From closer NATO ties to rumors of Kremlin-backed land deals on its border, Finland’s diplomatic balancing act with Russia has come under the spotlight before Sunday’s parliamentary election as politicians debate how far to challenge the Kremlin. The vote sees centrist opposition front-runner Juha Sipila, who favors military non-alignment along with two other major parties, battling center-right incumbent Prime Minister Alexander Stubb, who advocates joining NATO. The debate was mirrored regionally after an unprecedented hawkish joint statement last week by Nordic countries – Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark and Iceland – that directly cited the Russian “challenge” as grounds to increase defense cooperation.
For the Nordics it reflected a year of Russian air force sorties, spy accusations and military border exercises. Moscow retorted immediately, saying moves by Finland and Sweden towards closer ties with NATO were of “special concern”.
“It’s unheard of to explicitly link Nordic defense cooperation to the Russian threat,” said Anna Wieslander, deputy director of the Swedish Institute of International Affairs. “It clearly says ‘us against Russia’.”
That would be a sea change for Finland, which shares an 833 mile (1,340 km) border with Russia, with which it fought two bitter wars between 1939 and 1944, losing substantial territory. The resulting “Finlandisation” became a Cold War byword for self-imposed neutrality and a willingness to accommodate Soviet interests driven by fear of its neighbor.