Finland and the supposed Russian threat

Recently there has been a lot of speculation in the Finnish media about a possible Russian invasion of Finland and even of Sweden through Finnish territory. Many writers enthusiastically speculate about possible troop movements and counter-movements in a war situation The expression “war situation” is used as something normal, something to be expected at some stage of future history.

The commentaries usually have nothing to say about Russian motives for such behaviour or the consequences of occupying hostile nations. Nothing is said about the economic chaos that would result in Russia, Finland and Sweden.

There are, however, a few writers who have been trying to calm down the military enthusiasm shown by some arm-chair strategists.

Risto Volanen, a former high-ranking government official, has pointed out that the everyday welfare of the 90 million people living in the Baltic area depends completely on stable peace conditions. A military crisis would also be an economic crisis for the citizens of the area’s ten nations. At any moment of the day there are nearly 2000 ships in the Baltic Sea responsible for the area’s exports and imports – in Finland’s case that means almost 100 per cent.

About 40 per cent of Russian exports and the country’s oil exports are taken through the Baltic Sea. Thus the whole Russian economy is dependent on this traffic not being disturbed. Volanen asks who seriously believes that Vladimir Putin would tell Russian generals to shoot at their own feet by triggering a crisis in the Baltic area. This would collapse the Russian economy, especially in the St. Petersburg area.

Realism about Finnish-Russian relations has, however, been waning. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Finland started to turn more and more towards the West. Exaggerated tales of Finnish humiliation in the face of Russia during the Soviet years became a favourite theme for people who wanted Finland to join NATO.

Mysteriously, often without advance knowledge of the parliamentary defence committee or even the president of the republic, American fighter jets have recently been participating in Finnish war games near the Russian border. In this way one of the pillars of Finnish security policy has been allowed to almost collapse. This doctrine said that no foreign military forces would be allowed to use Finnish territory for their military offensives. This principle was re-established in the post-Soviet 1992 pact on Finnish-Russian relations.

Esko Seppänen, a left-wing politician, journalist and ex-MEP, has written forcefully against the trend to get ever nearer to NATO. Seppänen writes: “When NATO, that is the United States, surreptitiously approaches with its armed forces the Russian border, this has a dramatic effcct on Finland. Shall we really allow NATO to approach Russian borders also through Finland?”

Unlike in other ex-non-aligned countries like Sweden, Austria and Ireland the Western orientation has been smuggled into Finnish politics without any parliamentary debate. Finland joined the NATO peace alliance in 1995 by then-president Martti Ahtisaari’s decision. The next big step was taken in 2004 when Finland signed the host country pact. Already before that, though, Finland had let NATO know which Finnish airports and harbours Finland would allow NATO to use in case of “a need”.

All this has been going on while the majority of Finns has been against NATO membership. Seppänen observes that recently it has seemed that to circumvent this “problem” the question of membership has been pushed to the background. Instead it is easier to jump straight onto the US lap and organise military relations on this basis practically out of sight of the Finnish population.

Debate about Finnish security matters has recently become more difficult. Trying to analyse Finnish-Russian relations in a cool manner invites accusations of “putinism”. This is kind of funny since, for instance, in my own case, I dislike Putin and the Russian political, social and economic system. But American hysteria about the Russian threat is going down well in some Finnish circles.

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