Over the past few days, questions regarding the divergent Finnish and Estonian directions on relations with Russia have reemerged and whether the differences in our approach have affected Estonian-Finnish relations. Immediately, I would say that we cannot allow differences in our statements and tactical decisions to be blown out of proportion and that we must keep the bigger picture in perspective.
In Finnish society and politics, views on security and defence related issues vary. Some Finns believe that their country should join NATO, although the majority do not. Given Estonia’s experience over the last century, it is difficult for Estonians to understand Finland’s position. But if we examine Finnish decision making and the outcomes of their actions over the 20th century then their position becomes much easier to comprehend.
Most Finns have no illusions regarding Russia and they are prepared to defend themselves without relying on help from others.
As our neighbours, It is important for Estonians to understand the Finnish experience starting in the 1930’s and how that influenced Finland’s current direction. Finland’s relations and relationship with Russia over the 20th century are unique among European nations. No other country, including Estonia, can claim any experience in having been able to prevent the fulfillment and outcome of the Soviet-Nazi Pact and preserve their own independence as Finland has. Finland has the experience of defending itself against Russia militarily, winning a war against Russia and remaining independent at the same time, developing a Western oriented, democratic society while sharing a border with Russia.
That same experience has influenced Finnish thinking about Russia today. Most Finns have no illusions regarding Russia and they are prepared to defend themselves without relying on help from others. This is a fundamental view held by a majority of Finns. Furthermore, before any need arises, every effort is being made by Finland to avoid conflict by conducting normal daily relations with Russia.
Finland’s reluctance to join NATO is surly surprising for some of us. Perhaps it is because they rely only on themselves and their defence forces for their security – which is made easier by Swedish non-membership in NATO. The Finns have placed their trust in themselves for security over a reliance on receiving help from abroad. If Sweden decides to join NATO, it is unlikely that Finland would maintain its position as the only remaining non-NATO member in this region, as such a status would be undesirable. This is not just the opinion of Finnish politicians but is also supported by Finns in general.
It is remarkable that despite Russia’s expanding military capabilities, Finland is maintaining its long held strategic direction and is even entering into a joint agreement to develop a nuclear plant in Finland.
Owing to our unique experience in the mid-20th century, Finland’s tactical direction may differ from Estonia’s but our fundamental attitude towards Russia is the same. The majority of Finnish politicians and society have no illusions about the risks associate with Russia’s behaviour. Given Estonia’s unique and close relationship with Finland, we must work to maintain it and to understand each other as friends.
Some of the differences regarding tactics in relations with Russia that have emerged between our two countries have been molded by Finland’s 20th century experience and should not threaten Estonian-Finnish relations. Just as Estonia’s perceptions of Russia are the result of our experience in the 20th century.
We need to recognize that Finland is not a pro-Russian nation and with that understanding we will continue to develop our unique and friendly relations.