A Citizen’s view: Finland applying for NATO and historical relations with Russia

While this blog has always been intended to comment on things of design of pop-culture on the side of the customer, I do feel a personal need to comment on the current world situation with Finland, Russia and NATO from a personal perspective. While at this point it is rather a moot point to guess whether or not Finland will join NATO, as the process has begun and Turkey’s Erdogan is using it as leverage to try to root Kurds and his political targets with a genocidal passion. If you want the answer to the question Should Finland join NATO? the answer would be We should’ve joined NATO twenty years ago. Naturally, the issue is somewhat complicated and directly saying joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is very much populist politics, even though it most likely would raise the probability of keeping Russia from trying to invade Finland yet again.

Now, I feel a need to pre-emptively mention that while I speak of Russia in this post, the meaning is for its government or the entity known as Russia. A person can not choose the country they are born in, and I don’t have anything against the common Russian people. Above all, in matters like this, I hope their government would treat them better and improve their nation. The 20 million Russians living below the poverty line should their priority.

Finland’s history is that of three countries, roughly speaking. Finland did exist in its own form when Finno-Ugric tribes extended their power from what is currently Sweden to the Ural mountains. During the early eleventh century, there were few crusades to Finland, but while Dane’s attempt was lacklustre, the Swedish crusades over a few centuries managed to quell down the opposition, and ultimately Finland became part of the Swedish Kingdom. The treatment of course was what you would expect, as the Finish people were treated more or less as uneducated peasants while the Swedes were the higher class people. Nevertheless, the Swedish Empire was a strong contender on the stage of world politics for a long time. While this improved the Finnish living standards as well, it was also at the expense of the culture. Even nowadays there is a class divide between Finnish and Swedish, and Swedish is the second national language.

The Great Northern War saw Sweden and Russia waging war over the Baltic. The Russian forces had taken over the Finnish landscape in 1713, but the occupation never saw proper attempts at taking the Swedish coast. The occupation was brutal and harsh, and the time between 1713-1721 is known as the Great Wrath; Russians plundered and raped all the while demanding the peasants to pay contributions for the occupation. Lutheran churches were looted and Russians used scorched earth tactics to keep the Swedish from reoccupying. Enslaved Finnish counted in the hundreds of thousands. Massacres were common, with Hailuoto Island being one of the worst examples, where cossacks hacked 800 people with axes. Poorer people led to the forests to escape the occupational forces, something that would stick to the cultural mind and would bite the Russians back during the Second World War. Not that the Swedes were any gentler. The atrocities were at their worst when Gustaf Otto Douglas, a defected Swedish count, was leading the occupational forces. However, it wouldn’t be until the Finnish War in the early 1800s that Alexander I would take Finland away from Sweden and establish the Grand Duchy of Finland under Russian rule.

If for a moment you saw some similarity with the actions Russians have taken in Ukraine above, that is because Russian methods of waging war and destroying others haven’t changed ever since the Mongols invaded Kievan Rus in the thirteenth century. This invasion effectively created the basis, where all future Russian nations would find a cultural scar in. Without this invasion, Kievan Rus might’ve developed into a more benign entity, but what is left of it in modern Russian culture is a heavy distrust towards other nations out of fear of being invaded, systematic corruption through all possible means, and trust in one true leader who would protect the people with his inner circle. There are tons, but there are just to name a few and maybe the most relevant.

Even as a grand duchy, Finland’s independence varied, but at least the peasants’ situation was always better than the Russian serfs’. While the old Swedish laws were upheld, the czar was the ruler without a peer. This era, before Finnish independence, would be the basis where the Finnish would find their place as the in-between country and gain cultural skills on how to handle Russians. Part of this was based on the Swedish population’s rouse toward the Finnish language and independence, though even then it was more about returning to glory than giving Finland its own autonomy from other nations. The national literature revolution in the 1830s would kick up the Fennoman movement, which would drive Finnish independence and identity up until our declaration of independence in 1917. Because of the tensions between three nationalities, the Swedes in Finland, the Finnish and the Russians, the population of Finland were more educated than their contemporaries in the Baltics, the Finns were able to manoeuvre through the Russification that tzars Alexander III and Nicholas II were driving from 1881 up until 1917.

