When Finland was invaded by Russia

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The country is regaining the spirit of the three wars it waged with its neighbor in the 20th century

When Soviet troops invaded Finland in November 1939, as projectiles set fire to the frozen cities of the Land of a Thousand Lakes and protests spread outside the USSR embassies, Stalin’s then-Minister of Foreign Affairs, Vyacheslav Molotov, assured that what the Soviet planes dropped were food parcels and not cluster bombs. With their signature black humor, the Finns nicknamed the RRAB-3 “Molotov’s bread baskets”, thinking that there was nothing better to accompany such an explosive lunch than a cocktail. Small homemade incendiary bombs had been used in the Spanish Civil War a few years earlier, but it was the Finns who christened them with a name that will go down in history: the ‘Molotov cocktail’.

As the breweries of Ukraine become the factories of this illustrious combination, it is easy to find parallels between the enormous courage the Ukrainians display in the face of Russian aggression and the courage and cunning of the Finns of the time to climb the feet of the very powerful Soviet Union. But in Finland, the Winter War, now a national myth, not only evokes memories of resistance, but also highlights something obvious: the threat shares a 1,300-kilometer border with them.

Finland is not the only country in the European Union that borders Russia, but unlike its Baltic neighbors Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, Finland is not a member of NATO. In recent weeks, Moscow has again threatened Helsinki and Stockholm with “serious consequences” if they choose to join the Atlantic Alliance. The Russian embassy in Finland has posted a disturbing message on Twitter asking its compatriots and Russian-speaking Finns – some 80,000 in the country – to contact them to report any instances of discrimination or incitement to hatred they may have. have suffered. It is not lost on anyone in Finland that Moscow has already used the excuse to “protect the Russian minority” to attack Ukraine.

But the threats have not sparked panic among the Finns, but have in fact achieved the exact opposite of what they intended: if five years ago only 19% of Finns supported NATO entry, they are now the vast majority. Many members of the Russian-speaking minority have contacted the embassy, ​​but to denounce Russia’s war crimes.

“It’s typical Russian behavior and we’re used to it,” admits Alexander Stubb by phone, who headed the Finnish government from 2014 to 2015 and was also Minister of Foreign Affairs and Economy. The neighbor’s breath in the neck is not experienced as an immediate threat for the time being. “But in the long run, we Finns have understood that the security situation in Europe has changed radically. Now we are faced with a Europe divided in two: on the one hand, an isolated and aggressive Russia, which is authoritarian and totalitarian and nothing prevents it from pursuing its interests; and on the other an alliance of democracies with various forms of accession to the European Union and NATO. This division will force us to rethink our security,” the former prime minister said.

Finland knows something about how to deal with Russia. It was part of the Russian Empire for more than two decades, fighting three wars against its powerful neighbors in the 20th century alone, losing some of its territory – which is still Russian today – and surviving the Cold War with the help of a policy they dubbed “Finlandization,” which basically consisted of trying not to irritate the Soviet giant. Pure and simple ‘Realpolitik’ that allowed Finland to keep its sovereignty.

Tommi Nieminen, journalist for the leading Finnish daily Helsingin Sanomat, explains that for a long time there has been a generation gap between politicians born in the 1950s or 1960s who had to learn to be pragmatic with the Russians. who looked to the West but wanted to have the best possible relations with Russia, and the younger generations who want to be a completely Western country and forget about Russia. Today, that pragmatism has been broken. If there was any doubt, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has finally cleared it up. While there is no panic, concerns among Finns are very real, Nieminen notes. “Nothing else is talked about. I was recently at a birthday party and that was the only topic of conversation. He is mainly concerned about what Russia can do after the war in Ukraine,” the reporter admits.

Like other European countries, Finland has turned to Ukraine, but, as Minna Huotilainen, professor of Educational Sciences at the University of Helsinki, recalls: “Finns have always had a very special relationship with Russia. We can’t move the country, it’s where it is. There are about 30,000 Russians living in Finland, they are our students, friends and colleagues.” His university has worked to welcome Ukrainian students and teachers to its programs.

That pragmatism or realism has led Finland, unlike other countries, not to cut back on defense spending after the Cold War. Military service is still compulsory for men (voluntary for women), who then go to the reserve of a country of barely 5.5 million inhabitants. “In Finland we have always paid great attention to our national security. We have one of the strongest armies in Europe. Our cooperation with NATO is already very intensive and I think this will happen even more in the future,” acknowledges Marja Liivala, Director General of the Russia and Eastern Europe Department of the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Russian threats about NATO, he says, “we’ve heard many times over the past year, so it’s nothing new. But in Finland, we’re going to make our own security decisions based on our interests.”

Although Finland, like the rest of European countries, has closed its airspace to Russia, the land border remains open, although traffic between the two countries has decreased by 90%, mainly due to the pandemic, Liivala admits, but now also because of the war in Ukraine and sanctions against Russia. “The relationship has obviously changed a lot. At the moment, all the bilateral and regional cooperation and interaction we had, especially in the Arctic Ocean and the Baltic region, has been suspended or frozen by the Russian attack,” the official explained.

Where they suffer from this reduction in border traffic on a daily basis are cities like Lappeenranta, just 30 kilometers from Russia and which received a lot of tourism from the neighboring country before the pandemic. As the sector timidly regained strength, the crisis in Ukraine dealt another blow. “Russian tourists spent 1 million euros a day in the region, and that has been lost,” Kimmo Jarva, mayor of this picturesque town, explained by email. But many, more than economic losses, fear personal losses. Lappeenranta, with a population of 73,000, is home to 3,000 Russians and many others have relatives across the border. “Many are afraid that the border will be closed and that they will not be able to see their relatives,” the councilor lamented.

“Compared to the rest of Finland, the border is in many ways a unique place to live,” said Eeva Sederholm, editor of the local daily Etelä-Saimaa. Sederholm acknowledges that, “although there is no panic, the Finns ran out of stocks of iodine tablets in pharmacies two weeks ago”, something that has also happened in other countries. In addition, “many neighbors have made sure they have enough supplies to survive a few days without electricity, as the authorities have recommended for years,” the journalist says.

Mayor Jarva agrees that “people react differently, with one having to prepare more than the other. There are people who have searched the nearest shelters and bought medicines and supplies for several days. But, he adds, the concern of the residents of Lappeenranta is not much different from that of the rest of Europe: “People are more concerned about rising gas, petrol and food prices than anything else.”

Source: La Verdad

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