A Paradoxical Continuation of Finlandization

Finlandization- as an acceptable model of geopolitical posture because it is compromising – has been imposed on parts of the post-Soviet area in the recent past. For example, it was considered as a very realistic development algorithm in Armenia or Belarus.

This model has been imposed on Ukraine too, even insistently. In 2014, the application of Finlandization to this country in the context of well-known events brought together Zbigniew Brzezinski, a former national security adviser to US President Jimmy Carter from 1977 to 1981, and Rene Nyberg, a columnist for The New York Times, in an argument about the application of Finlandization to this country.

The famous visionary political analyst used the term to suggest the recognition of the Russian dominance. According to Rene Nyberg, although the policy of Finlandization of Finland has served the purpose, but it did not suit Ukraine, which in 2014 was in an open war with no prospects for compromise.

It should be recalled that Finlandization is a political term that characterised the relations between the USSR and Finland after World War II, meaning the partial limitation of the sovereignty of an independent state in foreign and security policy in the interests of a neighbouring, more powerful state.

The term was suggested in 1961 by the German historian Richard Löwenthal and was used in the second half of the 20th century with a necessarily positive connotation.

After the so-called Winter War with the Soviet Union (November 1939 – March 1940), Finland lost one fifth of its industry, 11% of its farmland and 12% of its population.

After World War II, Finland paid monetary compensation to the USSR, definitively relinquished its rights to Karelia, and in 1948 signed a Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance with the Soviet Union, pledging neutrality and recognising the Soviet Union’s special strategic interests in the country (e.g., by extraditing fugitive USSR citizens).

Finland was the largest Western trading partner of the USSR until the eight decade of the 20th century.

In return, it has retained independence, a market economy and freedom of speech, so the concept of Finlandization represents a geopolitical compromise, trying to live alongside an aggressive state with imperial ambitions.

The President of Finland Urho Kekkonen pointed out to Soviet leaders Nikita Khrushchev and Leonid Brezhnev that his country would defend its independence in the event of an attack, but he also argued that the Soviet Union’s own interests would suffer if it prevented Finland from integrating into Western European economic structures, such as the European Economic Community or the European Free Trade Association.

Finlandization was “exhausted” and forgotten when the Soviet Union collapsed. In the context of the dramatic recent developments, it has reappeared, but from an angle that may have been unexpected by its earlier advocates.

On 30 March, Helsinki announced the resumption of rail freight traffic to and from Russia. Previously, on 27 March, the Finnish company VR Transpoint had suspended eastbound freight movements following the imposition of sanctions on Rossijsie zheleznye dorogi (RZD; Russian Railways) by the United Kingdom (UK).

VR Transpoint resumed the transport service after receiving clarification from the UK authorities that the sanctions do not apply to contracts with VR Group, a subsidiary of the Finnish rail operator VR Transpoint.

VR Transpoint specialises in the transport of industrial goods and raw materials, and in 2021 the company transported around 37 million tonnes of freight. The share of the Russian freight was around one third.

Before that, on 28 March, the operator VR Group, on the basis of the European sanctions imposed by the RZD, stopped the Allegro (the translation from Italian – “fast”) passenger trains going to Russia, which, after the aggression launched by Russia against Ukraine on 24 March, had become the only window of Russia to Europe.

The last Allegro train, which had been running four times a day until then, left St Petersburg on the afternoon of Sunday 27 March (15.30) and never returned. Until 28 March, many Russians used to take the train to Tikkurila station, from where they took a local electric train to Helsinki (Vantaa) airport, from where they could travel to any European city cheaper than from St Petersburg airport.

Allegro train was briefly suspended due to a coronavirus pandemic and was resumed on 12 December. It turned out to be only for two and a half months.

On 11 April, the British newspaper The Times reported, citing American officials, that Finland and Sweden are considering joining NATO as early as this summer.

According to the correspondents of the newspaper in Washington, the topic was discussed in a series of discussion sessions at the meeting of Ministers of Foreign Affairs of NATO members at the beginning of April, which was also attended by representative of Sweden and Finland.

According to sources of The Times in Europe, the two Scandinavian countries have committed to join the Alliance for gathering intelligence material and air force missions, making them de facto “real NATO players”.

Finland and Sweden will increase the number of Alliance members to 32, while accession of Finland will double the current border of NATO and Russia, which is about 1,200 kilometres long.

Here we have been writing about a narrative that has been around for some time. The President of Finland Saul Niinistö, in an interview with state television Yle on 31 December, found it necessary to declare that the dynamics of American-Russian relations were not going to close the door on his country’s membership of the Alliance, and that the choice would be Finland’s only.

