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Finland shuts border to Russian tourists after spike in arrivals following Putin's reservist call-up

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By Euronews  with AP
Buses and cars queue to cross the border from Russia to Finland at the Vaalimaa border check point in Virolahti, 23 September 2022
Buses and cars queue to cross the border from Russia to Finland at the Vaalimaa border check point in Virolahti, 23 September 2022   -   Copyright  Sasu Makinen/Lehtikuva via AP   -  

Finland says it will ban Russian citizens travelling with tourist visas from entering the Nordic country, effective from Friday.

“The decision in principle aims to completely prevent Russian tourism to Finland and the related transit through Finland,” Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said at a news conference on Thursday.

The government justified its decision by saying that the continued arrival of Russian tourists in Finland is endangering the country’s international relations. It did not specify further.

The move by the government in Helsinki comes after an increasingly heated debate in the EU on whether Russian citizens should not be permitted to apply for visas or banned from entering the bloc altogether due to Moscow's ongoing aggression against Ukraine.

The mass exodus of Russian men — alone or with their families or friends — began on 21 September, shortly after Russian President Vladimir Putin declared partial mobilisation in his address to the nation, and continued all this week. 

The Kremlin stated that partial mobilisation would only affect those in the military reserves or with previous contracts with the Russian forces and would be limited to 300,000 personnel. 

However, reports from Russia since Putin's decision claim that men are being drafted indiscriminately and that the total number of those mobilised could reach as many as 1.2 million.

Further reports and witness accounts on social media suggested that Moscow was particularly targeting the more remote and rural parts of the country, as well as minorities and those with dual citizenship -- such as Ukrainian refugees in the country -- exacerbating fears among the more vulnerable groups.

This led to hundreds of thousands of men of all ages seeking ways to leave the country in hopes of dodging the draft.

Early on, they snapped up airline tickets, which spiked in price on the few airlines still flying out of Russia. The rest opted to drive out of Russia, with long lines forming at the borders of Finland, but also Georgia, Mongolia and others.

As of 1 September, Finland slashed the number of visas — including for tourism purposes — issued to Russian citizens to one-tenth of the typical number, a move that was seen as a show of solidarity with Ukraine.