Russification of Finland, known as Times of Oppression locally, stemmed from Russia seeing Finland as a conquered territory, full of lesser people that Russia must assimilate and eradicate Finnish national identity in order to protect that part of their nation from Western influences. This attitude has never really changed. An example of this would be A.S. Pushkin’s The Bronze Horseman, where the Finnish are described as poor people of nature, who should forget their old hatred against Russians as only Russians can save these wretched beings. Finland itself is no more than a place to threaten Swedes and cities are built for that end. This belittling of Finland and its population is part of the Russian cultural heritage.

Following the February Revolution in Russia, the Finnish politicians would beeline toward independence. In hindsight, it’s rather comedic that Russians had to put up a second revolution to wash their hands off the first one, but October Revolution was ultimately the one that allowed Finland to full detach itself from Russian rule as the Bolsheviks declared a general right of self-determination for the people of Russia. This was more or less allowed for the Finnish people, as the Bolsheviks fully expected the Socialist revolution to take the world by wildfire and Finland to join the Soviets soon enough. They tried to expedite this by supporting the Reds in the Finnish Civil War. Russia would continue to have its fingers in the internal and global Finnish politics well up until the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Much is said about Finland allying with Germany during the Second World War. However, it was a situation to ally with someone who could help, or be occupied by the Soviet forces and lose independence. Russia would invade Finland in November 1939, using the Shelling of Mainila as an excuse. The shelling was a false-flag operation, where Soviet forces shelled their own nation and claimed Finland as the perpetrator. In reality, no Finnish artillery could’ve had hit the town, as it was out of range. This sort of false flag operation is Russian standard when they want something. In this case, Finland had denied their demands to have Russian military bases on Finnish soil. The Baltic states had accepted this demand, and were fully occupied in 1940, losing their independence. Stalin had high expectations for the campaign and had already established the Finnish Democratic Republic to govern soon to be occupied neighbour. While Finland lost 9% of its land to Russia, the defensive war was a success, and a momentary peace was gained with the Moscow Peace Treaty in 1940. Russia was kicked out of the League of Nations as a result of the war.

The Finnish forces were in dire need to help at that point, and no other nation was willing to offer help but Germany. Continuation War would start in June 1941 as Germany began its invasion of Russia. It wouldn’t be until the 1944’s battles the Finnish troops managed to gain decisive victories against the Soviet invaders. The Vyborg-Petrozavodzk offensive might’ve ended in a stalemate, but Russians had already seen too many of their own soldiers go down. Compared to the other nations within the Soviet sphere of influence, Finland had managed to keep its democratic independence and never allowed the Soviets to occupy the Finnish soil. The Moscow Armistice restored the 1940 treaty, leading Finnish forces to expulse German forces from the nation, which led to numerous conflicts and at least one burned city. Finland did have to cede new parts to the Soviets and pay reparation for the war Russian themselves had started, legalize the Communist Party of Finland as well as ban all parties the Soviets deemed fascist. Russian meddling in Finnish politics would continue. The Communist Party was never declared illegal, despite its still driving agenda that is very much against the interests of the nation.

Finnish neutrality during the Cold War following the Second World War is grossly exaggerated. The Soviet diplomats and politics continued to harass and influence whatever decision Finland was making internally or in regard to foreign policies. While officially the government was neutral, the interests always were to move toward the West and protect the nation from future Russian invasion. This led to the military adopting the phrase The threat comes from the East during military practices, as Finland is not viably threatened by any other nation than Russia. In recent months, both politicians and generals have used this phrase with Russia instead of East in public statements. Despite the friendly ties Finland has had with the Russians, it’s been a delicate act to keep their unwanted influence from Finnish soil for some four hundred years now. This is why the Finno-Soviet treaty of 1948, or the Agreement of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance, was signed to keep the Soviets happy but at bay. Numerous voices siding with Russia have declared the Finnish intent to join NATO breaks this agreement, but they never seem to remember the treaty of 1992 with the Russian Federation made the 1948 treaty effectively null.

