Finland unveiled on Friday a plan to increase security on its border with Russia, including a 200-kilometre (124-mile) fence, after the invasion of Ukraine sparked tensions along the border.
“In this situation, we have every reason to reconsider our arrangements,” Brigadier General Jari Tolppanen of the Finnish Border Guard agency told AFP.
Some 200 kilometers of the 1,300-kilometre border would be fenced at a cost of around 380 million euros ($394 million), the border agency said.
The fence will be over three meters tall with barbed wire at the top.
Particularly sensitive areas will be equipped with night vision cameras, lights and loudspeakers, project manager Ismo Kurki explained during a press conference.
The construction is scheduled to go ahead in three phases.
First, a pilot fence three kilometers long will be built at the Imatra border crossing in March 2023.
Based on that experience, the second phase will see the construction of a further 70 kilometers of fence in areas near border crossings, starting in late 2023.
The government has already earmarked in its budget six million euros for the pilot scheme and 139 million for the second phase.
A final phase is planned for completion in 2025 or 2026, Tolppanen said.
“It is one of the biggest projects ever undertaken by the Border Guard,” he told reporters.
Fearing that Moscow could use migrants to exert political pressure on Helsinki, NATO candidate Finland in July passed new amendments to its Border Guard Act to facilitate the erection of sturdier fences.
Although the Finland-Russia border has “worked well” in the past, Tolppanen noted that the war in Ukraine had changed the security situation “fundamentally”.
The amendments make it possible to close border crossings and concentrate asylum seekers at specific points, in the event of large-scale attempts to enter Finland.
It means that “in an extreme situation” the Border Guard will be “tasked with preventing entry to Finland”.
“This is a new task for the Border Guard,” Tolppanen remarked.
He said the border fence was “indispensable” to stop large-scale illegal entries from Russian territory.
At present, Finland’s borders are secured primarily by light wooden fences, mainly designed to stop livestock from wandering to the wrong side.
Estonia, Latvia and Poland have also increased security on their borders with Russia or are planning to do so.
Finland saw an influx of Russians in September after President Vladimir Putin’s ordered the mobilization of reservists to fight in Ukraine.
Helsinki then clamped down and severely restricted entry to Russian citizens.