Wednesday, May 3, 2023

Some in Moscow Want to Cancel Saimaa Canal Accord Now that Finland has Joined NATO

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 1 – Now that Finland has joined NATO, some Russian politicians and commentators are calling for Moscow to cancel the 1963 agreement under the terms of which Finland has rented a canal passing through Russian territory between its lake system and the Gulf of Finland.

            The 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 want 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 has brought the issue to a head in the Russian capital, although Finnish officials say they do not 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 say that they believe calls to abrogate the bilateral accord are for the Russian domestic audience.

            The Finns are probably right in their assessment, but the temptation for Moscow to stage a power play on this issue may grow. If that happens, the Saimaa Canal, a waterway few outside of Finland and Russia have ever heard of, could become a flashpoint in the growing east-west conflict. 

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