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Finland enacts Russian car ban amid border crisis and war in Ukraine

Latvia will ban cars registered in Russia and Belarus
Russian number plate on a car. Illustrative photo: open sources
Finland enacts Russian car ban amid border crisis and war in Ukraine

On 16 March, Finland banned cars registered in Russia within its territory amid a migrant crisis orchestrated by the Kremlin and the ongoing war in Ukraine. According to the Finnish Customs Service, drivers who own vehicles with Russian registration plates and did not take out their cars from Finland until 15 March will face fines.

With the decision, Finland joined Poland, Norway, Bulgaria, and Lithuania, which also introduced such measures. On 11 March, the Lithuanian Customs Department confiscated the first car with Russian number plates at the Medininkai checkpoint on the Lithuanian-Belarusian border, Ukrainska Pravda informed. Another media outlet, Delfi, reported that Lithuania planned to transfer confiscated cars to Ukraine to help the country in its struggle against Russian invaders.

From EU sanctions to closed borders

The move follows the EU sanctions imposed against Russia in 2022, which banned vehicles registered in the aggressor country. Finland, a member of the bloc, has also implemented the measure and restricted Russian cars from entering its territory. The Finnish authorities introduced a transitional six-month period for vehicles already in the country, which ended in March 2024.

The Finnish Customs Service also said that drivers were expected to be aware that leaving Finland’s territory through the Finnish-Russian border was not possible, as border checkpoints remained closed until 14 April 2024.

“The authorities will not issue separate instructions on practical questions related to the removal of vehicles. Car owners themselves bear responsibility for decisions regarding their vehicles,” it said in a statement.

As reported, Finland has closed its borders with Russia due to the influx of migrants, primarily from the Middle East, who are attempting to cross the border and seek refuge in the country, which became a member of NATO in 2023. The Finnish officials said the Russian authorities are deliberately streaming migrants to Finland in an attempt to destabilize the country and the alliance. Border checkpoints were supposed to reopen on 15 January, but Finland decided to keep them closed.

As per the Institute Study of War, a US-based think tank, Russia’s apparent hybrid warfare tactic on the Russian-Finnish border is similar to Russia’s and Belarus’ creation of a migrant crisis on the Polish border in 2021.

In an interview with Kremlin’s propagandist Dmitry Kiselyov, Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed that he “does not understand” why Finland decided to become a NATO member after decades of neutrality and added that Russian weapon systems would be deployed to its border. The Kremlin has denied Finland’s accusations about Russia’s involvement in creating an artificial influx of migrants.

Also, in response to Finland’s decision to close its border with Russia, Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitri Peskov said that the country had chosen a path of confrontation, which he labeled a “big mistake.” Peskov also stated the move “causes nothing but deep regret” and claimed that Finland’s “Russophobic” position has harmed Finnish-Russian relations of the past.

New restrictions 

The Finnish authorities have explained that if a Russian vehicle is identified on the country’s roads, the State Customs Service will seize it and assess fines for the driver, which may include customs duties and value-added tax, or consider its removal from EU territory. The agency also states that it will cooperate with the State Tax Service if additional fines are applicable to individuals who break the law.

The Finnish Customs Service notes that even after the completion of the transitional period, certain vehicles registered in Russia may remain in the country as an exception if they have legal grounds for such actions.

The recent regulations state that starting from 16 March, drivers of vehicles with Russian plates must confirm their authorization to operate in Finland upon request and have specific approval documentation.

Exceptions have been made for students engaged in full-time education programs and individuals working in Finland under a fixed-term employment contract.

After the termination of the transitional period, they are allowed to continue using their vehicles, registered in Russia, which were legally brought into Finland before the import ban came into effect.

Another exception is vehicles with Russian license plates, which, based on the EU sanction resolution, are still allowed to temporarily enter Finland’s territory and thus remain in the country legally.

Where does Finland stand now in supporting Ukraine?

Finland has been a long-term supporter of Ukraine, spending more than 0.6 percent of its GDP on Ukraine. This year, Finland’s Defense Minister claimed the country had not restricted Ukraine’s use of weapons it supplied to hit targets inside Russia. Finland has not publicly disclosed the specific weapons it has provided to Ukraine, but Finnish Sisu XA-180 armored personnel carriers were spotted on the frontlines in Ukraine.

Recently, Finnish Foreign Minister Elina Valtonen said Western countries, including the US, shouldn’t be entirely opposed to the idea of sending troops to Ukraine if conditions there worsen. Her statement followed French President Emmanuel Macron’s claims that he did not rule out sending French troops to Ukraine.

On 19 March, prior to the EU Foreign Affairs Council meeting in Brussels, Valtonen emphasized that the ongoing war initiated by Russia against Ukraine must not be frozen. Furthermore, she warned that any attempts to appease the aggressor would only become a trigger for the Kremlin, leading to the expansion of the war beyond Ukraine, according to UkrInform.

“It is crucial for us to understand: when it comes to the war in Ukraine, there is no possibility of any appeasement (of Russia), no possibility to freeze this conflict. If we attempt to freeze it, we will return to the situation that existed several years ago.

Russia has been waging this war against Ukraine for over ten years since the illegal annexation of Crimea. If we do not stop Russia’s aggression now, it will not stop,” claimed Valtonen.

She noted that Finland welcomes the upcoming decision to increase the European Peace Fund to enhance support for Ukraine. Finland also backs the development of a further sanction package against Russia, which will assist the EU in imposing new measures against the aggressor country and allow more effective counteraction against attempts to circumvent them.

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