"*" indicates required fields

Finnish and Georgian Policies and Practices Should Target Putin, not Migrants

Finnish and Georgian Policies and Practices Should Target Putin, not Migrants

share this

Both Finland and Georgia have struggled to process the significant increase in migration from Russia they have experienced since the beginning of the war in Ukraine. Consequently, Finnish lawmakers are considering a law that would block asylum seekers entering from Russia while Georgia has seen a significant increase in anti-Russian sentiment: both states have prioritized policies and practices aimed at migrants themselves. However, these responses target the wrong set of actors. Instead, both Finland and Georgia should be responding at a governmental level to solve their current issues surrounding migration from Russia. 


The proposed Finnish law does not tie any consequences to Russia’s actions and therefore fails to prevent further aggression. Between August and December of 2023, the Finnish border authority reported receiving 1,300 asylum seekers from Syria, Yemen, and Somalia amongst other countries, a stark contrast to the previous average of one per day. Finland accuses Russia of facilitating the increase in immigrants from third countries as an act of antagonistic weaponized migration, spurred by the war in Ukraine. Last December, Finland responded to this with what was to be a temporary closure of its Russian border. And though fewer than one hundred asylum seekers have arrived since December, Finland claimed that “thousands of third-country migrants” would be headed for its borders if given the opportunity.  

However, in considering shutting down its border, Finland has wrongly defined the problem with its current situation as one of immigration rather than one of curtailing further Russian aggression. Admittedly, last year’s increase in migration from Russia is something to take note of and respond to. However, by choosing to respond to this act of Russian aggression with only reactive measures, Helsinki is tacitly permitting Moscow to engage with more antagonistic tactics: closing the border is a reaction, not a punishment or deterrent and therefore provides Russia with no compelling reason to reduce its aggression. Moreover, this law would violate Finland’s international human rights commitments, targeting asylum seekers rather than the actor Finland claims it holds responsible for their arrival: the Russian government. Finding a proper response to Russia’s actions will be difficult, but the first step is recognizing that this law does not accomplish that goal.  


Considering Russia’s history of leveraging its diaspora against host countries, particularly when it views treatment of its diaspora as sub-par, Georgians should also consider re-evaluating their interactions with new Russian migrants. The 1993 Yeltsin Doctrine defined “the suppression of the rights, freedoms and legitimate interests of citizens of the Russian Federation in foreign states” as a risk to Russia. In essence, the doctrine allowed Russia to use the presence of a diaspora to justify meddling in the affairs of its near-abroad, a policy that Putin has only expanded. In his speech “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians,” Putin discusses the alleged mistreatment of Russians in Ukraine. He justifies his invasion of Ukraine by lamenting the perceived mistreatment of Russians in the country, claiming that Russians in Ukraine are forced to “deny their roots…” 

The significant increase in Georgia’s Russian population in conjunction with the way they have been received leaves Georgia vulnerable to interference. This is only compounded by Georgia’s territorial and political environment. Since the invasion of Ukraine, approximately 110,000 Russians moved to Georgia, of which 80,000 remain. Once in Georgia, Russian migrants registered 21,000 businesses in 18 months and drove up rent by nearly 130%, generating economic hardship for and serious anger from large portions of the Georgian public. Responses have included anti-Russian graffiti, threats against Russians in Georgia, and a general hostility toward Russians living in Georgia, all of which play into Putin’s hands by giving him the ability to claim mistreatment of Russians in Georgia. Russia also still occupies 20% of Georgia from its 2008 war, and Georgia’s new Russian-style “foreign agent” law received endorsement from the speaker of the Parliament on Monday. The law will require media, nongovernmental organizations, and NGOs receiving 20% or more of their budget from foreign sources to register as “pursuing the interests of a foreign power.” This law constitutes a serious threat to Georgia’s EU bid, preventing the country from stepping further out of Russia’s realm. Georgia is in a position of vulnerability to Russian interference, and Georgians’ antipathy to their new Russian neighbors has the potential to increase that vulnerability by inadvertently supporting Putin’s propagandistic rhetoric.  


Finland’s targeting of migrants coming from Russia fails to ward off future acts of antagonism while Georgians’ hostility toward Russian migrants has the potential to invite such acts, particularly considering Georgia’s occupied status and new foreign agent law. If either of these border states truly hopes to hinder Russian aggression, they will need to refocus their policies and practices on combating the Russian government rather than individuals migrating from Russia.