Monday, April 11, 2016

The Mischief Conspiracy

"Unfortunately, this looks like a political demonstration by Russia. They are very skillful at sending signals. They want to show that Finland should be very careful when it makes its own decisions on things like military exercises, our partnership with NATO and European Union sanctions".
Ilkka Kanerva, former foreign minister, current chairman, parliamentary Defense Committee, Finland

"He [Moscow facilitator] asked me where I wanted to go and said: 'No problem. We will get you to Finland. Everybody is going there now."
Sayid Mussa Khan, Afghan refugee

"They are all in the same clique: the officials, the hotel people, the drivers. This is their business."
"This is all an ugly game."
Honore Basubte, West African migrant, Kandalaksha, Russia

"We don't know what is going on. They suddenly stopped coming. That is all we know."
Matti Daavittila, head, Salla border post, Finland
Asylum seekers Rahmatullah, left, and Nazirulhag, center, from Afghanistan and Fida Hussain from Pakistan wait on the Russian side of the border on Jan. 23, 2016

A flood of decrepit Soviet-built vehicles, emerging from Kandalaksha, a Russian town bordering Finland, have been confiscated by border officials when they cross the frontier, their occupants declaring themselves to be refugees seeking European haven. They have entered Russia, taking the Arctic route, but with no intention of remaining in Russia, and nor is Moscow the least bit interested in seeing them stay; the refugee problem is that of the European Union, not the Kremlin.

But while issuing deportation orders with alacrity, with equal efficiency, Russian facilitators are skilled at helping these haven seekers and  refugees find their way into Norway and Finland. The flow, though notable for the region, is minuscule in comparison to those who take the Turkey-to-Greece route. But they have caused a good deal of anxiety in their arrivals and Helsinki, Finland has taken due note.

A suspicion has arisen that Russia's facilitation of these refugees, helping to usher them into Europe is done for a purpose, to further exacerbate the migrant crisis alarming Europe. It is thought to be a measure of payback for Europe's choice to impose economic sanctions against Moscow resulting from its Ukraine military/secession/Crimea-acquisition adventure.

The possibility that Moscow's purpose is the belief it could help break European unity or help it extract greater concessions are all under consideration.

None of this could be occurring without the concurrence and likely active participation of Russia's Federal Security Service which succeeded the K.G.B. It and it alone sees to the opening or closing of roadways in the militarized border region. Almost 800 asylum seeker took the crossing from Russia into Finland near Salla in the Finnish region of Lapland this year. There were none last year.

As an example, 31-year-old Afghan Sayid Mussa Khan arrived in Finland on February 28. Since then the flow has subsided. With his family and other refugees, Mr. Khan left Kandlaksha in a group of elderly decrepit cars with Russian guides enabling them to pass three checkpoints to the Finish border for which he paid $6,000 to a Moscow facilitator.

The Arctic route opened last summer when thousands of migrants on bicycles flowed across the previously controlled northern border from Russia into Norway. Norwegian officials responded by travelling to Moscow for diplomatic discussions on stemming the flow, and it ended abruptly. The route shifted south to Russia's border with Finland where travellers entering Finland at two border crossings without visas were no longer stopped by Russian guards.

Migrants from African countries in a hostel in Kandalaksha, waiting to cross into Finland. The flow of refugees and migrants on the Arctic route has added a hefty dose of geopolitical anxiety. Credit Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times
Finland reacted by banning cycle traffic across its 1,300-kilometer-length border with its neighbour. The market for old bicycles in the far north of Russia suddenly dried up, but since Finland permitted cars to cross, old Russian rustbuckets represented the replacement market. According to Jorma Vuorio, Finish director general of its migration department there "was no proof, just speculation" of Russian state involvement in the situation.

Back in Kandalaksha, the Russian border town, migrants from West and Central Africa described having paid thousands of dollars to "guides" promising to get them to Finland. Guides, they knew, who worked closely with Russian officials.

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