How today’s Finland understands security and relations with Russia, and what the international community misses about Finlandization.
Professor, former foreign policy advisor and ambassador of the President of Finland, Mr. Alpo Rusi knows what he is talking about when the topic is Finlandization. He has been accused and leaked on purpose to the media under the secret investigation, being a spy for the security service of East Germany, the Stasi, with basically no evidence in 2002 to 2003. The prosecutor fully relieved him of allegations in June 2003.
Rusi’s 15 years elder brother, the head of government information office in early 1970 had been a Stasi contact 1965-77. However, Alpo Rusi himself had nothing to do with the Stasi. The Stasi just had registered his name as a young student in the autumn of 1969, but that was all, and former Stasi officers cleared his name in 2003. Alpo Rusi tells that he was targeted because his boss, then-president Martti Ahtisaari was pushed out of office. This was all part of the domestic politics of Finland. And this is not the 70’s. This all happened in the 21st cent.-Finland. Sounds like a spy story from the Cold War era, only it is not.
Russia, and the Soviet Union before that, has had and still has a strong thumb on Finland. Before the turning point in 2014, the relationship between Russia and Finland, as well as other Western European states, started to look more open and trustful. Business relations were improving even after 2008 economic breakdown and the war in Georgia.
Then came Crimea. It is still hard to find an open answer whether Crimea is the reason the military started shaping up in Finland as well. It can be read between the lines but one will not get a direct answer from the official level. The sanctions against Russia however are recognized by all. Or they were recognized by all, until Finlandization raised its head again. For several months now, a few members of parliament, mainly from the Finns Party (previously known as the True Finns) and the Center Party, have been broaching the possibility of lifting the Russia sanctions.
Rusi sums up the definition of finladization in four points which describe the concept itself, as well as the influence of Finlandization. First, Rusi quotes an experienced and highly respected Finnish diplomat Max Jakobson. He estimated some years back that the Finnish political elite had been finlandized but the people turned towards the West already during the Cold War era. Rusi agrees with Jakobson’s definition. The head of the state, as well as many leading politicians, were leaning on Russia while the people looked towards the West.
A former US national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski (brought up) proposed Finlandization as a solution for Ukraine in 2014. He said that Finland is a member of the EU and not a member of NATO. Throughout the Cold War, Finland’s foreign policy was based on official neutrality. He continued that this resolution, ”a positive Finlandization”, may be possible with Ukraine dealing with the West, moving closer to Europe, but also having relationships with Russia, like Finland does.
Rusi criticizes Brzezinski’s point of view. He says that a suggestion of Finlandization for Ukraine shows that there is not enough correct information about the concept internationally. In Ukraine’s case, this would mean that it is a recognized part of Russia’s sphere of influence but obliged to pursue neutrality by its foreign policy.
Secondly, the definition of Finlandization can be significant when one evaluates why otherwise pragmatic Finland stayed out of the NATO enlargement wave in 2004. This is the time when the Baltic States joined NATO. Rusi reminds about the statement that the president of Finland Tarja Halonen (2000-2012) made in 2005. She justified why Finland did not join NATO with the Baltic States by saying that Finland could not join the defence union with the former communist states, because by doing that Finland would have admitted that the country was finlandized during the Cold War.
“This was a false statement about Eastern Europe. They were occupied territories against their own will. Finlandization should not be mixed in this way into the security policy discussion. This is not the way to prove whether there was Finlandization, or not,” Rusi claims.
Thirdly, few have managed to read correctly the big picture of the changing security environment in Europe. For this reason, for example, Sweden abandoned its regional defense and conscription system but is building it back now.
Finally, NATO debate in Finland has been going on without necessary historic depth.The reason for this is that the image of NATO is colored by the Cold War era. Rusi says that, on the one hand, Finlandization is a policy of realism, but, on the other hand, it enables a phenomenon such as “the Moscow card” and “the Home Russians” to be used in Finland. The phenomena include two dimensions of logic, i.e. the gradual submission to the Soviet and, in today’s situation, to the Russian domination.
