Sphere of Influence - Power Game of Finland for Survival on the Border of Europe from 1700 to 2014 - and Repercussions of the Ukraine Crisis for Finland and for Sweden
Dr. Alpo Rusi at Uppsala University on November 20, 2014
Since the outbreak of the crisis in Ukraine also the geopolitical situation of Finland and other border countries of Russia have been gaining attention in the international debate. Even the concept of ”Finlandisation” has been discussed this time in positive terms. Yet the history of Ukraine and Finland is different although not without some similarities.
In my new book (in English)Sphere of Influence - Power Game of Finland for Survival on the Border of Europe from 1700 to 2014, it was envisaged the main repercussions concerning geopolitical changes of Finland since 1700 until Today.
The structure of my study is based on 7 Chapters as follows:
From The Eastern Province of Sweden to a Buffer State of Russia 1700-1917
1) Finland Became a Victim of a Great Northern War 1700-1743
In 1700 the Battle of Narva changed decisively the geopolitical situation of Finland and the Eastern Province of Sweden,”Suomi”, as she started tilting towards the sphere of Influence of Russia and between 1700 and 1721 ”Finland ”was under the Russian Rule. A genocide took place in Finland,as Scholar of Russia, Dr. Kustaa J. Vilkuna states in his major work ”Viha” (Hatred). From that time on for ”Finland” the west (Sweden and ”Europe”) constituted a disappointment and the east (Russia) a permanent threat.
2) Finland became Part of the Northern System of Russia 1743-1808
Domestic crises in Sweden and the loss of confidence among the Finns concerning the ability and will of Stockholm to defend the Eastern Province at the end of the 18th century led to revolts among the military officers in Finland (The Anjala union). Russia or better to say Empress Catherine II annexed the Crimean peninsula from the Ottoman Empire that changed geopolitics. As you know, President Vladimir Putin argued in April 2014 for the need to annex Crimea that without Crimea Russia would be pushed out from the Black see area by Nato. Empress Catharine II envisaged Russia’s ”natural borders” that only the Soviet System has been comparable with the Imperium of Catharine II.
As a result of the weakness of Sweden and the imperialist policies of Russia and France, Alexander I and Napoleon agreed in Tilsit to trade Finland to Russia in 1807. It was the first Molotov-Ribbentrop Treaty.
3) The Period of Passivity under Autonomy from 1809 to 1855
The era of Autonomy as Grand duchy of Finland under the Imperial rule of Russia took place simultaneously with the series of setbacks and final collapse of the Russian Imperial Power. I have divided this period of our history into two stages. One that lasted until 1855 and very much labeled by frustrations, cultural identity problems and stagnation.
4) The Period of Emancipation until 1899 and the Period of Resistance against Russification up till 1917
The second stage of Autonomy lasted until 1899 and was characterized by national emancipation and economic development vis-a-vis the Russian Rule. Emperor Alexander II (1855-1881) was liberal in a sense like Mihail Gorbatshov in order to maintain the system by liberalizing and reforming the society. The heavy losses in The Crimean War 1853 against Turkey that was allied with France and Great Britain constituted one of the reasons for Alexander II’s reforms.
Finland kept her fingers off from the revolts in Poland in 1863 and started developing the realistic foreign policy line with respect to Russia. Later on Panslavism was developed as one of the means for Russia to contain the emerging threat of a unified Germany at the end of the Century. Perhaps the emergence of the Eurasian Union since 2011 has some similarities with this geopolitical development at the end of the 19th century?
This development had a negative impact on the autonomy of the Grand Duchy bordering St. Petersburg as Russia started taking harder line against Finland’s autonomous status by trying to integrate Finland to the Power structures of Russia with methods of Russification in Finland both active and passive resistance took place but also a line we could call an ”early Finlandisation” - giving up voluntarily rights and freedoms in order to survive as an autonomous entity under the Russian Rule.
The collapse of the European security system and Imperial Russia in 1917, facilitated Finland ’s independence, ”as a gift of God”, as our late President Paasikivi sarcastically stated.
The Civil War broke out in January 1918 as a result of a complex development but not with our the interference of the Bolshevik Movement led from Russia. Unfortunately the peace was done very stupidly by the Whites without mercy that damaged the reputation of a young independent state in the North of Europe for many years to come.
5) The period before the Outbreak of the Winter War 1918-1939 and the years under the Yoke of Two Dictatorships 1939-1944
In the 1920s and 1930s all efforts to create a collective security system or a Nordic defense guarantee for Finland failed and the Winter War broke out instead on November 30, 1939.The following 5 years Finland fought to avoid the sphere of influence of two most threatening dictatorships and managed to survive as a crippled but independent state.
Foreign Minister Richard Sandler was the only one in the Swedish Government who wanted his country to join the Winter War in December 1939. He had to resign and was replaced with Christian Günther.
It is well known that Josif Stalin wanted to create a communist Finland with a puppet regime the so called Kuusinen Government and was considering to occupy Finland rather easily. Poland had practically given up in September as well as the Baltic states a bit later although together these three countries had bigger armed forces as Finland.
