Russian assurance of curbing unauthorized entries into Finland and the signing of an understanding on combating illegal immigration have been seen in Finland as an indication of a new phase in Finnish-Russian relations.
Announced during the meeting of Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow last week, the arrangement will limit the use of the two northernmost crossing points to Finnish, Russian and Belorussian citizens only during the next 180 days.
Over the winter, some 2,000 self-claimed refugees arrived in Finland via the two northern crossings. There are several more southernly crossings, but they were not affected by unauthorized entries.
Commenting on the results, Markku Kangaspuro, research director in the Aleksanteri Institute of the University of Helsinki, said to national broadcaster Yle that Russia was not acting out of “sheer good will” in helping Finland but out of view that “cooperation is needed.”
Kangaspuro said that both countries now look for new ways of cooperation that take into account the vision that the European Union sanctions would remain for “a good time.” He told Yle that the meeting and its results indicate the relations between Finland and Russia have warmed up from the coldest point.
Teija Tiilikainen, director of the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, underlined that the basic problem associated with Russian actions in Ukraine is still there. “But under these circumstances, of course, it must be possible to discuss joint interests,” she said.
President Niinisto told a press briefing after meeting with Putin that Finland is “not balancing between the sanctions and its own interests.” “Finland acts in accordance to agreements concerning the sanctions, but in relation to Russia follows good neighborly manners,” Niinisto said. Sanctions cannot be cancelled until the Minsk agreement has been implemented, he noted.
Newspaper Karjalainen, published in Joensuu, eastern Finland, wrote in an editorial that Niinisto has been able to accommodate being part of the EU front and at the same time meeting President Putin. Karjalainen noted that the promise to keep the border under tight control is valuable not only to Finland but to the whole EU.
Finnish commentators have noted, however, that it remains unclear why Russia last autumn gave up decades old policies and started allowing foreigners with no EU entry documents to cross the border into Finland and then some weeks ago returned to the old practice.