I think it is worth recalling Jyri Lavikainen, a researcher fellow at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, who pointed out well before the Russian invasion on 24 February that if his country were to join NATO, the main reason would be actions of Moscow, such as its open aggression against Ukraine.

In pro forma neutral Sweden and Finland, when Russia started aggression in Ukraine has led to even more discussion on the subject of joining NATO.

In an interview with the British Telegraph on 10 April, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg indicated that NATO would be able to take both countries in quickly. Technically, the Finnish and Swedish armed forces have been shaped according to NATO standards since World War II and are therefore already compliant.

There is simply no ideological barrier; the Scandinavians consider themselves part of Western civilisation.

On 28 March, the President of Finland Sauli Niinistö and Jens Stoltenberg discussed with Jens Stoltenberg the principles and procedures for accepting new members of the Alliance.

In this sense, however, it should be pointed out that the Ukrainians, who are desperately fighting for a European identity, should be particularly hurt by such fluidity.

The Prime Minister of Finland Sanna Marin, speaking to her Social Democrat colleagues on 2 April, said that the question of Finland’s membership of NATO should be resolved thoroughly, but also quickly, this spring, because Russia is not the neighbour that the Finns thought it was.

Following the aggression of Moscow against Ukraine, citizens of Finland signed a petition to join the Alliance.

Moscow reacted with predictable irritation. On 6 April, Vladimir Dzhabarov, First Deputy Chair of the Federation council Committee on Foreign Affairs threatened that Finland’s (he did not mention Sweden) entry into the Alliance would make it a target for the response of Moscow.

Minister of foreign Affairs of Sweden Anna Linde, who was then in Bosnia and Herzegovina, responded to this and other threats of Moscow on 12 April, stating that interference of Moscow was unacceptable and that it would be up to the citizens of Sweden and Finland to decide on their own membership of NATO. Because the world after 24 February is a different place from the world it used to be.

An excerpt from the letter sent to the Russian daily Novaya gazeta (the last one pushed and forced to temporarily – hopefully – suspend its activities by the Kremlin regime) and published by the daily on the subject of Finlandization.

“The aggression against Ukraine was planned according to old clichés. The closest historical analogy is the so-called Soviet-Finnish Winter War. Soviet propaganda referred to the opponents as “White Finns” (probably a derivative of the words “White, White Guards” – A.S.), under whose yoke the Finnish people are suffering. The leadership of the “Baltasuomi” was portrayed as the maid of the foreign capital.

The Kremlin leaders painted a fantastic picture from their imagination of the Finnish uprising, a joyful welcome of the Soviet troops. The USSR army transported the collaborators’ cabinet of ministers in their convoys, with 10-15 days allocated for a “special operation”.

Everything looked smooth only on the maps of the army headquarters; in reality, the Finns fiercely resisted, even though their army was almost twice the size of the Soviet army, and not all of them even had enough guns.

A couple of weeks after the Soviet invasion, victory songs disappeared from the Soviet newspapers, a month later there was talk of the inaccessibility of the Mannerheim Line (the military fortifications built by the Finns between the wars in the Karelian Isthmus), the war’s objective was “reduced” from the liberation of the Finnish people to the need to defend Leningrad.

In this connection, the Russian philosopher Georgy Fyodorov, who was resident in Paris, summed up: ‘History has taken a strange, incomprehensible turn. Russian soldiers are dying for their own slavery. The Finns are fighting not only for their own freedom, but also for the freedom of Russia.”

Three months later, the warring sides signed a peace treaty. Although the USSR technically won the new lands and thus the war, the world considered Finland the political, moral, and reputational winner.

The Soviet Union was thrown out of the League of Nations, and the heroic struggle united the Finnish people, who not only retained their statehood, but eventually became one of Europe’s leaders in the development of democracy, the welfare state, and innovative technology.”

Now, while the Russians are destroying Ukrainian cities, the Finns are also supplying anti-tank missiles to the Ukrainians. Let us add from our side – at least this much.

To summarise the “germs” of Finlandization, which have barely begun to appear and have been unceremoniously “trampled” by the Russians themselves, it should be added that about 90% of trade between Russia and Finland has been shipped by land so far. The fifth package of sanctions of the EU imposed on Moscow expelled Russian transport companies from the Community, and therefore from Finnish territory.

It is almost obvious what will happen, at least in the near future, not only to Allegro, but also to any eastward traffic, including cargo.

Especially when the Russian ruling class does not hear almost anything, has no rational arguments, and is breathlessly singing greyhound songs about their “response” to Finland for trying to join NATO.

Arūnas Spraunius

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Autorius: Voras.online