European Union official von der Leyen visits the Finland-Russia border to assess security situation

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — The head of the European Union's executive branch said Friday that Finland's decision to close its border crossings with Russia over a surge in migrants is a security matter for the whole 27-member bloc to consider.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen made the remarks during a trip to the frontier, visiting a part of the border located in southeastern Finland.

“We all know how (Russian President Vladimir) Putin and his allies instrumentalize migrants to test our defenses and to try to destabilize us,” von der Leyen told officials. “Now Putin is focusing on Finland, and this is no doubt in response to your firm support of Ukraine and your accession to NATO.”

On April 4, Finland decided to extend the closure of its border crossing points with Russia “until further notice” because of what the government says is a high risk of organized migration being orchestrated by Moscow. Finland's government has closed eight of its nine checkpoints with Russia. The only one that remains open is dedicated to rail travel only, and cargo trains mainly run through it.

Finland shares a 1,340-kilometer (832-mile) land border with Russia, running mostly through thick forests in the south, and to the rugged landscape in the Arctic north.

“This is not just about the security of Finland, but it is about the security of the European Union. We are in this together,” von der Leyen said after visiting the border in Lappeenranta with Finnish Prime Minister Petteri Orpo. "We should be more Finnish when it comes to security.”

Von der Leyen and Orpo flew in a Finnish helicopter over the landscape of forests and towns on the border.

In a statement issued after the visit, Orpo said that “the spring’s warmer weather increases the risk of Russia helping people illegally try to get to Finland via the land border … outside the border crossing points.”

Von der Leyen is campaigning as a member of the conservative European People’s Party bloc for a second term in office as head of the EU’s powerful executive branch. Security is a top EPP theme ahead of the June 6-9 European Parliament elections.

Most of the migrants hail from the Middle East and Africa. The vast majority of them have sought asylum in Finland, a member of the EU and NATO with a population of 5.6 million.

Finland joined NATO in April 2023, ending decades of neutrality after the country's defeat by the Soviet Union in World War II. In March, Sweden also became a member of the trans-Atlantic alliance. The move dealt a major blow to Putin, with a historic realignment of Europe’s post-Cold War security landscape triggered by Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

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This story has been corrected to say that Ursula von der Leyen visited the southeastern part of the border, not the Arctic portion.

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Lorne Cook in Brussels contributed to this report.