All this is to say that in the view of Russian culture, President Putin’s words about the good ol’ days of the Russian empire make sense. Ever since the Mongols invaded the Kievan Rus, the cultural mind has been deathly afraid of being invaded again. The unnecessarily cruel nature of Russian warfare stems from these Mongols and has never left their military doctrine. How Russia is waging war in Ukraine is a direct descendant of how Russia has waged war since the thirteenth century. No matter how much the tzars have brought European influences and cultural aspects to Russian soil, Russia is deeply an Asian country. In reality, Europe doesn’t end with the Ural Mountains, it ends where the Russian border is drawn. The culture is Asian, not Western. The Western World has accepted individuals’ right to self govern for better or worse a long time ago and has built trust among its peers. Russia’s cultural landscape does not admit to this. For them, it is their God-given right to fight and protect their own culture at the expense of all others, self-governance be damned. Strategic truth, as in lying, is extensively used to deceive in order to reach personal goals. Everything else can be expended for the Russian state and its people. In this equation, Finland is the buffer zone Russia has used against the Western World. When Finland began talking about joining NATO more openly following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Russia’s actions flared up; Russia cuts gas lines to Finland, diplomats put pressure on Finnish parliament members, sly talks about the Russian empire taking what was theirs and all that. It’s Russia talking down to the Finnish people again.

Back when I was in university, I discussed the relationship between Finland and modern Russia with a Russian exchange student. His view was quite telling; Finland is a poor place. It doesn’t even have its own culture or history.

To return to the question if Finland should join NATO for a moment, the question is absurd to me. The population of Finland has been under the threat of Russian invasion ever since Sweden got beaten during the Great Northern War. Russian proverb of The border of Russia is secure only when Russian soldiers occupy both sides of the border is a direct threat. Finland has every right to join whatever alliances they wish if that means securing the sanctity of their nation. To Russians, that often has meant a pre-emptive strike to make the enemy unable to attack. For a more civilized nation that means having a good enough defence to fight such an invader. It is no exaggeration to say Russia only considers itself safe when all possible opposition is crushed. This is, at best, medieval thinking and should have no place in the modern world. Russian propaganda will aim to convince people that Finland and Sweden joining NATO is the result of the Western world, especially the United States, tricking and deceiving Swedes and Finns into joining. The reality is that the Russian invasion of Ukraine and continuing their tradition of brutal and unnecessarily cruel warfare is at fault.

To be more realistic, Russia has been treating Finland as a NATO country for a long time despite also treating the country as a buffer zone. This is due to Finland being a NATO-aligned country. This means cooperation in intelligence and global actions, which naturally Russia deems as a threat. With Russia escalating its nature as a threat toward Europe, nations are justifiably worried about their safety. In a perfect world, Russia wouldn’t be afraid of being invaded and would find no need to invade countries that want to be independent. Russian propaganda and information warfare have a hundred-year history of mixing truths, half-truths and lies in their disinformation campaigns, and we’re seeing it in full action at this very moment. While it also tried to twist and turn the nation’s history toward a rosier view, they can’t really hide from the stripes on their fur.

In Russian, pravda does not mean truth as it would be in English. It’s not the opposite, but something that tries to find a balance and harmony between right and wrong, lie and truth. It’s closer to a white lie, a half-truth you use to get out of difficulties. You see this used far more often than the word istina, which stands for truth as it would in English. However, Russia has three words for lies; Vranjo, Lozh’ and nepravda. This gives a certain insight on the function of the language, and to some extent how people think. This is why foreign diplomats have difficulties in discerning what Russia says on the world stage. Be it Lenin, Stalin or Putin, they’ve all used this sort of strategic truth as a weapon, sometimes directly lying to misdirect their opponents. To put it simply, Russian culture doesn’t have a binary with lies and truths; everything is a mass of grey. Putin denying that it was his troops on the Ukrainian border is just an example of this. As much as we make comparisons of doublethink in modern parlance and its negative side effects, it is an everyday thing in Russian culture.

All that said, the generation that was born and raised under Putin does not exactly share all the sentiments made here. The one example of a fellow student voicing their displeasure towards Finland is against dozens of others doing the opposite. As it tends to be with these issues, a singular person or not the issue nor are the people per se. However, it is the culture and the leaders of that nation that perpetuate certain views and cultural trends through information warfare against their own citizens. When the government and everyone under them has their fingers in the system, the average citizen can’t really do anything but work with the system. Take a simple thing like nepotism. It’s rampant in Russian systems. Of course, you have to make sure your own family has the best positions and chances. Western systems abhor and have worked for ages to remove even the simplest forms of corruption. This is the opposite, as Russian culture has it baked in. This is one of the numerous reasons for Russia’s lack of success in its campaign in Ukraine, as the leaders have systematically siphoned resources away from equipment and training to their own pockets. This has its roots in the Mongol rule as one of the cultural scars. Not that the Mongols can be the sole perpetrator of this. The Russian people saw cruelty and terror under Stalin, second only to Mao’s China.  One of the biggest mistakes for many Western nations was to treat Russia as one of them, rather than as one of the Asian cultures.

