Friday, April 19, 2024

Finland Restricts Movement of Russian Cruise Ships on Key Border Canal

Paul Goble

Staunton, Apr. 13 – In response to Moscow’s orchestration of the arrival at the Finnish border of refugees from Asia and Africa, Helsinki has not only closed border crossings with Russia indefinitely but expanded them by banning cruise ships from using the Saima Canal which passes along the southern border between the two countries as of April 15.

(On the introduction of this restriction, see, and

            This is the latest act in the drama which began after Finland joined NATO. At that time, some in Moscow called for the Russian Federation to cancel the 1963 bilateral agreement under the terms of which Finland has rented a canal passing through Russian territory between its lake system and the Gulf of Finland (

            That accord, the only case in which Russia has rented its territory to a foreign state, ran out in 2013 but was renewed for another 50 years at that time is subject to review and potential cancellation every ten years. This year is one of those times, and some wanted Moscow to punish Finland for joining NATO by taking that step (

            The canal has been operating in restricted fashion since Moscow began its expanded war in Ukraine, but it is now scheduled to reopen for regular shipping later this month. That brought the issue to a head in the Russian capital, although Finnish officials said at the time they didn’t expect Moscow to annul the accord.

            A major reason is that Finland, under the terms of the 1963 agreement, pays more than 1.2 million euros (1.5 million US dollars) every year, something Helsinki has done even while the canal appeared to have stopped working over the last two years. The Finns said then that they believe calls to abrogate the bilateral accord were intended for the Russian domestic audience.

            The Finns were likely right in their assessment, but Finland’s imposition of new controls on this waterway may now tempt Moscow to take the radical step of cancelling the accord. If that happens, the Saimaa Canal, a waterway few outside of Finland and Russia have heard of, could become a flashpoint in the growing east-west conflict. 


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