Despite restrictions, Finland sees 20 times higher traffic with Russia than Norway's liberal border
Last September, Finland closed its eastern border for regular travelers from Russia due to the war in Ukraine and more tense relations between Moscow and Helsinki.
“It’s not right that at the same time as Russia is waging an aggressive, brutal war of aggression in Europe, Russians can live a normal life, travel in Europe, be tourists. It’s not right,” Prime Minister at the time, Sanna Marin, said.
Similar policies are introduced by Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and the Czech Republic.
Norway, home to Europe’s northernmost land border with Russia has until now not imposed travel restrictions for Russians aiming for holiday.
But, as YLE reported this week, a strict entry regime is one thing. Practice is another.
By the end of July, there were 973,337 crossings over the many road checkpoints between Finland and Russia. Half of those were Russian citizens and the number of entries and exits are more or less the same. This means almost a quarter of a million Russians have been allowed into Finland from January until late July this year.
Only 1,300 Russians have been denied entry according to figures given by Raja, the border guards, to YLE.
Formally, Finland allows only special categories of Russian entry, like family members of Finnish citizens, seasonal workers, freight transport drivers, and students.
Shopping or vacation is no longer allowed.
Norway, in opposite, welcomes both shoppers to Kirkenes and vacation travelers heading south.
Immigration officer with the Police in Finnmark, Sven Arne Davidsen informs to the Barents Observer that there have been 45,857 border crossings at Storskog by the end of July. The police do not specify how many of the travelers are Russian citizens, but the majority are either Russian citizens or people with dual Norwegian-Russian citizenship. Very few Norwegians are visiting Russia’s northern regions nowadays.
Via Norway to Finland
Head of the immigration unit with Finland’s Foreign Ministry, Katja Luopajärvi, says to YLE it might seem inconvenient that there are national restrictions in Finland aimed to avoid or reduce the travel of Russians to a minimum, while Norway have open-border policy.
“When you are able to cross the internal border legally, it is understandable that this also causes irritation in people,” Luopajärvi says.
There is no border control between Norway and Finland and the road crossing is less than an hour drive from Storskog, the checkpoint where Russians can enter Norway, and by that Schengen Europe.
Before Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014, Finland was on top among Schengen-member states in issuing visas to Russians. A regular practice was 5-year valid multiple entry visas. At its peak in 2013, there were more than 12 million crossings between the two countries, with a big majority in the south. The drive or train ride from St. Petersburg to Helsinki took only a few hours.
Most of today’s visitors to both Norway and Finland hold a visa issued before the pandemic.
According to YLE, there are some 120,000 Russian citizens still having a valid visa to Finland, while there are only 3,900 with a visa to Norway. Since both countries today have limited new visas to a minimum, the number of border crossings is expected to decrease in the times ahead.