Finland's Reaction to the Georgia Crisis

By Dutton, Edward | Contemporary Review, Winter 2008 | Go to article overview

Finland's Reaction to the Georgia Crisis


Dutton, Edward, Contemporary Review


THE world has been shocked as the spectre of a 'New Cold War' has been raised by Russia's August invasion of Georgia's break-away regions. Former Soviet states are feeling particularly alarmed at this renewed Russian aggression but Finland, often lumped together with Scandinavia, also has good reason to be profoundly concerned.

In the last issue of Contemporary Review, my article examined the history of Finland's relations with its powerful neighbour, Russia. Finland was part of the Russian Empire until 1917, Russia took a twelfth of its territory in 1944 (which has never been returned) and, until the collapse of the Soviet Union, Finland infamously followed the policy of 'Finlandization' which involved being 'neutral' but in actuality highly compliant with the Soviets. The Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili went so far as to compare his country's plight to Finland's during the Winter War in the 1940s and a Boston Herald writer referred to the Black Sea state as 'Finland South'. In the wake of the Georgia crisis, could Finlandization rear its head again?

Finland is not in NATO and there is little public support for joining it. However, it is in the EU which surely provides it with a sense of security which it lacked during the Cold War. By pure coincidence, Finland's Foreign Minister at the time of the crisis - Alexander Stubb - is the chairman of the Organisation for Co-operation and Security in Europe (OCSE) and has played a key-part in negotiations between both sides in the crisis.

The reaction of the Finnish elite has been effectively divided in two with the Right in the form of the co-governing National Coalition Party (Kokoomus), eventually, stridently condemning the invasion and the Left, effectively every other party, doing so far more cautiously with the recently governing socialists still tip-toeing around Russia. Kokoomus leaders have claimed the crisis proves Finland should join NATO while everybody else, including seemingly the Finnish public, have concluded the opposite. At first Finland was clearly more guarded than its neighbours but towards the end of August the more right-leaning parties stalled to use candid language about Russia described by the Finnish broadsheet Kaleva as 'unheard in Finland since World War IF. Alexander Stubb, a member of the National Coalition Party, asserted that 'Those who maintain that nothing has changed in the world and that this will have no effect whatsoever on Finland's foreign, security and defence policy do not inhabit the real world.' And, perhaps in a demonstration of a portion of Finland's growing self-confidence with regard to Russia, Stubb publicly termed Russia's actions 'unacceptable' and dismissed the Russian claim that the invasion was the OCSE's fault for not 'giving Russia enough advanced warning of Georgia's actions' as 'hogwash'. Most major politicians, though not the socialist President Tarja Halonen, have now agreed that Finland's security policy needs to be re-appraised in a forthcoming White Paper.

But still, it is fairly clear that Finland has been more cautious than its Scandinavian neighbours, who have less of a reason to regard Russia as a threat. This is particularly noticeable from the reactions of Matti Vanhanen (of the effectively centre-left Centre Party) and especially President Tarja Halonen (of the socialist Social Democrats). Russia began its invasion of Georgia on 7th August but it took the Finnish president until 29th August to condemn Russia's belligerent actions, something that every other EU leader had already done weeks earlier. By this time, the crisis was no longer major news. Everybody else had already railed against Russia so the president's belated contribution was pretty hollow. The perception of this caution - or insufficiently direct condemnation of Russian bellicosity - has been picked-up on in the international press and, of course, the blogosphere. 'Georgia Burns to the Silence of the Finnish Lambs' fumed the right-wing Finnish political blog Tundra Tabloids.

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