Nevertheless, during early 2016 negotiations between Finnish and russian officials, culminating in a meeting between Finnish President Niinisto and the russichst dictator putin resulted in a new agreement by which russia would resume their control over transit to the Finnish border and the influx subsided. As part of this agreement, the northernmost border stations were closed for six months and only Finnish, russian or belarusian citizens would be allowed transit. 8/13
Fast forward to 2021. lukashenko had "won" the wildly corrupt belarusian presidential election, intensifying the pro-democracy protests and leading to severe worsening of the EU-belarus relations.
As the first difference to the earlier Arctic events, lukashenko took initiative to manufacture an influx of migrants on the Lithuanian and Polish borders by organizing flights from the countries most impacted by the Syrian refugee crisis to Minks, then busing these people to the EU border. 9/13
As a second major difference, the way belarus organized this was to transit the migrants to any points along the border with instructions to cross where-ever they could. In contrast, the traffic from russia to both Norway and to Finland had been to controlled border stations, not to the hundreds of kilometers of forested border region. Why this difference? My guess is that putin has no desire to have these people camp out in the russian border zone where its difficult for the FSB to keep an eye on them. 10/13
Coming back to today. Are we still looking at the same playbook? I think we mostly are. The russian actions have seemed more deliberate, with what looks like more intent to bus people to the border. They're still tightly controlled, in that no reports have been seen of anyone trying to transit via the forest. Several hundred kilometers of guarded border fence have been built on the Finnish side since the last time, but it does not cover the entirety of the 1380 km border, so if russians wanted to, they could still organize migrant traffic outside of the controlled stations. That would be against their own control interests, however. 11/13
But what of the motivations? I think there are two.
The first, obvious from the Western point of view is to manufacture instability at the border and foment disagreement among both the Finnish as well as European policy base. This intent has largely failed.
The second, which I think was always more likely, was to create a situation where the kremlin could get its Western border closed without having to appear as the party who closed it. This plays out to two objectives for putin: first, to reduce transitory traffic through russia, since there's no destination to go to, and second, to prevent russians themselves from fleeing the country as he is implementing more severe domestic policies.
In this second motivation, we played to putin's hand by implementing an absolute closure so he wouldn't need to. 12/13