Are “Home Russians” Making A Return in Finland?

Pavel Kuznetsov Photo: YLE

The next Russian ambassador to Finland, Pavel Kuznetsov, differs strongly from the long-serving, doctor of physics Alexander Rumyanstev, who has served as Russian ambassador for 11 years. The 56 year old Kuznetsov has served in Helsinki twice (1980-85 and 1991-96) and can speak some Finnish. An experienced diplomat, he also served in Bratislava and will be moved to Helsinki from a high-ranking post he held in the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Hi Finnish language skills, among other known facts, indicate that Kuznetsov has very likely has a background in Soviet and Russian intelligence. When he started at his first post in the Russian embassy in Helsinki, he was only in his twenties. At that age, it’s unlikely that he would have been able to establish contacts with significntly older politicians. However, in general, Soviet influence efforts among Finnish youth organizations was wide and well-documented. Kuznetsov’s role in them, remains open.

When analysing the names of then-youth politicians it’s impossible to remain unnoticed, that many of them hold significant positions in Finnish society today. It might remove suspicions if at least part of the people mentioned in this article openly commented about any possible discussions and contacts with Mr. Kuznetsov.

Presidential candidates and journalists

Presidential candidate Matti Vanhanen (Center Party) and well-known political journalist, Unto Hämäläinen (then National Coalition), chaired the youth organizations of their parties from 1980 to 1983. Both had placed themselves in relatively pro-Soviet wings within the inner structures of their parties.

Hämäläinen’s continuous contacts with Soviet diplomat V. Marrussits is documented. According to those documents, Hämäläinen rewarded Marrussits with personal profile evaluations, many of them, negative ones.

Vanhanen was an active member not only in the Center Party Youth, but also in Rauhanpuolustajat (Finnish Peace Committee). The organization was practically an advocate for Soviet interests and was dominated by Taistoist, pro-Soviet communists such as Mirjam Vire-Tuominen and Johannes Pakaslahti. Despite Hämäläinen’s active efforts, the youth organization of the National Coalition Party did not join as a member of Finnish Peace Committee as an organization.

As Vanhanen belongs to the generation that used to maintain intelligence contacts with Eastern bloc organs, it would be extremely important to remain open and transparent about these issues during Vahanen’s presidential campaign . Yet as prime minister, Vanhanen proactively tried to shut down the debate on the publication of formerly secret Stasi documents.

As for the advisors on his campaign, Vanhanen has named politicians and others with deep connections to the Kremlin. These include former prime minister Esko Aho who now works for the Russian state-owned Sberbank and Seppo Kääriäinen, a veteran politician of Center Party and according to sources, highly honored by the KGB. Three of Vanhanen’s advisors – Risto Volanen, Pekka Visuri and Ilkka Herlin – have also held board memberships in the Russian connected Finnish Geopolitical Society.

In 1985, Vanhanen shared the position of then-president, Mauno Koivisto, regarding the struggle for freedom in the Baltic countries, and judged it as a provocation.

Also young Eero Heinäluoma (Social Democrat) was active in The Finnish Peace Committee and co-operated with Vanhanen in the framework of Varusmiesliitto (The Union of Military Servicemen). In 1983 Heinäluoma was recruited as a youth secretary of The Central Organization of Finnish Trade Unions. Maarit Feldt-Ranta, who is likely to be nominated as the Social Democratic presidential candidate is often seen as inseparable part of Heinäluoma’s inner circle. Matti Tukiainen, a good friend of Heinäluoma, held the chairmanship of The Social Democratic Party Youth Organization during Kuznetsov’s first post in Helsinki.

Back to laboratory and sanatorium?

Jakub Janda wrote in Newsweek that European NATO members could respond to the new USA-based Russia sanctions by expelling Russian diplomats who engage in intelligence activities.

It has been speculated this move could lead to an intensification of intelligence activities in Helsinki, while expelled Russian diplomats could be sent to a somewhat “softer” country to wait for better relations between Russia and NATO.
During the Cold war, The Finnish Security Police, lead by Seppo Tiitinen, allowed expelled Soviet diplomats to serve in Helsinki.

Will Kuznetsov interfere with the Finnish presidential elections?

In my recent article I speculated how Russia might interfere in the Finnish presidential elections which will take place in January 2018.

After the publication of that article, professor and chairman of Finnish Peace Committee, Markku Kangaspuro evaluated any interference efforts as unlikely.  The previously mentioned journalist, Unto Hämäläinen, who has acted as a moderator in primary debates of Social Democratic presidential candidates, shared Kangaspuro’s view in his article published by Helsingin Sanomat . His reasoning was based mainly on the fact that Russian president Boris Yeltsin made a promise of non-interference. For some reason, Hämäläinen doesn’t mention that Yeltsin made many other promises and commitments, such as securing the territorial integrity of Ukraine.
However, in Cold War era Finnish elections, Soviet interference was the rule, not the exeption.

