Russia ‘trying to recruit asylum seekers as spies to send into Finland’

Two asylum seekers are escorted by police as they arrive at a border station in Finland
Two asylum seekers are escorted by police as they arrive at a border station in Finland - JANNE KURONEN/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Russia is attempting to recruit asylum seekers as spies and send them into Finland under the guise of being refugees, Helsinki’s intelligence services have warned.

More than 1,000 people have arrived in Finland over its eastern border with Russia in recent months.

The Finnish Security Intelligence Service (Supo) accused Moscow of targeting some of those asylum seekers in a bid to turn them towards espionage.

“You can try to get a person to co-operate by different means, such as by pressuring them or tying the co-operation requirement to the conditions for leaving the country, or by promising, for example, financial benefits,” Supo said.

The agency told national broadcaster Yle it would not comment further because of ongoing secret operations.

But Supo added it was not a large-scale operation among those fleeing Vladimir Putin’s Russia for Finland.

Some 1,300 non-EU nationals, mainly from Syria, Somalia, Yemen and Iraq, have crossed the frontier since August.

Supo is involved in vetting the new arrivals in case any pose a threat to national security.

Relations between Helsinki and Moscow soured after Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.

Finland ended decades of non-alignment to join Nato after the war began, which led Russia to warn of “countermeasures”.

Last year, Finnish ministers accused Russia of seeking to destabilise their country by weaponising migrants seeking to cross the 830-mile border between the two nations.

The Finnish border guard said in October that Moscow had allowed increasing numbers of migrants to reach its frontier without proper paperwork.

‘Hybrid war’

The tactic echoes one used by Putin’s close ally, Alexander Lukashenko, in 2021 and forms part of what Nordic countries have said is a hybrid war that Russia is waging against the EU and Nato.

The Belarusian president pushed tens of thousands of migrants towards the border with Poland in retaliation for sanctions.

In November, Finland closed its border with Russia for two weeks and made the same move again a month later in response to rising illegal immigration.

Earlier this month, Norway’s PST police intelligence service said some hostile countries were trying to recruit migrants entering Europe as spies.

Atle Tangen, head of PST counterintelligence, did not specifically accuse the Kremlin of recruiting people, but he did reference a 2015 influx into Norway via Russia.

“These were not intelligence agents in the traditional sense, but people who had been tricked or threatened by intelligence organisations into carrying out missions for them,” he said on a podcast run by the PST.

Norway shares a 120-mile border with Russia in the Arctic. In 2015, during a surge of refugees from Syria to Europe, the Scandinavian country took in thousands who entered from Russia.

Most crossed the border with bicycles given to them by Russian officials.