Finland and Kazakhstan see more Russians at border wanting ‘to be safe’

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Traffic into Finland across its southeastern border with Russia was heavy on Friday, border guards told Reuters, adding that the number of Russians who entered the previous day was more than double the amount who arrived the week before.

Finland is considering barring most Russians from entering as the volume of arrivals from its eastern neighbour “intensified” on Thursday following President Vladimir Putin’s order for a partial military mobilisation.

“This morning it remains busy … maybe increasing a little bit from yesterday,” a spokesperson for the border guard said early on Friday.

Max, a 21-year-old Russian student who declined to give his last name, said he was going to Finland to catch a flight to Germany to visit relatives.

“Technically, I’m a student so I should not be afraid of being drafted but we have seen that things are changing very quickly so I assume there is a chance,” he told Reuters upon crossing the border at Vaalimaa.

“I just wanted to be safe,” he said.

About 7,000 people entered from Russia on Thursday, some 6,000 of them Russian, meaning a 107% increase compared with the same day a week earlier, according to the border guards.

Three people had sought asylum on Thursday. None had the week before, it said.

Finnish land border crossings have remained among the few entry points into Europe for Russians after a string of countries shut both physical frontiers and their air space to Russian planes in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

At Vaalimaa, the busiest crossing point, cars lined up for up to 400 metres on Friday, a longer queue than the day before, a border official said.

“Compared to Friday last week, we have more traffic,” Vaalimaa station deputy chief Elias Laine told Reuters. “We expect the traffic to remain busy over the weekend.”

Those arriving by car or bus left their vehicles to have their paperwork checked before continuing on with their journeys. Border guards searched some vehicles.

Lines were also “longer than normal” at the second-biggest Nuijamaa crossing.

Finland opted to keep its frontier with Russia open following Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine although it has cut back the number of consular appointments available to Russian travellers seeking visas.

Prime Minister Sanna Marin said on Thursday the government was assessing risks posed by people travelling through Finland and was considering ways to sharply reduce transit from Russia.

Kazakhstan has seen an increased number of arrivals from neighbouring Russia, Kazakh authorities said on Friday, after Moscow announced a conscription drive this week the war in Ukraine.

President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday ordered Russia’s first mobilisation since World War Two and backed a plan to annex swathes of Ukraine, prompting an exodus of conscription-age men from the country.

Four of 30 road checkpoints on the Russian-Kazakh border – the world’s second-longest – were particularly congested, Kazakhstan’s border guard service said in a statement, without providing any numbers on arrivals.

A witness who asked not to be named, fearing for his safety, told Reuters they had been in a queue at a border checkpoint since Thursday morning and saw unusually heavy traffic from the Russian side and lengthy, thorough checks of Russian cars by Russian border guards.

Many of those seeking to cross the border were men who appeared to be of conscription age, under 35, the witness said.

Kazakh truck drivers crossing the border have published videos online showing long queues of made up mostly of passenger cars.

Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov and Mariya Gordeyeva; Editing by Alison Williams

Photo: The information panel at Vaalimaa border station for the checkpoint between Finland and Russia. EC Audiovisual Service

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