Number of Russians crossing border has ‘intensified’ after Putin’s mobilisation order, Finland says

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The number of Russians crossing the Finnish border “intensified” overnight after Vladimir Putin’s dramatic announcement that Moscow would begin military mobilisation for the war in Ukraine, officials in Helskini said.

The Finnish border guard’s head of international affairs, Matti Pitkaniitty, told Reuters that 4,824 Russians arrived in Finland via the eastern border on Wednesday, up from 3,133 on the same day a week earlier.

On Wednesday there were reports of flights to countries including Turkey and Georgia selling out after the Russian leader spoke.

“Traffic at the Finnish-Russian border intensified during the night,” said Pitkaniitty. “The number clearly has picked up.”

On Thursday morning, traffic at the Vaalimaa border crossing - one of nine with Russia - stretched for some 400 metres.

Finland, which has the longest European Union border - 1,300 km (807 miles) - with Russia, opted to keep its frontier open although it has cut back the number of consular appointments available to Russian travellers seeking visas.

Finnish land crossings are among the few entry points into Europe for ordinary Russians after many Western countries shut borders and air space to planes in response to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

Defence Minister Antti Kaikkonen said Helsinki was closely monitoring the situation.

Finland is one of the European countries in the open borders Schengen Area. Foreign minister Pekka Haavisto said Helsinki was looking at getting numbers “under control”.

A selection of countries, highlighted in yellow, to which Russians can travel without a visa (Independent)
A selection of countries, highlighted in yellow, to which Russians can travel without a visa (Independent)

“Finland does not want to be a transit country for Schengen visas issued by other countries. This is the traffic we want to get under control.

““The fear is that we will be the only border country through which it is possible to come from Russia to Europe with Schengen visas issued by other countries.”

Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, the other EU countries that border Russian territory, began turning away Russian citizens from crossings at midnight on Monday, saying they should not travel while their country is at war with Ukraine.

The three Baltic nations will offer no refuge to any Russians fleeing Moscow’s mobilisation of troops, their ministers said.

Putin announced the mobilisation of an expected 300,000 reservists to the Russian army on Wednesday following military setbacks for Moscow in Ukraine in recent weeks.

The news prompted many Russians to immediately leave the country and there were reports of people fleeing to destinations including Turkey and Georgia, where visas are not needed for entry, among others.

Despite sanctions preventing or complicating travel for Russians to many countries in the West, there are almost 90 countries where they can travel visa free.

Prices for air tickets out of Moscow soared above the equivalent of £3,000 for one-way journies to the nearest foreign locations, with most air tickets sold out completely for coming days.

Social media groups gave advice on how to get out of Russia while one news site giving a list of “where to run away right now from Russia.”

“War is horrible,” Sergei, a Russian man who declined to give his surname, told Reuters as he arrived in Belgrade, the Serbian capital. “It’s okay to be afraid of war and of death and such things.”

Another Russian, in Istanbul, One Russian man said he had left Russia partly due to the mobilisation.

Police officers detain a woman in Moscow during widespread protests against Vladimir Putin’s order for partial mobilisation (Alexander Nemenov/AFP via Getty Images)
Police officers detain a woman in Moscow during widespread protests against Vladimir Putin’s order for partial mobilisation (Alexander Nemenov/AFP via Getty Images)

“The partial mobilisation is one of the reasons why I am here,” he said. “A very poor step it seems to be, and it can lead to lots of problems to lots of Russians.”

However, the Kremlin said there was a lot of “false information” on people leaving Russia.

“The information about the hype at airports and so on is very much exaggerated,” said spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

“There is a lot of fake information about this. We need to be very careful about this so as not to become a victim of false information on this matter.”