Staunton, November 30 – Seventy-seven years ago, Soviet forces invaded Finland, forcing Helsinki to give up part of its territory and to adopt the policy of not offending Moscow known as “Finlandization.” But thanks to the heroism of the Finnish army and people, Finland remained an independent country rather than becoming the Soviet republic Stalin had planned.
Now, given Russian aggression in Ukraine, Finns are simultaneously trying to avoid provoking Vladimir Putin while building up their own national defenses, expanding ties with the West, and considering NATO membership, according to Kyiv commentator Anatoly Shara (apostrophe.ua/article/world/europe/2016-11-30/nacheku-finlyandiya-opasaetsya-povtoreniya-ukrainskogo-stsenariya/8589).
For Finns, the Winter War remains the defining event of their national life in the 20th century, a continuing reminder of the threat Russia poses to their country, of the need for caution in dealing with Moscow, and of the ways in which they were able by dint of hard fighting to prevent Stalin from annexing it to the Soviet Union.
Having experienced Soviet aggression, the Finns “from the very beginning” have supported Ukraine in the face of Putin’s aggression against it, Shara says. Already on March 1, 2014, the Finnish foreign minister was “one of the first” to sharply denounce Moscow’s Anschluss of Ukraine’s Crimea.
Helsinki has supported sanctions against Moscow and called for the imposition of even harsher measures to force Russia to pull back from its aggression. On September 21, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto at the UN General Assembly reaffirmed Helsiniki’s support for Ukraine and its condemnation of Russia for its aggression.
Finnish foreign policy experts, Shara says, “consider that the events in Ukraine are only the beginning” of a much broader Russian campaign to recover its status as a super power. Kristi Raik of the Finnish Institute of International Affairs says that Moscow will do everything it can to split the West because the West is “the chief obstacle” to Putin’s ambitions.
Finns understand that “in the case of aggression,” their country can count only on its own resources; and since Moscow’s Anschluss of Ukraine’s Crimea, they have increased their military readiness by staging constant exercises and increased cooperation with West, even allowing NATO for the first time to conduct maneuvers on Finnish territory.
Moscow has been infuriated by that and has taken its base near Alkurtturi out of mothballs and begun the reconstitution of a mechanized brigade as well as seeking to use the energy weapon more frequently against the Finns. That has led to a dramatic cooling in bilateral relations as shown when Finns protested against Russia’s policies during Putin’s June visit.
Moscow has been especially angry about indications that an increasing number of Finns favor joining NATO, although polls suggest that the majority of them favor avoiding that step lest it by itself provoke Russia into military action and back instead improving their own national defenses. And most believe they could join only if Sweden does at the same time.
Finnish experts for their part are “certain,” Shara continues, that were Finnland to seek to join NATO, Moscow would “sooner or later” repeat “a Ukrainian scenario” there. Earlier this month, officials noted that Moscow is already taking steps in that direction by having Russians buy property in eastern Finland (apostrophe.ua/news/world/2016-11-01/v-es-zametili-podozritelnyie-voennyie-deystviya-lyudey-putina/75844).
Raik says that Finland seeks to maintain a dialogue with Moscow even as it retains its tough position of condemning Russian actions in Ukraine. How long it can do that, of course, depends not only on the resolve of the Finns but on changes in Europe as a whole where Russian “hybrid methods” are being deployed across the board.