A dramatic surge in the number of migrants from Africa and the Middle East arriving on the EU’s eastern frontier are part of a “blatant hybrid attack” orchestrated by Moscow, Estonia’s foreign minister said, warning that crossings from Russia could be banned altogether.
In a statement Wednesday, Margus Tsahkna said the Baltic nation is “prepared to close its border with Russia” if the situation continues. The growing crisis, he added, “is yet more proof that Russia is not fighting only in Ukraine; instead it poses a threat to other countries.”
At the same time, Estonian Interior Minister Lauri Läänemets said the government was planning to deal with a potential rise in the number of crossings after Finland closed all of its checkpoints with Russia on Tuesday, accusing the Kremlin of attempting to stoke a migrant crisis. Helsinki argues Moscow’s “influence activity” is intended as retribution for the Nordic country’s decision to join NATO in the wake of the full-scale war in Ukraine.
The Finnish border guard service says its officials have seen cases in which their Russian counterparts help would-be migrants cross the border, or close their own checkpoints to prevent them returning. They have since erected barriers to help deal with the situation.
More than 600 people from countries including Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia and Morocco have arrived in Finland in recent weeks, many without sufficient documentation. It is unclear how they would have been able to enter or leave Russia unless they had authorities’ support.
“Russia lets them pass without any reason, which means that these persons reach us and we have to deal with their concerns,” Estonia’s Läänemets said earlier this month.
While the Kremlin has denied the charges, its ally Belarus has been widely accused of having used the same tactics against Poland and Lithuania in 2021, organizing flights from crisis-hit hotspots like Syria and Iraq and encouraging desperate people to try to cross the border into the EU.
Belarus’ actions came in the wake of Western sanctions imposed on long-time leader Alexander Lukashenko amid a brutal crackdown on domestic opposition following a presidential election observers found to be rigged in his favor.