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EU official Von der Leyen visits the border between Finland and Russia to assess the security situation

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — The head of the European Union’s executive branch said Friday that Finland’s decision to close border crossings with Russia due to a wave of migrants was a security issue that the entire 27-member bloc had to take into account .

President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen made the comments during a trip to the border, visiting part of the border in southeastern Finland.

“We all know how (Russian President Vladimir) Putin and his allies are instrumentalizing migrants to test our defenses and try to destabilize us,” von der Leyen said. “Now Putin is focusing on Finland, and this is undoubtedly a response to your strong support for Ukraine and your accession to NATO.”

On April 4, Finland decided to extend the closure of its border crossing points with Russia “until further notice” because, according to the government, there is a high risk that organized migration will be orchestrated by Moscow. The Finnish government has closed eight of its nine checkpoints with Russia. The only one that remains open is intended exclusively for train travel and mainly freight trains pass through it.

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Finland shares a 1,340-kilometre-long land border with Russia, which runs largely through dense forests in the south, and into rugged landscapes in the Arctic north.

“This is not just about the security of Finland, but it is about the security of the European Union. We are in this together,” said Von der Leyen after a visit to the border in Lappeenranta with Finnish Prime Minister Petteri Orpo. “We should be more Finnish when it comes to safety.”

Von der Leyen and Orpo flew in a Finnish helicopter over the landscape of forests and towns on the border.

In a statement issued after the visit, Orpo said that “the warmer weather of spring increases the risk of Russia helping people illegally reach Finland through the land border… beyond border crossing points.”

Most migrants come from the Middle East and Africa. The vast majority of them have sought asylum in Finland, a member of the EU and NATO with a population of 5.6 million.

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Finland joined NATO in April 2023, ending decades of neutrality following the country’s defeat by the Soviet Union in World War II. In March, Sweden also became a member of the transatlantic alliance. The move was a major blow to Putin, marking a historic reshuffling of Europe’s post-Cold War security landscape brought about by Moscow’s large-scale invasion of Ukraine.

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This story has been corrected to say that Ursula von der Leyen visited the southeastern part of the border, and not the Arctic part.

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