If you’re interested in Russian historical culture and its direct influence on its modern-day actions, I’d recommend watching Martti Kari’s lecture on the subject. He’s an ex-intelligence officer, a lecturer nowadays, with a specialization in Russian history and culture under his belt. There’s a subtitled version for people who’d like to watch it, and if you can stomach autospeech, an English version. It covers a whole lot more than what I have here, but from a more objective view. It is highly recommended for anyone with even the slightest of interests.

Of course, the question of whether or not joining NATO would pose a threat to Russia should be entertained. For Russia, any foreign power strong enough to oppose it is a threat, especially with Russia’s historical disliking of the Western world, despite desperately wanting to be part of it. NATO is a defensive organization, only activated twice; once after 9/11 and the second time after the terror strikes on France. Whether or not you want to believe bad tongues about the alliance, out of the two options it does seem far better. To say Russia has always been a threat used to be politically incorrect, now it’s become a bit more media sexy in certain circles. Russia always had the capacity to invade its smaller neighbours, if it intended to do so. However, they never had a proper justification for it. Even when Russian forces are to protect Russian nationals even abroad, their attack on the Baltics or Finland would be hard to justify within the nation. Ukraine has been, and will always be, a special sore spot for Russia as long as they remember how modern Russia can be said to have started in Ukraine’s Kiev. Russia’s sad history shows they are not to be trusted to respect agreements or hold their end of bargains on the world stage, unless it benefits them. From a point of view of a citizen, in order to protect the sanctity of Finland’s borders and independence, we must find like-minded people who we can trust more so we can prepare for war. For war I hope will never again come. The argument that NATO had lost its relevance after USSR’s dissolution is largely ignoring how Russian Federation more or less continued the exact same path and methods as a direct continuation, just with less communism.

Nevertheless, whatever may come in the future, whether or not Finland manages to join NATO, there is one thing we must avert by all means necessary; the Third World War. Invasion of Ukraine, Finland Joining NATO and everything else has to be put aside for this issue. We can not afford to have a nuclear exchange between countries. We have only one world. Whatever it takes, the nuclear powers must never come into direct conflict with each other, less escalate it to a nuclear war. They are an awesome weapon to protect yourself from the possible enemy, yet they are something that must never be used. This is not an issue of political ideologies or world views, the matter of mutual annihilation touches everyone on the planet an equal amount. With the increase in amounts of tactical nuclear weapons, misreading situations for an actual strategic nuclear strike has become that much easier. A nuclear weapon must not be ever used, as the enemy might retaliate. While we are not near a nuclear exchange at the moment, all sides need to work together in some manner to ensure that the possibility is nil. We don’t need to lose our ways of living and sovereignty for that. We need dialogue and diplomacy for that. However, as we’ve seen this year, it is hard to do peace with someone who is willing to punch you down because they feel afraid for all the reasons you don’t threaten them with. The balance of power, as much as everyone hates it, is something that has always worked in human history. From having a better rock to a sharper knife, from having an iron sword over a bronze one to having rifled guns against smooth bores flintlocks, and to having a higher number of missiles with superior destructive capabilities. In the best-case scenario, which we’ve been in for some time now, the existence of a nuclear arsenal and the threat it poses has kept the stakes low. The lower they are, the less likely the enemy will have a need to resort to stronger retaliation. If we return our gaze back to Finland, even if we were to join NATO, the stakes would be kept low. Whatever government would allow foreign nuclear weaponry on Finnish soil would be letting their people down and spit in face of diplomacy. As long as NATO works as intended as a defensive organization, no power need to worry about it.

All this must seem like a rambling. Mostly because it is. The issue is not exactly easy and I am not too comfortable with these views or sharing them overall. However, we must face the danger that exists and admit that diplomacy has its limits. If we can’t trust a power, we must find allies somewhere else.

As an end note, why is that the featured image? There you see Russians dragging a boat along the river Volga, while at the far right you can see a German steamboat. Things haven’t changed.