Neutral Finland has increased cooperation with the NATO military alliance this year amid concerns about neighboring Russia’s recent increase in military activity and purported involvement in the eastern Ukraine conflict. Finland has no plans to become a full NATO member, but continued Russia aggression could ultimately cause the Finnish government to consider options other than complete neutrality.
Finland has close economic ties with Russia, and recent polls showed that the majority of its people are against entrance into the NATO military alliance, the Christian Science Monitor reports. But recent incidents, including Russia’s annexation of Crimea last March and its apparent support of pro-Moscow separatists in eastern Ukraine, represent a trend that concerns Finnish citizens.
“Finland doesn’t feel threatened right now. … So there is this concern, which we must address, about where Russia is going, and how it will look 10 or 15 years down the road. For Finland, these are extremely important questions,” Kirsti Kauppi, director of the Finland Foreign Ministry’s Political and Security Department, told the Christian Science Monitor.
Russia’s increased naval activity along Finland’s shores is also a source of concern. The Finnish navy launched depth charges last month at a suspect submarine that operated just miles offshore of Finland’s capital city of Helsinki, Reuters reported. While Finnish officials did not officially accuse Russia of involvement, the incident mirrored similar confrontations that nearby Latvia and Sweden have had with suspect Russian vessels.
As a member of the European Union, Finland supported the economic sanctions the political alliance implemented against Russia last year as punishment for its purported involvement in the Ukraine conflict. Finland has also increased its military ties with NATO. The Finnish government joined Sweden last August in signing a pact to allow NATO to provide military assistance to the two nations in emergency cases, the Guardian reported.
Finland and Sweden also joined with NATO members Denmark, Iceland and Norway last April in a vow to enhance cooperation in the face of increased Russian military activity. The nations also criticized Russia’s recent actions in a statement.
“Russia’s leaders have shown that they are prepared to make practical and effective use of military means in order to reach their political goals, even when this involves violating principles of international law,” the defense ministers said in a joint statement, Reuters reported.
Russia, meanwhile, has warned Finland not to join NATO and criticized its cooperation with NATO members. “Unlike in previous years, the Nordic defense cooperation positions itself as a foe with respect to Russia, with the potential of undermining the positive constructive relations established over the last decades,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement last month, according to Euractiv.
For the time being, Finland remains neutral. The Finnish government will do whatever it can to “promote the peace process,” Terhi Hakala, the director of the Finnish Foreign Ministry’s Eastern Affairs Department, told the Christian Science Monitor.
"Finland has followed a very clear line from the beginning. We do not accept Russia's annexation of Crimea or its actions in east Ukraine. But we do our best to promote the peace process; it's the only way forward," Hakala said. “This is all happening in our neighborhood, and it has got our full attention. We need to push peace in every way we can.”