YLE: Finland at a crossroads developing new Russia policy

Finland’s leading newspaper Helsingin Sanomat political reporter Unto Hämäläinen, retired Yle foreign correspondent Jarmo Mäkelä and the former editor of the influential periodical Suomen Kuvalehti Tapani Ruokanen appeared on Yle’s morning talk show on September 10. Image: Yle

Finland’s approach to Russia is at a crossroads. After decades of following the Paasikivi-Kekkonen doctrine, which held thatFinland should always be seen by Russia to be a ‘good neighbour’, Finland’s agreement of economic sanctions against Russia marks a new era in Finnish foreign policy. Three experienced journalists discussed the changing environment on Yle’s Morning television on Wednesday.

Yle’s Wednesday morning television programme devoted part of its broadcast to a discussion of Finland’s changing foreign policy landscape and its relationship with Russia.

Suomen Kuvalehti’s former editor Tapani Ruokanen noted the end of the Paasikivi-Kekkonen policy, a policy of Russian appeasement named after the two former presidents of Finland that defined Finnish posture toward the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

That posture was one of positive neutrality, an attempt to demonstrate that Finland would not be a threat to Soviet interests.

That’s now gone, after two decades of holding onto the belief that Russia could eventually become a country of democracy with rule of law.

But there is no escaping it. ”Finland is still Russia’s neighbour,” said Ruokanen.

Retired Yle correspondent Jarmo Mäkelä said that he is of the opinion that Finland’s foreign policy stance has actually changed less than its external position. He recalls that it was agreed after the Second World War that Finland would be included in the Soviet Union’s sphere of interest and the West would be in no position to lure Finland away.

“Our room for maneuvering is now considerably better. We now have options available to us. The difficult part is that we have to choose correctly,” Mäkelä says.

Mäkelä notes that the Cold War tradition of obfuscation continues in Finland. He says the people of Finland are able to read between the lines of politicians’ speeches: government leaders keep stating day after day that Finland is not threatened by any danger while, according to Mäkelä, half the populace thinks otherwise.

Ruokanen feels it is extremely important that public discourse is honest and open, and that an effort be made to make transparency much greater than during the Paasikivi-Kekkonen era.

“We are not in a neutral zone, under the influence of Russia. We are a part of the West.”

Unto Hämäläinen of Helsingin Sanomat says that Finland is now at a crossroads. After 70 years of seeking to avoid a conflict with Russia and the Soviet Union, Finland now suddenly stands opposed to Moscow.

Newspaper man Hämäläinen says that the sanctions policy brought in over the Ukraine crisis the war in Ukraine has just begun and no one knows what its effects will be.  In an article published in Helsingin Sanomat on Saturday he traced the fateful decision back to the EU membership referendum held in 1994. After joining the bloc there is no turning back to a policy of trying to protect trade with Russia at all costs.

“Everyone is trying to get through this without getting wet”

In the Yle discussion, Ruokanen commended Finland’s Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja for his statements clarifying that Finland is an EU member and therefore must adhere to the EU’s policy. No other alternative exists.

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