Hybrid Winter War. Migrants on the Russian-Finnish border

A journalists's article has caused problems for opinion-shaping circles who try to make political capital by standing up for the rights of various persecuted groups. Small wonder then that the columnist's arguments are being invalidated.

Finland faces a hybrid migratory attack from Russia. It is a vivid reminder of what has been happening on the borders of Belarus with Poland, Lithuania and Latvia since 2021, even though for the time being the scale of events seems much smaller.

It's not surprising that the Russians are using the same methods as Belarusians. While the Belarusian and Russian regimes may not be 100 per cent identical, they do have one thing in common -- a shared confrontation with the so-called collective West.

It was to be expected that Finland's accession to NATO would trigger hostile reactions from Russia. The invasion of Ukraine by Russian troops in 2022 prompted Finnish politicians to rise above party divisions and look to the security of their country.

This historical, precedent-setting decision to join the world's largest military alliance, brings to an end the era of Finland's neutrality that dates back to the outcome of World War II. Needless to say, the Kremlin didn't like the decision very much.

In November this year, Finns began to notice an increased inflow of exotic arrivals from Russia. The incomers were not citizens of the Russian Federation. Rather it is citizens of other countries (Asian or African) who are seeking asylum in Finland. Significantly, many reach Finland on bicycles, a transport mode that has become popular since Finland banned the entry of passenger cars with Russian registration plates back in September 2023. Crossing the border on foot had been prohibited previously.

Just a few days ago -- on Tuesday, November 28 -- the Finnish government decided to more or less close down all border crossings with Russia, determining that for the next two weeks at least goods only would be given transport access. Finland's Prime Minister Petteri Orpo blamed the Russian authorities for the migration crisis at the border, accusing Moscow of conducting a "pressure operation". Inevitably, the Kremlin's official statements reject all such allegations and accuse the Finnish authorities of deliberately spoiling relations with Russia.

It is noteworthy that the subject of closing the Finnish-Russian border had already made an appearance in Russian pop culture, and not in a discernably anti-Western fashion. Before the Russians initiated the current hybrid migration attack on Finland, the idea of a border closure featured in the plot of the Russian TV series "Towards the Lake" (original Russian title "Epidemija").

The first season when broadcast on Netflix was met with positive reviews (for example, Steven King, the American master of fantasy and horror, loved it). However, the second season series could no longer count on global acclaim, probably because its scheduled broadcast date came after February 24, 2022. Large streaming platforms (Netflix among them) began to boycott Russian productions as a gesture of solidarity with Ukraine following the invasion by Russian troops on that date.
Małgorzata Tomczak wrote in "Gazeta Wyborcza" about lies and manipulations regarding the dramatic events on the Polish-Belarusian border. Photo: "Gazeta Wyborcza"/ printscreen
"Towards the Lake" is a catastrophy story about an epidemic caused when an unknown, deadly lung disease breaks out in Russia. Faced with this threat, a group of people -- residents of Moscow and the surrounding area – set off north, towards Karelia, looking for a place of safety.

Work on the first season of the series began in 2018, before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, "Towards the Lake" can be interpreted as a plague prophecy. In the second season of the series, Finland separates itself from Russia with barbed wire and mines a strip of land along its borders to prevent refugees from the neighboring country from entering. However, in "Towards the Lake" these are not migrants from Asia and Africa sent by the Kremlin, but Russians seeking shelter from the epidemic and other disasters. The issue of European Union countries accepting refugees emerges as one of the themes of the series.

  Reverting to the current situation -- Russia's action against Finland coincided with the storm of controversy that gripped Poland in the public debate over Małgorzata Tomczak's "Gazeta Wyborcza" article revealing that accounts of the dramatic events on the Polish-Belarusian border had been the subject of lies and manipulations. In her article, the author claims that activist circles she associated with (a group involved in helping migrants in Podlasie) had been seriously manipilating the actual facts for propaganda purposes against the right-wing Polish government.

One example involved the case of "little Eileen". As described in the article, she was "a four-year-old girl whose disappearance in the forest was reported to activists by her parents, who had been pushed back to Belarus." According to Tomczak: "All the media wrote about the case, the ombudsman intervened, and then the topic suddenly stopped. I returned to the posts and dozens of articles from those days: enormous outrage against the Polish services -- 'murderers' -- for their passivity and insufficient search for the child."

But what actually transpired? Well, "little Eileen" did not exist. She was the heroine of a legend spread by activists. Someone heard something about the four-year-old girl and circulated it to strengthen the message about "children dying at the border" and evil officers of the right-wing-ruled Polish state.

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Małgorzata Tomczak's account caused troubles for those opinion-shaping circles that try to make political capital by standing up for the rights of various persecuted groups. Small wonder that the columnist's arguments are being invalidated. Those speaking out included the former deputy ombudsman, Hanna Machińska -- a person potrayed as a moral authority by, among others, people discredited in Tomczak's text.

On social media you can hear comments that things are different in Finland than in Poland and that facing the Russian hybrid migration attack, the entire Finnish political class is speaking with one voice. This is partially true, but it it is also true that the government's tough course in the face of danger to the state has also come in for its share of criticism. Recently, Kristina Stenman, the Finnish Ombudsman for Equality (a position equivalent to that of the Ombudsman in Poland), declared that the closure of the Finnish-Russian border has created a serious obstacle when it comes to accessing the asylum procedure.

The fact that Finland also has its "galley slaves of sensitivity", who perhaps do not understand the seriousness of the situation, should not be any consolation for Poles. Kristina Stenman's instructions will not cause disputes that would significantly divide Finnish society politically.

Meanwhile, in Poland there are a whole legion of people who share the approach she presents. And they play a significant role in public life to the detriment of Polish interests.

– Filip Memches

TVP WEEKLY. Editorial team and jornalists

–Translated by Agnieszka Rakoczy
Main photo: Russia's border with Finland near the "Salla" crossing, bicycles abandoned by migrants. Photo: Ershov Artem / Russian Look / Forum
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