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Thursday, May 26, 2022

Finns wait for NATO membership between relief and fear of retribution

Latest NewsFinns wait for NATO membership between relief and fear of retribution

In the south of Helsinki, facing the waters of the Baltic Sea, a female figure over five meters high rises on a granite pedestal. “This statue was erected by the Finnish people as a symbol of peaceful coexistence and friendship between Finland and the Soviet Union,” reads the inscription in Finnish, Swedish (co-official) and Russian. Built in 1968 to mark the 20th anniversary of the mutual defense treaty that Moscow forced Helsinki to sign, the monument symbolizes the decades during which the Scandinavian nation lived in the shadow of its giant neighbor. “I think it’s time to tear it down; it is a memory of the shameful years when we lived on our knees,” says Jaakko Heinonen, a 21-year-old biology student, holding a skateboard with his right hand.

After the historic step that Finland (pop. 5.5 million) took this Thursday, when Prime Minister Sanna Marin and President Sauli Niinistö expressed their support for NATO membership, the Finnish population woke up with mixed feelings; The relief from closer perception of the protection guaranteed by the Alliance is mixed with the anxiety many feel about the risk of Russian reprisals. During these months, the Kremlin has repeatedly tried to intimidate Helsinki with warnings of possible “military and political consequences” if it decides to join the transatlantic organization. “Finland is striving for its destruction as a country,” Senator Vladimir Dzhabarov once said. “Russia will be forced to take retaliatory measures of a military-technical and other nature in order to suppress threats to its national security,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said a few hours after the publication of the statement signed by Russia. which was called “as soon as possible” to join the Atlantic Alliance.

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A poll released Thursday by think tank EVA shows that one in five Finns believe Russia will attack their territory before the end of this year; 30% believe that until 2027 there will be an armed confrontation with Moscow, and more than half believe that Finland will be subject to constant cyber attacks from Russian hackers and interference in electoral processes.

Russia’s brutal aggression against Ukraine has completely changed Finnish public opinion. Whereas at the end of last year only 20% of the population were in favor of joining the Alliance, a poll by a public body published last Monday shows that only 11% of citizens prefer the Scandinavian country not to join NATO. Support for integration into the military bloc has spread not only among the people of the country, but also among all the forces of the parliamentary arch, including environmentalists and former communists, whose kindred groups in Stockholm are still opposed to joining from Sweden.

Ever since Finland declared its independence from Russia in late 1917, when the neighboring country was bleeding in a bitter civil war between Bolsheviks and anti-communists, relations between Helsinki and Moscow have been tumultuous. Two armed clashes during World War II, during which Finland ceded 10% of its territory, were followed by more than four decades, during which the Scandinavian country was subordinated to the interests of Moscow and had the right to veto entry into the European Union. . After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the winds of change blew into Finland. In 1992, Helsinki disassociated itself from the treaty that had determined its foreign policy for nearly half a century, and three years later joined the European Union.

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Hilda Hannikainen, a 55-year-old nurse, says NATO membership is essential. “If you are threatened by a nuclear power, you need the protection of others who have nuclear weapons. [Estados Unidos, el Reino Unido y Francia]”, he comments on Senate Square, a few meters from the statue of Tsar Alexander II of Russia and in front of the Helsinki Cathedral and the Government Palace. However, Hannikainen is concerned about what could happen within six to twelve months, which, according to sources in the military organization, could take longer for the ratification process, during which time the mutual protection clause would not yet apply (Article 5 of the Criminal Code). founding text of the Alliance). Several NATO members, including the United States, assured that during this period the Scandinavian country would be guaranteed its protection. And British Prime Minister Boris Johnson signed on Wednesday in Helsinki and Stockholm agreements on mutual security guarantees, according to which London undertakes to defend Finland and Sweden in the event of aggression. “I trust more [el presidente estadounidense, Joe] Biden than Johnson, who I think came here only for political gain,” says a health worker at the square, where several mass rallies in support of Ukraine have taken place in recent months.

Finland’s collective memory is deeply etched with the Soviet invasion, which was repulsed by blood and fire at the start of World War II. But it is up to the population to deal with Georgia and Ukraine, two countries that were promised at the Bucharest summit in 2008 that they could join the Alliance in the future and that Russian troops would now occupy part of their territory.

Alpo Rusi, a Finnish diplomat who was ambassador to Switzerland and foreign policy adviser to former president Martti Ahtisaari (1995-1999), comments by phone that the population is “fed up with the Kremlin’s attitude.” Rusi, who has been advocating NATO integration for more than 20 years, assures that Helsinki “did its best” to maintain good relations with Moscow in recent decades, but Russian President Vladimir Putin “settled any possibility of understanding on the morning of February 24 [día del inicio de la ofensiva por tierra, mar y aire sobre Ucrania]”.

Not the entire population of Helsinki (630,000 inhabitants) is celebrating future entry into the Alliance. Abshir Ibrahim, a Finnish national who was born in Somalia, a country in a constant state of war, who came to northern Europe with his parents when he was five, believes Finland has become more vulnerable since Thursday: “I don’t think it’s time to integrate into NATO. Putin had no reason to notice us; now he has them. And he made it clear that he has no limits.”

Ibrahim, who will soon turn 30, is concerned that the guarantees offered by Washington and London during the ratification process may go unheeded. “What is the use of the promises that were given to Ukraine when it renounced nuclear weapons [el memorándum de Budapest de 1994, suscrito por Rusia, Estados Unidos y Reino Unido]? asks this publicist in a park in the center of the Finnish capital. “I think that if, for example, the Russians occupied one of our uninhabited islands, the allies would say: “We are placing weapons; you, the dead,” the verdict.

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