Saturday, December 3, 2022

No longer neutral? War in Ukraine tests Finland’s stance on Russia

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Finland has traditionally walked a careful line of neutrality to avoid confrontation with its Russian neighbour. But the war in Ukraine is changing public attitudes, and joining NATO is becoming an increasingly realistic possibility. 

Twenty years ago, joining NATO would have been unthinkable in Finland. But a historic shift in public opinion is now under way, with a survey released on February 28 finding that, for the first time, a majority of the population (53%) was in favour of joining the Atlantic alliance – an increase of 25% since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began.

By March 14, a second poll found support for joining NATO had jumped again – to 62%.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, heightened security concerns have pushed Finnish politicians to consider dramatic policy shifts away from the country’s traditional neutrality. In an unprecedented move, Prime Minister Sanna Marin announced on February 28 that Finland would supply Ukraine with weapons to fight against Russian forces.

Meanwhile, Finnish President Sauli Niinistö has called for “cool heads” to prevail when it comes to making decisions over NATO membership.

“There is emotion at the heart of public opinion,” said Maurice Carrez, a professor at Sciences Po Strasbourg and a specialist in Finnish history. He added that two of the largest political parties in Finland are pro-NATO, the Social Democratic Party and the National Coalition.

“The Finnish president wanted to remind people that they have to avoid making a rash decision.”

Warnings from RussiaFor Finland’s 5.5 million inhabitants, this means keeping calm in the face of escalating threats from Russia.

“Finland and Sweden are getting frequent warnings from Russia,” Chiara Ruffa, associate professor in war studies at the Swedish Defense University, told FRANCE 24. “In early March, for example, four Russian fighter jets violated Swedish airspace while the Swedish and Finnish armies were carrying out exercises on the island of Gotland [in the Baltic sea].”

“Nobody really believes that an attack is imminent, but it has become very clear that we are going to need to prepare for that eventuality,” she added.

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