Finland, at the gates of NATO

“Finland is prepared for the regime of Vladimir Putin to extend the harassment of our country.”

Päivi Pohjanheimo, Finnish ambassador to Mexico.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has reshaped the concept of security in the European region. The ambassador of Finland In Mexico, Päivi Pohjanheimo spoke with El Economista to analyze the issue and the possible entry of his country into NATO, a scenario supported by a majority of its population.

─ How likely is it that Finland will apply to join NATO? Would the request be within the framework of the Madrid Summit next June?

The most important reason for remaining militarily non-allied has been the lack of popular support. Most Finns have stressed the credibility of our own national defense forces. With the Russian invasion this changed overnight. We are now at a turning point in the world order and in a new light some 70% of Finns and a majority of MPs are in favor of Finland applying for NATO membership for its greater security.

Due to the strong citizen support and the clear parliamentary majority in favor, the decision could be taken at any time by the President of the Republic and by the government led by Prime Minister Sanna Marín. But to ensure a solid and firm political platform, we prefer the widest possible parliamentary exchange. That said, Finland is likely to make its decision already in the coming weeks.

─ How is Finland preparing for the Russian reaction if it joins NATO?

Finland is prepared for the regime of Vladimir Putin to extend the harassment of our country during the NATO accession process, which will probably last several months. This spring, during the heightened public conversation about possible membership, Finland has noted an increase in Russian cyberattacks against it. We anticipate verbal threats, airspace violations, and troop deployments near our border. There is nothing new in these media and Finland has prepared to face them.

─ Finland shares a long border with Russia. From the Finnish perspective, what do you think about the Russian invasion of Ukraine and how has it changed your approach to Finnish national security?

I cannot stress enough, I can only say that the Russian invasion of Ukraine has brought about a fundamental change in the operating environment of Finnish security. It has both short-term and long-term effects and endangers the security and stability of the whole of Europe.

Finland has always tried to maintain good relations with all its neighbors – imagine a map – the Nordic countries to the west, the Baltics to the south and Russia to the east of us. But what we now see in Ukraine is not a balanced war between the two sides. Instead, we see a futile and cruel, unprovoked, unjustified aggression of Russia to its neighboring country, and on its part, the purposeful defense of Ukraine, for its freedom and independence.

The situation is more serious than at any time since the Cold War. Russia has shown that it does not respect sovereignty and territorial integrity and has challenged the existing international security infrastructure and rules-based system. In Finland this means a profound change in the national security landscape. We have responded quickly to this change and the Finnish government has prepared a report on the Russian invasion of Ukraine and its impacts on regional security. It was published this April, and Parliament is already working on it, to consider the decision that would be historic, joining NATO.

─ Finland is not part of NATO, like most of the countries of the European Union and the Nordic countries. Would joining NATO break with the strict “neutrality” in defensive matters that they maintain?

Finland’s foreign and security policy is based on human rights, the international system of rules and international law. Due to its geographical location, Finland chose not to ally militarily and for neutrality during the Cold War. However, neutrality no longer considered it viable at the end of that time. Officially neutrality ended in 1995, and since that year we have been part of the European Union.

Along with the accession to the EU, a public discussion was also started in Finland about the possible candidacy as a member of the Atlantic Defense Alliance. Since 2007 we have had something called the “NATO option”, which means that Finland has the option to apply to join NATO if it deems it necessary in the event of a change in its security landscape.

To enable the “NATO option”, Finland has already been working closely with the Atlantic Defense Alliance together with Sweden, even though we are not member countries.

─ Does Finland consider its accession to NATO as a real measure to strengthen security and stability in Europe? And what do you think about the position of your neighbor Sweden, which apart from Finland is the only Nordic country that is not yet part of NATO?

Finland has always had close defense cooperation with the other Nordic countries, especially Sweden. Russia has obviously managed to have an impact on this Nordic cooperation and has further strengthened it.

Finland and Sweden make their own decisions independently, but due to the close bilateral cooperation we see, that the most ideal would be, if both countries could make the decision and submit their applications for NATO membership simultaneously. The possible membership of Finland and Sweden in NATO would increase the threshold for the use of military force in the Baltic Sea region, which would improve the stability of the region. Due to its location, Finland has an army and intelligence that would be useful to NATO, especially in the matter of defending the Baltic countries, such as Estonia.

─ What other measures is Finland considering to safeguard itself and maintain world order?

In Finland we have always understood that maintaining a strong defense is vital for a country like us. Therefore, we never abandoned compulsory military service: in the last corner of Europe, with the longest European border with Russia, it has been important to maintain the credible capacity to be able to defend the country.

Apart from military defense, the Sanna Marin government report also analyzes the impact on Finland’s economy, security of supply, preparedness, key functions of society, resilience, hybrid influence, cybersecurity, civil defense and critical infrastructure. These sectors form what we call the concept of comprehensive security, because the country’s external security also needs internal stability and predictability.

In addition, it is very important for us to take care of the unity of the Nordic region and the EU. The more united the area, the safer we feel.

─ Did Finland receive asylum applications from Ukrainians or Russians after the invasion?

The war has forced many Ukrainians to leave their homes. It is estimated that around five million Ukrainians have already left their country. Although most stay in neighboring countries, other countries, such as Finland, have also received migrants from Ukraine. In Finland, some 20,000 Ukrainians have applied for international protection since the start of the war. Many Finnish universities offer free classes to students, who have had to interrupt their studies in Ukraine.

In addition, we have received several Russians, who have preferred to leave their country under the prevailing conditions.

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The Finnish ambassador to Mexico, Päivi Pohjanheimo. photo: Finnish embassy

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