KGB, Finlandisation, and The Struggle For Power in Finland

Former Finnish PM Kalevi Sorsa (left) and former Soviet KGB officer Vladimiro

Author and former party secretary of Finland’s Centre Party Jarmo Korhonen has written a book about Finland’s post war history and former Finnish President, Mauno Koivisto: “Struggle of Power – Mauno Koivisto Crushed the Finnish Bourgeoisie” . The book, published in May, has generated considerable media attention in Finland. The book describes Finland’s transition from Urho Kekkonen’s presidency to Mauno Koivisto’s tenure in office and the hegemony of the Finnish Social Democratic Party.

In the book, Korhonen describes how the Soviet Union intervened in Finland’s domestic political life not only by using its networks within the Finnish political elite, but also by funding parties and by developing business connections. Former Finnish Presidential advisor, Alpo Rusi, noted in a recent article that the Cold War era is often described as a success story for Finland.

Opening the Finnish archives on the subject remains a challenge despite the need for critical investigation of the subject. According to Rusi, Korhonen’s book further reinforces the argument that Finland’s post war history needs to be fully investigated.

The material analysed in the book consists, for instance, of correspondence between former Finnish Foreign Minister and Kekkonen protege, Paavo Väyrynen and former Social Democratic Prime Minister, Kalevi Sorsa. It also examines the archives of the Finnish Foreign Ministry, and notes from meetings with the KGB. Former President Urho Kekkonen’s archives are also used as a source.

The role of Viktor Vladimirov, who served as head of the KGB mission in Helsinki before and during the presidential election of 1982 is one of the most important topics raised in relation to the question of “Finlandisation.” In the book, Korhonen reminds us that Vladimirov his career in the KGB’s department of assassinations. His influence and impact on Finland is still a subject of debate.

Korhonen demonstrates that Vladimirov was able to intervene both in the domestic and foreign policy of the Finnish government. During the autumn of 1981, Vladimirov met his friend Mauno Koivisto every week. However, there are no notes about these meetings that could be used by Korhonen. However, Rusi states that the KGB agent, Vladimirov was the primary architect behind the choice of Kekkonen’s successor.

The book discloses the harsh methods used behind the scenes in the struggle for power. In addition to being a domestic fight for power and control between factions of influential and ambitious men, the fight for power in Finland also had the additional dimension of including a struggle to increase Soviet influence and control of the Finnish government. Finland’s international status was sensitive. The KGB used internal political struggles in Finland to increase its own influence and to penetrate deeper into the Finnish political life.

Attention has been drawn to Finland’s history and status during the war in Ukraine. Former Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja — also a Social Democrat — has maintained a critical position against the sanctions against Russia. The debate about whether Finlandisation is making a comeback has intensified as the Russian aggression has become ever more brutal. Therefore, Korhonen’s book is not only important purely from the historical point of view but also gives some perspective for the challenges that Finland and the whole of Europe faces today.

What is Finlandisation?

The term means the political process by which a stronger state exerts strong influence on the policies of a weaker neighbouring country, while the weaker country maintains its own political and economical system. The term was used to describe Finland’s international status during the Cold War. Although Finland and the Soviet Union had signed an Agreement of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance, Finland was economically part of the western world.

Finlandisation Who’s Who:

Jarmo Korhonen

  • Author
  • Party secretary of Finland’s Centre Party (2006-2010)

Alpo Rusi

  • Doctor of Political Science
  • Former advisor of the Finnish President (Martti Ahtisaari)
  • Has served as Finland’s ambassador at various posts

Urho Kekkonen

  • President of Finland in 1956-1982
  • Background in the Centre Party (Agrarian Party)
  • Is often described as authoritarian and Soviet-minded leader, yet during his presidency, Finland integrated economically into western structures

Mauno Koivisto

  • President of Finland in 1982-1994
  • Background in the Social Democratic Party
  • After his presidency, has voiced critical opinions on NATO membership
  • Gained criticism for his attitude towards the Baltic States during their struggle for freedom

Kalevi Sorsa

  • One of the most important politicians in the Social Democratic Party during the Cold War
  • Held the post of prime minister in four governments

Paavo Väyrynen

  • Politician in the Centre Party
  • One of the most controversial figures in Finnish political life
  • Was one of Kekkonen’s possible successors as president
  • Served as foreign minister four times
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