Ukraine has been a subject of enforced Finlandization by Russia since 2004. This is what Brzezinski did not fully understood although his intention was good without any doubt.
The official Finland avoids the definition of Finlandization when talking about the time after World War II. “After being a diplomat for 15 years during the Cold War era, I can assure you that our main task was to show that there is no Finlandization. But we all knew that it was there. One had to be dishonest not to admit it. Even the Russians had officially noted themselves that they were pressuring Finland all the time,”
Rusi says. “In addition, the Winter War (1939-40) was the Soviet Union’s crime against Finland. After that quite many things went wrong because Finland was brought to the WWII and almost lost its independence in 1944,” he adds.
Rusi is demanding a White Book of the Cold War era relations with the Soviet Union in Finland. This is because quite many “problematic” records and documents were and remain closed in Finland. “This is the best evidence of Finlandization. The records remain closed because no one has the courage to open them,”
Rusi says. As an example he gives “the Tiitinen list” of about 20 Finns who may have been agents of Stasi. The list was received from German Intelligence in 1990 but not investigated. It was prepared in the last Stasi Resident in Helsinki by colonel Ingolf Freyer who coordinated his work in Helsinki with the KGB every second month. “Its meaning has been understated but it will be closed until 2050. 60 years. In my opinion it is against the Constitution. The closing time was decided to be so long because the state wants to cover up several suspected crimes,” Rusi says.
FINLANDIZATION IN REAL LIFE
During the Cold War era, a clear sign of Finlandization was the prohibition to talk against the Soviet Union. In 1972, the Finnish parliament even tried to pass the law which would criminalize anti-soviet actions and opinions. If the parliament had approved the law, Finland would have had persecution against anti-soviet people. A step towards Eastern European political atmosphere, as Rusi says. Luckily enough, the law was not approved. Some of the MPs proposing the law became key politicians of Finland in the 1990s and 2000.
Today, Finlandization can also been seen in the discussions of NATO membership. “This is about marginalization of opinion. Is it better for the country to quiet down experts who warn about the consequences of staying out of the NATO?” Rusi questions.
He says that there are no such security reasons which should kill the discussion about NATO membership. Yet, it is usual that the higher officials and the political elite quiet down the discussion. Rusi urges to consider the means by which Russia could do more harm to damage Finland if the country joins NATO. “Russia does not want to sharpen the conflict between the Alliance and itself. Russia does not have the strength or resources to fight a large-scale war. They can have their small wars and hybrid warfare but there is no point even for them to launch an all-out military exchange,”
Rusi argues. “And, strategically, why would they want to ruin their good relations with their neighbor? If it is because of NATO, then there are no such good relations,” Rusi adds.
He is convinced that all Finns would like to have good relations with Russia, but not at any price, not by being too humble. Finland must be a solid part of the Western camp. “It is our humiliation that we are not allowed (in Russia’s opinion) to bring NATO infrastructure to our borders but they (the Russians) are allowed to bring Iskander missiles to their western borders. We are under their nuclear threat all the time but still not allowed to take even a minimum cover,” Rusi says.
Rusi is glad that some younger politicians and experts in Finland are breaking away from the pressure of Finlandization, and we are talking about the positioning of Finland as a member-state of the EU, as well as NATO. He sees some light at least with some younger MPs with the Coalition Party, the Swedish People’s Party and the Green League. (For example, the head of the Green League, Ville Niinistö, has stated several times that Finland should get rid of the burden of Finlandization.)
“The Finnish elite, like many other elites in Europe, failed to understand the changes in the big picture of security in the Baltic Sea region and in Russia. This has been as big as the failure to predict the collapse of the Soviet Union. What has happened in the 21st century is related to the Finlandization that is not discussed through enough after the Cold War,” Rusi crystalizes.
“We need to have a new beginning for European integration and transatlantic relations after Brexit.”
The Ukrainian Week
Interview by Nina Leinonen
"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.