The bilateral relationship between Russia and Finland (once a neutral country) has worsened significantly since Finland’s membership in NATO without provocation, which Russia sees as a potential danger to its national security. Finland’s government has also permitted NATO to conduct surveillance flights against Russia within Finnish airspace, disrupting a peaceful border for many decades. The accession of the Nordic country doubles Russia’s border with the world’s largest security alliance. Finland even ratified Sweden’s NATO application as it joined the coalition. Now the Finns are upset because they believe Russia is portraying them as enemies.
Finnish President Sauli Niinistö stated on August 22 that an image of an enemy is being created of Finland in Russia. However, the Finnish ‘Grand Standing’, which marked the entire spring before joining NATO, has not worn away.
“The causes and consequences are turned upside down. The aggressor is being transformed into the victim. The threat and danger from Finland and the West,” Niinistö stated during his speech at the “Days of Ambassadors” event involving Finnish diplomats and leadership.
According to Finland’s President, creating an enemy image is directed at the internal Russian audience. He believes the Russian authorities aim to keep Russians from thinking that Finland and Sweden joined NATO because of Russia’s activities. The Finnish leader said Russian attempts at hybrid influence and cyberattacks had grown common. Niinistö emphasised that it’s important not to succumb to Russia’s provocations.
Previously, Niinistö warned that Russia’s propaganda against Finland is becoming increasingly intense. According to Elina Valtanen, Finland’s Foreign Minister, Russia has shattered bilateral relations, and there are no longer any political-level relations.
Russia has levelled allegations against the Finnish Security Intelligence Service (SUPO), stating that it spied on Russian diplomats stationed in Helsinki. In pieces published by Russian official media, it was stated, among other things, that Supo spied on the staff of the Russian embassy and the Russian commercial representation in Helsinki by using the personnel of various service companies. Russia’s former President, Dmitry Medvedev, has also ridiculed Finland’s choice to join NATO. Pictures of two men who most likely embody a Russian caricature of Finns were shared by Medvedev across his various social media platforms. Both men are huge and have beards; one is found in the woods, and the other is found in a house.
The relationship between Finland and Russia had changed substantially since 2014, when Russia occupied the Crimean Peninsula. Despite the tensions and sanctions over Crimea, there was economic cooperation between the countries at the time, with Russian and Finnish companies operating in both countries. There was a great deal of cooperation due to economic benefits. All of this ended, however, when Finland joined NATO without any direct or indirect provocation from Russia. Finland’s ‘rear view’ (as Soviet Union once invaded it) driven decision signalled a significant shift in the situation in Northern Europe, which had traditionally been one of the world’s most stable regions.
In April, President Vladimir Putin authorised the seizure of the Russian assets of the Finnish energy company Fortum. Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for the Kremlin, stated that NATO expansion comprises an attack on Russia’s security and national interests. According to Peskov, Finland’s membership in NATO “forces Russia to adopt both tactical and strategic countermeasures.” Russia blocked the bank accounts of all Finnish representations in Russia during May. Russia announced the suspension of its embassy in Finland and general consulate in Lappeenranta in late May. The Petrozavodsk and Murmansk branches of the Finnish Consulate General in St. Petersburg were terminated. In May, Russia also announced the termination of a military assessment agreement with Finland. The agreement stipulated one annual Russian assessment visit to Finland and one annual Finnish assessment visit to the Leningrad Military District in Russia. In August, Russia’s Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu stated that Finland’s membership in NATO is a “significant destabilising factor.”
As a reminder, Finland’s protection by NATO members was ensured by the UK Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF), an expeditionary force led by the United Kingdom and composed of Denmark, Finland, Estonia, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Norway before Finland even became a member of NATO.
It is worth remembering the Finnish rhetoric that they were prepared for heightened hostilities in all spheres before it applied for NATO membership. Finland wanted to send a statement to Russia by joining NATO. Now the chest-thumping with grandstanding has given way to disbelief and grandstanding, as seen in the Finnish President’s statement.
The Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee MP Tytti Tuppurainen (sd) admitted in July that relations with Russia are currently at rock bottom. “We have never hoped for this, but Russia has caused the situation by its own actions and is constantly taking relations even deeper into a dead end. Finland responds to Russia’s actions first and foremost as part of the European Union, together with our partners and allies,” (rough translation from Finnish) Tuppurainen was quoted in the local media.
At the same time, it would appear that Russia does not have a clear, distinct, and long-term plan specifically focused on Finland, separate and independent from the plan aimed at the rest of Europe. Russia’s aspirations for Finland are likely defined within the context of the European Union and NATO, and this will likely remain the case in the decades to come. The situation is made worse because Russia has not been deterred from pursuing its goals in the region by Finland’s grandstanding and its membership in NATO.
Finland was quiet and unimportant in the world’s affairs, and that is how it is today; the only difference is that it now has borders with a massive unfriendly neighbour.