Finland is finalising the first stage of a new security fence with Russia, planned to run along about a sixth of its 1,300km shared border.
Construction on the first 3km of trial fence made of 4m-tall wire mesh panels topped with barbed wire – began in April near the the border town of Imatra, which is just 200km from St Petersburg, 50km closer than the Finnish capital, Helsinki.
This first stage of the €380 million, 200km border fence project is expected to be completed in July, a month behind schedule, and will go into operation at the start of August. The entire project is expected to be completed in 2025.
“The fence foundations are almost 100 per cent complete, and the fence nets and posts are almost entirely in place,” said Ismo Kurki, project manager for Finland’s border guard. “A cylindrical barrier has yet to be placed on top of the fence and technical supervision has yet to be built.”
Brig Gen Jari Tolppanen of the Finnish border service said stretches of fences were being erected at strategic points, in particular “border-crossing points and their surrounding areas, roads leading across the border and where human access is easy”.
After centuries of often co-habitation, Finland all but closed its border to Russia during the Covid-19 pandemic. The war in Ukraine – and resulting sanctions against Russia – have kept trade traffic far below pre-pandemic levels.
After Imatra, in Finland’s southeast, the next phase to be completed by year-end is northern Lapland – which experienced an influx of asylum seekers in 2015 and 2016. “There is a need to reduce dependence on the effectiveness of Russian border control,” said Tolppanen to journalists visiting the first stretch of fence.
Finnish officials insist the war in Ukraine is not the impetus for the barrier, but it has reinforced the decision in a “changing security environment”.
The idea of Finland erecting a barrier to Russia – after a largely open, green border during even the chilliest years of the cold war – has divided opinion in Finland. Some have mocked the lightweight construction as resembling a “dog park fence”, while others welcome the move given Russian threats of retaliation for Finland’s Nato accession in April.
After the Kremlin promised “countermeasures”, a video widely shared on social media claimed Russia was moving nuclear weapons to the city of Vyborg, near the Finnish border. That clip was soon tracked back to Kolchugino, northeast of Moscow.
Meanwhile Sweden, still in the Nato waiting room following opposition from Turkey and Hungary, has insisted it has met “all commitments” it made to join the alliance.
Responding to demands from Ankara, new Swedish legislation will come into effect this week criminalising anyone who supports – directly or indirectly – terrorist organisations.
“It is time for Turkey and Hungary to begin the ratification of Sweden’s Nato memberhsip,” said Tobias Billström, the country’s foreign minister.
Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said he would visit Ankara “in the near future” to press re-elected president Recep Tayyip Erdogan to lift his block on Swedish accession.