Mon, 2 May 2022
For the last century, Finland has walked a diplomatic tightrope between East and West. A former Russian imperial holding and Soviet target, the independent nordic nation boasts a free market economy, EU membership, and regional defense partnerships. Yet, Finland has previously stopped short of formally joining NATO, the West’s major military alliance–maintaining a pragmatic policy of forced neutrality along its 800-mile border with Russia. That is, until Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine.
How does a country survive the threat of Russian aggression? Ray Suarez talks with Henri Vanhanen, advisor to the Finnish National Coalition Party, about his country’s recent pivot toward NATO membership–both in parliament and the polls–and what it could mean for the future of international security.
Henri Vanhanen, foreign policy and EU advisor for the Finland National Coalition Party
Ray Suarez, co-host of WorldAffairs
Finland 101, by Ray Suarez
Maybe you’ve noticed how often Finland comes up during the Ukraine coverage, and wondered why? Here’s a quick little history…a thousand pages in a few seconds.
For centuries, the Finns have had to thread their way, as a people, through the conflicts of other big powers in their part of the world. Ethnically and linguistically distinct…they’re not their Swedish neighbors to the west or their Russian neighbors to the east…but they had to fend off both to remain themselves.
For centuries Finland was fought for, or fought over, by Russians and Swedes. As the 20thcentury began, Finland was part of Czarist Russia…then the Czar abdicated and the Empire collapsed. The Finns flirted with Communism, and with monarchy, before becoming a republic with a new president in 1919.
Josef Stalin wanted Finland back for the USSR. The Soviets invaded, shortly after the Nazis bulldozed Poland in 1939. The Finns fought back ferociously. They inflicted heavy casualties. The Soviets eventually recognized Finland’s independence, signed a peace treaty, and permanently seized about a tenth of Finland’s territory, incorporating it into the USSR.
The Finns would remain independent, somewhat free of Soviet domination after the Second World War, but that freedom came at a cost. Finland gave up more territory, and population, and diplomatic freedom of movement. The country lived in a gray area between east and west during the Cold War. Its status even got a dismissive name…Finlandization, used to describe a forced neutrality, an expensive freedom.
Finland had a market economy, democratically elected governments, freedom of speech, and growing prosperity….all the while staying aloof from the expanding European Union, and certainly NATO, the western military alliance.
When the Soviet Union collapsed, much as Czarist Russia did, Finland had an escape hatch… denounced its earlier treaties, joined the EU, adopted the Euro, but remained outside NATO, sharing an eight hundred mile border with the Russian Federation.