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PPA: Traffic on Estonia's eastern frontier already up after Finland border closure

The Raja-Jooseppi border crossing between Finland and Russia.
The Raja-Jooseppi border crossing between Finland and Russia. Source: Kirsti Länsman/Yle

The effects of Finland's decision to temporarily close its entire border with Russia from today, Thursday, have already been seen on Estonia's border to the South, a Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) spokesperson says.

Appearing on ETV morning show "Terevisioon" Thursday, Eve Kalmus, who heads up the PPA's border management bureau, reflected on recent events.

"From our perspective, it is a hybrid attack [by Russia] using migrants, while the closure of the border checkpoints in Finland will certainly affect us.

"We are already seeing today that the movement across the Estonian-Russian border has increased from, four thousand, to five thousand [people per day,]" she went on.

As with Finland, migrants trying to enter Estonia have been traveling on the main roads, so have not been apprehended at border strips, areas of greenery in the zones close to the border.

In this respect, the phenomenon differs from the hybrid attacks seen on Belarus' Western border with the EU nations of Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, from summer 2021 onward.

Nonetheless, Estonia is also prepared for the eventuality of attempted border crossings coming between, rather than at, border checkpoints, Kalmus said.

"We have certainly been considering it, and we are ready. The PPA has its own crisis plans, and we have been able to actively rehearse these in cooperation with our domestic partners: The Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) the Defense League (Kaitseliit), plus the external [EU border] partner Frontex."

"We have also gained some major experience from those officers who went to work on Latvia and Lithuania's borders," she added, referring to PPA deployments to those frontiers, on a rotational basis.

The recent surge in migrant numbers also has to be set against the fall in overall crossings in recent years, dating back to the coronavirus pandemic and its most stringent restrictions.

Kalmus added that before the Covid crisis started in early 2020, Estonia's eastern border with Russia had seen over 10,000 crossers per day, ample demonstration that in fact there is still plenty of room for growth in numbers before those totals are reached again.

The figures also work in the opposite direction, in other words there are more crossings from Estonia into Russia.

Kalmus said that these mostly involve private citizens making the journey for personal reasons; the rise in activity is mainly the result of Finland's actions in closing its border checkpoints, which it did piecemeal, starting from the southeasternmost checkpoints on November 18 and culminating in the full closure as announced Tuesday and effective from today.

Eve Kalmus. Source: ERR

Another factor, Kalmus said, is that diplomatic staff at foreign missions in Russia, and their family members, may also be taking advantage of the relative openness of Estonia's border compared with Finland's at present – in other words people who previously would have crossed into Finland are now doing so into fellow EU nation Estonia.

On the other hand, the number of people moving from other parts of Europe via Estonia and to or from Russia has not risen, Kalmus added.

Kalmus was unable to put a figure on the number citizens of other countries who have tried to enter the EU via the Russia-Estonia border, but without the required documentation – illegal migrants in other words.

However she did say that PPA personnel have been able to send such arrivals back across the border in a peaceful and orderly manner.

Groups of migrants arriving at the border will be met by PPA officials, where the initial checks take place. This takes place before these people have actually entered Estonian territory, thanks to a change in methodologies, Kalns saud.

Estonia is in close contact with neighboring, friendly nations, and cooperates with them in mitigating the Russian-orchestrated hybrid attacks, she said.

The Finnish government this week decided to temporarily close the last border crossing point still open on its eastern border with Russia, the Raja-Jooseppi checkpoint in the far North. Only train traffic will still pass.

While previously the Russian Federation and its authorities had tended to bar transit movement for people from third countries who lacked the adequate documentation, from August, this started to change, suggesting an intentional policy.

Many migrants have arrived at border checkpoints by bicycle, even in subzero temperatures as experienced at Finland's more northerly checkpoints far earlier than the cold snap hitting Estonia.

While the figure for such arrivals, mostly originally from some middle eastern nations, had been around 100 up to the start of this month, since then the number has surged to around 800, prompting the border closures by the Finnish authorities.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Mait Ots

Source: 'Terevisioon'

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