The Finnish Question

By Isadore H.

Finland has long been an icon for neutrality within Europe, alongside Switzerland. It wouldn’t be uncommon to hear of the ‘Finlandization’ of countries; a push for certain states to be more neutral on the European stage. For example, people called for the ‘Finlandization’ of Ukraine in the period leading up to the outbreak of war, so as to halt any potential for armed conflict breaking out. Finland maintained stable relations with both the West and the USSR throughout the entire Cold War, relying on economic interaction with the Soviets and close military ties with NATO (Finnish involvement in Afghanistan being one example). To many a Soviet leader, Finland was seen as a potential buffer state for the more NATO-aligned Sweden: certainly, this was the view taken by Stalin and other important policy makers of his time. In fact, this position was so set within the Finnish geopolitical psyche that the lack of NATO involvement was maintained after 1991, with no clear Western alignment in any capacity.

This disinterest was mirrored by the Finnish people; approval rates for NATO membership were as low as 20% before the Ukrainian war. So, the dramatic change in Finnish policy should come as a shock to all and also a sign of weakening Russian geopolitical significance. If Russia still held the projection abilities it once did, a Finnish application to NATO would be met with intense Russian posturing. The mere fact that the former icon of neutrality is able to go about the processes of applying to NATO without any aggressive Russian counteraction should be of significance.

Finnish admission to NATO impacts Russia more than any other country. The most obvious threat to Russia from Finland is the immense pressure that will be placed on Murmansk and the Kola Peninsula. Murmansk is a city of great strategic significance to Russia; within its peripheries in Kola, it holds arguably the greatest concentration of nuclear warheads in the world, as well as the entire Russian strategic bombing air fleet containing modern bombers such as the TU160 ‘Blackjack’. Air bases are located methodically within the Kola Peninsula. The Northern Fleet is positioned in the important Severomorsk naval base and cosmodromes like Plesetsk hold much of the Russian ICBM capacity. The strategic importance of this area to Russia is thus obvious, yet the area is connected to the rest of the country by one road and an adjacent railway. The ‘Murmansk Corridor’ runs for an astounding 700km before splitting.

Finnish entry to NATO would therefore be a Russian nightmare, becoming a narrow avenue that could be cut exceedingly easily. NATO troops could smash through the corridor, immediately isolating an area of paramount importance to Russian long-range bombing capabilities. Such a strike could be carried out by a dozen specialised troops with no warning. Consequently, if Finland was to join NATO, Russia would be placed into a difficult position, and would be forced to diversify the corridor and maintain a constant military presence. This would create further economic stress on a Russian state that is already hurting from the sanctions placed on it during the Ukrainian War; such an economic exertion could likely cripple Russia.

Finland maintains an army that meets NATO’s guidelines; it has mandatory service, with a potential troop pool of some 280,000 regulars and 900,000 reservists, as well as 800 armoured vehicles (partly made up of the modern Leopard 2A6) and 107 aircraft. This army is a palpable threat to Russian security and would require strong countermeasures from Russian policymakers to ensure that the country is safe from threats that might emerge from Finland. Finland also provides an optimal position for missile sites that could hit key targets in Russia: St Petersburg, Murmansk, and Moscow to name but a few. Finnish membership thus represents a physical threat to Russia that cannot be ignored, and it gifts NATO the ability to undermine Russia’s long-range capability as well as weakening its North Fleet. Economic stresses imposed by this new danger could also have political repercussions deep within Russia: an already disgruntled public, fatigued from a war with Ukraine, could be further burdened by an increase in Russian defence spending, money that would have to be diverted from other sectors. This could potentially lead to the ‘oligarchs’ taking the fate of the Russian people out of the hands of Putin, but this would certainly be an extreme scenario. The Finnish push for NATO membership symbolises the weakening Russian grip on Eastern Europe whilst having the potential to completely undermine any Russian threat to Europe entirely. However, it may not happen at all, as tensions with Turkey may prove too damaging, due to the Finnish funding of the PKK (a militant Kurdish nationalist group). Multiple vetoes could yet break the Finnish campaign for accession. And yet, the tactical significance of Finland cannot be overlooked by NATO, so it would not be surprising to see Finnish membership in late 2022.

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