Estonia has accused Russia of weaponising immigration on Europe’s eastern borders amid a rise in the number of asylum seekers trying to enter its territory and Finland.
Speaking during a meeting in Stockholm of Nordic and Baltic defence ministers, Hanno Pevkur, Estonia’s defence minister, claimed the hundreds of people who had arrived at the borders of the two countries in recent weeks were a “fully state-orchestrated” operation by Moscow.
Latvia’s defence minister, Andris Sprūds, went a step further, blaming the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, who he described as the “puppet master”.
Since the beginning of November about 800 refugees and migrants have entered Finland, according to the Finnish border guard, prompting authorities to close all but one border crossing and accept support from the European border guard agency Frontex. Estonia accused Moscow of mounting “a hybrid attack operation” on Europe’s eastern border on Wednesday after 75 people attempted to enter the country in the space of a few days, a significant increase on the usual numbers.
At a press conference in a grand room at Karlberg Palace in the Swedish capital, Pevkur said: “Regarding the migrant flow, this is fully state-orchestrated. In Russia there is a border zone you cannot enter without permission from the FSB. So by accident, all these hundreds of migrants have ended up in one border crossing point in Finland with bicycles during the winter? Come on, seriously.”
He added: “They are coming from Yemen, they are coming from Syria, they are coming from Somalia, and at the end of the day they end up somewhere in the high north at the border crossing point with Finland … This is not very plausible.”
Praising Finland’s reaction, Pevkur said countries should “act as the situation evolves”. He claimed: “These are not asylum seekers; this is weaponised illegal immigration.”
However, refugee advocates have warned that closing borders will lead to asylum seekers being forced to take more dangerous and deadly routes to seek sanctuary.
Sprūds said “there [was] no doubt about who is behind” the arrival of asylum seekers on Finish and Estonian borders. “Clearly there is one architect … puppet master, it’s Mr Putin,” he said.
As well as coinciding with an increase in border tensions, the meeting of defence ministers on Wednesday took place amid rising impatience in Sweden over its continued wait to become a Nato member.
Turkey on Wednesday reportedly informed Nato that it would not be ready to ratify Sweden’s membership in time for the alliance’s meeting of foreign ministers next week. The Turkish parliament’s foreign affairs commission last week delayed a vote on the subject and Hungary, which is the other remaining Nato country left to ratify Sweden’s bid, said it was not yet ready to do so.
“From our perspective we are respectful of that [Turkey’s] process, but at the same time we have a sense of urgency with joining the alliance as quickly as possible,” said Pål Jonson, the Swedish defence minister.
“‘As soon as possible’ was also the wording that was used in the Vilnius agreement, because it’s important for the Nordic-Baltic cooperation that Sweden can become a fully fledged member of the alliance.”
Sweden, he said, could increase Nato’s depth and strength, adding: “We are hoping it is going to happen very soon.”
Norway’s defence minister, Bjørn Arild Gram, added his support. “Swedish membership of Nato is certainly long overdue,” he said. “I choose to be optimistic and I can see this happening in the relative near future. It certainly should happen as soon as possible.”
Other subjects discussed at the summit included continued military support for Ukraine and defence of critical offshore infrastructure.
Estonia called for greater power to board vessels in international waters and Norway said cooperation with the private sector was critical after the suspected sabotage of the Nord Stream and Balticconnector pipelines.
Gram said: “In the North Sea alone there is 9,000km of gas pipelines, in addition there is energy cables and communication cables and we have this infrastructure all over the seabed.
“So we see that this is a vulnerability when it comes to energy, of course, and the gas supply to Europe has been reduced significantly.”
He added: “Companies, the industry themselves, are very important actors here. They know their infrastructure best and much of this is privately owned or managed.”
Source : The Guardian