine.
Now, the news just out from Russia is that the country is tightening up its laws regarding undocumented persons and that those who are not regularized will be fined or jailed- but given the option to fight in Ukraine after which they would be granted Russian residence.
It seems to me that if we really want to help Ukraine, we (meaning Finland) could grant many of those applying to Finland entry residence permits and deny the Russian army their services as reinforcements to destroy Ukraine. Accommodating, hundreds of such applicants from Russia would likely come much cheaper than the millions we are now spending to send weapons for Zelensky to fight a losing war. It would also likely be a policy appreciated by both Ukraine and our EU colleagues struggling to retain a credible refugee protection regime in the eyes of the world.
It would likely also be accepted by Russia as such a policy could also allow us to open the eastern border permitting persons of Russian extraction to be reunited over the holidays and winter months. Keeping the border open would also allow the continuation of container and automobile traffic transiting Russia, the loss of which is costing Finnish businesses millions.
This is the kind of “realpolitik” we could use as the birthrate in Finland has plummeted and those entering retirement are increasing apace. In an economy that is hardly growing, there is not much to attract the high-flying career movers that the Confederation of Finnish Businesses (EK) and Business Finland fantasize about, not even with fast-track residence permits.
On the other hand, knocking at the Eastern border among the “anonymous masses” are many highly educated and experienced professionals of working age. There is no really good reason not to allow them to enter. We just need to do the screening to identify them. This could to a large extent probably be done at Finnish consulates like Petroskoi. This would also take the pressure off the border crossings. Unfortunately, our government decided to close those as an empty gesture to Russia meant to show disapproval of the invasion of Ukraine.
The problem at the Eastern border is really a management one. In 2016, there was a similar issue of hundreds without documents entering from Russia. President Sauli Niinistö set up a meeting with Vladimir Putin and the whole problem was dealt with. Orpo, then the Finnish interior minister, went to Moscow and worked out the details behind the scenes. In short order persons without documents were stopped before getting to the border and the crisis was over. This was done with quiet diplomacy and no-one asked how this could happen under international or EU refugee protection laws.
I ran into former SUPO chief Seppo Tiitinen at an event where he was promoting his book at a community center in my neighbourhood. I asked him why Finland does not use the same formula to address the crises at the eastern border as in 2016.”We have to come off our high horse and talk to the Russians,” he said or words to that effect. “If we are able to,” He pointed out that the country had long used a “special” link to the top Russian leadership.
Finns are entitled to be represented by politicians who are willing to pragmatically manage relations with neighbouring countries- not build antagonisms.
Before starting their jobs, leaders-particularly in small countries neighboring huge ones, should be required to repeat Paasikivi’s famous quote a hundred times. They can find it engraved on the statue dedicated to him on Mannerheimintie Avenue.
“Peace comes from understanding the reality of things.
*Ahti Tolvanen is on the Migrant Tales’ editorial board.