I am not going to repeat the details related to the Winter War or the Continuation War. Yet President Boris Jeltsin stated in May 1994 that the Winter War was a Crime of Stalin against the people of Finland. I hope this position is still the official Russian view of Today. Without the Winter War Finland could have been able to stay like Sweden outside the WW II as Marshal Mannerheim has written in his memories.I agree.
6) The Cold War and an issue of Finlandisation 1945-1991
During the Cold War Finland belonged to the military sphere of influence of the Soviet Union but was economically in the West and politically between the East and the West. Not an easy situation but subject of jealousy of the Warsaw Pact states and suspicions of the SU and by the western countries accusations of ”finlandisierung”. Yet not always without foundations.
We debate in Finland whether the period of the Cold War was from the point of view of Finland a success story or a period of the ”Second Autonomy” based on the Treaty on Friendship and Co-Operation signed in 1948 between Finland and the Soviet Union. I personally think that it was a period of survival Game but not without damage done to our political system and to a certain extent to our economic system too.
7) The opening-up of Finland after the Cold War 1992-1999 and Finland influenced by the Rise of Putin’s Russia 1999-2014
After the Cold War Finland was free of her obligations with respect to the Russian military and security interests and integrated to the European structures. Militarily we benefitted a lot because the Treaty was eliminated and our freedom of maneuvering was improved. Finland joined the EU in 1995 and began co-operation with Nato in 1992.
Finland was able to facilitate the conditions for the enlargement of Nato by hosting the summit between President Jeltsin and President Bill Clinton in March 1997 and by facilitating the peace deal with President Slobodan Milosevic in 1999.
Yet during the Putin years, Finland has faced the historical challenge of geopolitics again. President Putin has stated that Russia does not accept the enlargement of Nato with countries like Ukraine, Georgia -or Finland and Sweden.
Finland may have lost her golden momentum during the years from 1999 to 2002 in this respect. The public debate about Nato turned negative with respect to membership and a kind of anti-Americanism emerged after the Kosovo War and Peace Process in Finland. No interest to analyze the new role of Nato or any possible prospect to join ensued. This may have been the biggest mistake by the Finns since the end of WW II concerning their security.
The author of this book proposed in a speech at Paasikivi Society in October 2000 as Professor of International Relations and as former deputy Coordinator of the Stability Pact of South-Eastern Europe in charge of the Security Table and contacts with the Yugoslav Opposition, that a serious debate on Nato and possible membership should have been launched in the autumn 2000. It would have helped to stabilize security in the North of Europe because the Putin Regime was still very co-operative during those times until 2003. The Baltic states joined in 2004 and after that and the revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia the Russian security policy started changing rapidly.
It is not insisted that our basic line,to keep strong national defense,membership in Nato and deep co-operation with Nato,would be a bad choice either. The argument is that the avoidance of a serious debate for 14 years ago was a mistake. One of the main findings of the book is related to this argument as a result of the historic analysis of Finland as a border country of Europe dating back to the year 1700.
What should be done? Did we wait too long until new Russia or the Russia-led Eurasian Union was discovered as a geopolitical threat?
Conclusions from the point of view of Finland and Sweden
Are Finland and Sweden sharing now for the first time since 1920s the similar kind of security policy situation and is the military co-operation between these two counties enough in spite memberships in the EU and deepening of co-operation with Nato?What is going on in Europe? Are we back in the late 1930s?
Russia may be Today as George F. Kennan argued in the late 1940s.He was of the opinion that does not matter whether we face the Soviet Union or Russia, she is anyway part of Eurasian Heritage that cannot be integrated but contained instead. This issue has been dealt with by Alexander Motyl in his recent article in Foreign Affairs but is also one of the arguments in my book. This argument is a major challenge for the EU and the US.
The EU is not a strategic actor and is obliged to find a political solution and Putin is fully aware of this ”weakness”. His un-linear power politics and the so called frozen conflicts cannot be easily contained only with diplomatic means.
Any durable peace solution for Ukraine is fragile without the solution of the Crimean Question that reminds me of the German Question that characterized the Cold War era.
The European Security system is going through a systemic crisis because of the annexation of Crimea by Russia earlier this year by force.Today the OSCE is close to collapse and become a system of two camps if still existing at all.
Economic sanctions are very hard methods of diplomacy but needed to send a message. Next stage of developments is the most decisive one. We are facing the second stage now. The Finnish-Swedish security co-operation is more needed than ever after the World War II. The history does not help too much because there has not been any security co-operation during the crisis times before.
Both Finland and Sweden are strengthening their military as a result of the geopolitical threat of Putin’s Russia although this won’t be easily said openly. Co-operation between these two countries outside Nato is needed but not easy to proceed without new state treaties or comparable legal framework for it.
For Finland the most negative development would be the isolation of Russia and the emergence of a new division of Europe. So far no serious steps have been taken to avoid this scenario to come true.
One of the experiences with respect to Russia is, as Keith Gessen recently observed, that everything can change rapidly in Russia. This may be the best hope we have in order to avoid any new division in Europe to happen.
"The more you understand the world, the higher your chance of shaping it".
Don't walk behind me; I may not lead. Don't walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.
Valtiotieteen tohtori, suurlähettiläs, tasavallan presidentin entinen neuvonantaja, professori ja kirjailija.
Kirjoituksia saa lainata. Lähde on mainittava.