Poking up through the snow drifts on the Finnish-Russian border lies a symbol of Moscow’s biggest provocation yet toward NATO’s newest member: a sprawling heap of broken bicycles.

The battered bikes are sold for hundreds of dollars on the Russian side to asylum seekers from as far away as Syria and Somalia. They are then encouraged — sometimes forced, according to Finnish guards — to cross the border. Finns say it is a hybrid warfare campaign against their country, using some of the world’s most desperate people, just as it is staking out a new position in a shifting world order.

“Some of the bikes didn’t even have pedals — sometimes they’d link arms, to help each other keep moving,” said Ville Kuusisto, a Finnish border guard master sergeant, at the crossing near the Russian town of Vyborg.

As Finns vote on Sunday for a new president, who will be responsible for foreign policy and act as commander in chief, Finland has become fixated on its 830-mile border, the longest with Russia of any NATO country. How Finns handle the challenges there is critical not only for them, but also for their new allies on both sides of the Atlantic.

The presidential election, now in its second and final round, is the first since Finland officially joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization last year after decades of nonalignment, looking to bolster its own security after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.


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