The debate in Norway over whether to close the border with Russia is developing “hour-to-hour,” according to one senior parliamentarian, as Kyiv’s Western partners seek to further isolate Moscow after President Vladimir Putin‘s mobilization decree and claimed annexation of occupied Ukrainian territory.
Ine Eriksen Søreide, the chair of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence in the Norwegian parliament, told the inaugural Helsinki Security Forum on Saturday that Oslo is tightening security at the Storskog border crossing, now one of the only routes for Russian entrants after Finland joined Poland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania in closing their borders to most Russian tourists.
“There have been restrictions, and we made some restrictions early on,” Søreide told the HSF.
“But there is now a day-to-day discussion, or I would say an hour-to-hour discussion, on closing the border also for those who are coming over right now.” Søreide noted that Russian authorities also appear to be trying to stop the outflow of people via the Norwegian crossing.
“As of yesterday, the government has increased surveillance and patrolling on the border. And also, of course, to look for something that I’ve been very concerned about, which is not only an influx of Russians who are fleeing the war or conscripts, but also the real risk of infiltration.”
“People could come over that do not have honest intentions of coming or fleeing anything, but just mixing in with other people,” Søreide said.
“We have also been asking the government to be especially vigilant on this, because we remember well what happened in 2015-2016, when Russia used…the influx of Syrian refugees to, in a way, overflow the border in the north.”
Then, thousands of migrants and refugees entered Norway via Russia using a legal loophole. New arrivals crossed on bicycles, navigating Russia’s rule preventing crossing on foot and Norway’s rule preventing drivers carrying people without documents.
Norwegian Justice Minister Emilie Enger Mehl said Friday Oslo could close the border suddenly. “We will close the border quickly if necessary, and changes can come at short notice,” she said, according to Reuters. “There have been few arrivals in Norway compared to Finland, and the situation is different here.”
Though arrivals have been fewer than at the Finnish and Estonian borders in particular, the Arctic Storskog crossing has seen a small uptick in Russian arrivals since Putin’s “partial” mobilization order on September 21. Hundreds of Russian men have crossed into Norway, despite reported FSB efforts to tighten controls at the crossing.
European Union nations are considering new measures to address the security challenges posed by the new Russian arrivals. EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said Friday that member states should conduct “a thorough security assessment” of any Russian applicants for short-term Schengen visas.
“It’s important not to mix up the right to apply for a tourist visa…with the right to apply for asylum, which is a fundamental right,” Johansson said. A tourist visa for the EU, she added, is a “privilege.”
Traffic has also built up at Russia’s border with Georgia, which straddles Western Asia and Eastern Europe, as thousands attempt to flee mobilization.
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