Urho Kekkonen was elected, for the first time as president in 1956, with significant Soviet support. Before the 1982 eletion of, Viktor Vladimirov, who worked in the Russian embassy in Helsinki and had a career background in the KGB department of assasinations, delivered a list of preferred presidential candidates to Seppo Tiitinen. Mauno Koivisto was the Soviet favourite of candidates nominated by the parties and got elected.

In June 2015, an unedited version of Kuznetsov’s interview for “Zem a Vek” was leaked to the public. The audio file included his support for interfering in the domestic affairs of foreign countries:

“This might have been our mistake that, in Russian foreign policy, we have abandoned what we used to call “interference” – interference in the internal affairs of other states; [we have abandoned] support – not political, but financial support – of parties in other countries. […] But I think that, one way or another, we will eventually return to the necessity of, indeed, a more active support – not simply on the political level – of those political forces in certain countries which favour cooperation with Russia. […] I think that, in the coming years, there will be increasing support from the Russian side for the political forces in other countries, including Slovakia, which are loyal to Russia. And also support for the media.”

“Marine Le Pen” of Finland?

The Finns, the Finnish populist party formerly led by pro-NATO foreign minister Timo Soini, will run MP Laura Huhtasaari, as their presidential candidate. Huhtasaari holds strongly anti-NATO and anti-EU positions. Her candidacy is a natural part of the re-orientation of The Finns Party towards common European trends of anti-globalism, traditionalism and alignment with the “alt-right”movement. Huhtasaari is a big fan of both Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen. As a teacher with higher education and being a mother, she is not a typical politician in a party with a strong male-majority. There are many indications she may be able to reach the second round of voting and and challenge the incumbent Sauli Niinistö, yet the possibilities of Huhtasaari ultimately getting elected are close to zero.

However, it should not be forgotten that The Finns have elected female candidates who are anti-globalism and critical against western liberalism, with strongly anti-NATO agendas twice – in 2000 and 2006.

Establishment networks or provocative movements?

By ignoring lustration and by de facto positioning itself as a country that Russia has legitimate interest in (see Koivisto’s book Venäjän idea, 2001) it was possible to justify this passive attitude as an autarkian, patriotic solution. In his book, Koivisto advocates deep appeasement towards Russia as a preventive solution aginast possible Russian aggression.

One of the most vocal advocates of “autarkian patriotism” has been Gustav Hägglund, a retired general whom Koivisto nominated as Commander of Finnish Defense Forces. After investing €16 000 in WinCapita – one of the most famous financial crime cases in Finland – he explained: “I was afraid it could be a pyramid, but I thought it wouldn’t collapse”. The logic can also be found in his geopolitical thinking: so-called “Finlandization” is based on the will to be among the last of any potential victims and use this position for personal (officially national) gain.

Today, as Russia primarily attacks western institutions and structures, this kind of thinking is stongly outdated.

Soviet intelligence cultivated traditionalist and far-right movements as far back as the 1990’s, in order to influence their views on foreign policy. The left-wing connections go much deeper and further in terms of time, because of the Soviet ideology.

It should be noted that clearly provocative pro-Kremlin movements came to light in Finland as late as 2007- after bourgeois parties formed the government with the pro-western Minister of Defense, Jyri Häkämies. Was the influence of Russian intelligence organs in Finland so strong during Halonen’s first presidential term, that there was no need for very vocal pro-Kremlin movements?

After adjunct professor, Johan Bäckman with his associates labeled Estonia as “a fascist apartheid” regime, some supporters of anti-western foreign policy – such as former foreign minister Erkki Tuomioja – have labeled persons with critical opinions concerning pro-Kremlin policies, as the logical inverse of Bäckman.

In the early 2000’s Tuomioja was in correspondence with Bäckman and participated in the St. Petersburg launch of a book published by Bäckman.  According to report of “45 minuuttia”, Tuomioja considered Bäckman as a talented young scientist. Whether these gentlemen still keep contact with each others or not is unknown, but in the report published in 2012 Tuomioja gives a critical evaluation about Bäckman.

In recent years, anti-immigration movements and some other “anti-establishment” organizations have taken increasingly pro-Kremlin views, and at least some of them, are probably under active cultivation of Russian intelligence services. For example, some activists from the Suomi Ensin (Finland first) movement, reportedly participated in a trip to terrorist-occupied territories in Eastern Ukraine.

While these new provocative movements accelerate their activities, we cannot forget the old Kremlin networks of influence in Finland. During the Cold War, KGB officers cultivating Finnish polticians, businessmen, journalists etc. were called “home Russians”, which is quite an innapropriately playful term for such serious business. Almost every credible person had such contact with the Soviet embassy. Chief of Finnish Security Police, Antti Pelttari, has stated these practices have never fully disappeared. We’ll wait to see whether Mr. Kuznetsov will return the “home Russian” practice to the glory of its old days.

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