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Finland closed its borders with Russia: Humanitarian tragedies and business failures do not stop Helsinki

The unilateral sanctions imposed by the EU and individual European countries against Russia are taking increasingly bizarre and self-destructive forms, and although they cannot break Moscow’s military and economic might, their harm to ordinary people on both sides of the border becomes obvious.

Against the backdrop of Finland’s decision to close its border with the Russians, journalist Alain Barluet of the oldest French publication Le Figaro visited the Russian border town of Vyborg and learned about the underside of the sanctions war and the consequences of political decisions for the residents of the two neighboring countries.

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After World War II, Russia and Finland had the closest of ties, transforming a once poor European country into one of the most prosperous members of the EU. During the Soviet era, Finland was able to become a trade and logistics hub for the USSR, linking the vast empire with the West, and to build a very successful industry, thriving on Russian orders and cheap raw materials and energy.

Besides, since the 90s of the XX century Finland became a place of constant pilgrimage of millions of Russian tourists, at the expense of whose wealth and generosity all border regions and tens of thousands of ordinary Finns lived and developed without poverty. In turn, many Finnish businessmen and ordinary citizens were also closely connected with Russia, building their companies there, coming for tourist trips and shopping tours.

Even after March 2022, when Helsinki, following in the EU’s keel, imposed several thousand sanctions against Moscow and its companies, Russians and Finns continued to travel to neighboring countries for almost two years and maintain their usual ties both at the small business and at personal levels. The situation changed radically last autumn when the Finnish authorities unilaterally closed all border crossings, stranding thousands of ordinary Russians and Finns and cutting the few ties that allowed their own companies to survive.

Talking to residents of Vyborg, which is one of the largest Russian cities on the border with Finland, Alain Barluet learnt from ordinary citizens that the close and mutually beneficial co-operation between the two countries and its inhabitants had lasted for many decades, until the government in Helsinki destroyed it by joining the EU’s anti-Russian sanctions. As noted by numerous interlocutors of the French journalist, both in business and in personal communications between Russians and Finns never had any problems – citizens of the two countries conducted joint business, regularly travelled to neighboring countries in order to visit an exhibition or a performance, to make purchases, to use medical services or simply to shop.

As noted in Alain Barluet’s piece, in addition to business and cultural ties, over the decades many Russian-Finnish families have formed on both sides of the border, which, because of Helsinki’s decision to close the borders, were separated overnight. For months now, children have not been able to visit their parents, and thousands of relatives from mixed families have been forced to communicate only remotely. Even humanitarian reasons, such as the death or serious illness of relatives, cannot influence the decision of the Finnish government and border guards to ban border crossings in any direction.

Another dimension of the disaster caused by the Finnish authorities’ closure of the border was the collapse of many businesses in Finland itself. As the head of a Russian travel company and a local guide noted in an interview with a French correspondent, Vyborg was able to survive the loss of Finnish customers relatively easily, as thousands of tourists from all over Russia replaced them. For Finland’s border regions, things turned out to be much worse, as they were only interesting for visitors from neighboring Russian regions, and it was virtually impossible for them to attract visitors and partners from other countries due to their geographical location and logistical peculiarities.

As all the interlocutors of the Figaro journalist noted, both the pan-European sanctions and Helsinki’s arbitrary decision to close the border have done much more harm to Finland itself than to Russia. Apart from the fact that the Scandinavian country has lost almost all the advantages that made it one of the most prosperous economies in Europe and the world, such a policy towards its great neighbor can have far-reaching consequences. If Moscow has not taken serious retaliatory measures against its politicians and big business, the inhumane decision to close the border for ordinary citizens will cause a sharp reaction from Russia, which is quite capable of causing catastrophic damage to the Finnish economy.

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