Opinion: Finland says Njet to Russia again

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Finland's budding NATO membership will end Moscow-enforced neutrality after more than 70 years. According to Konstantin Eggert, this is a humiliation for Vladimir Putin.

End of neutrality: Finland wants to join NATO

When I was a teenager, my godmother Olga first told me about the “Winter War” between the Soviet Union and Finland in the winter of 1939/1940. She was working as a nurse in a Moscow clinic when Joseph Stalin launched his ill-prepared conquest of Finland under flimsy pretenses.

“It was terrible,” she said. “All these young soldiers with horrible frostbite and sniper wounds that couldn't be treated. The Finns destroyed our army, but we weren't allowed to talk about it. They had to cede a few territories to us, but we never conquered them.” For me it was a shock. In our school books, the war was only mentioned in one paragraph.

Yes to cheese, no to NATO

When I was growing up in what was then the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s, Finland was considered the friendliest of the “capitalist” countries. Finnish products such as Viola processed cheese or winter jackets were western products that occasionally came within reach of Soviet citizens. After hearing Olga's story, I could no longer see the Finns as harmless cheesemakers.

DW- Editor Konstantin Eggert

Years later, I heard a famous Finnish 1939 war song with the refrain “Njet, Molotov” (No, Molotov) mocking Stalin's People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs, Vyacheslav Molotov. The Finns had indeed managed to retain their independence, but only with the concession of “Finlandization”,  compliance with certain restrictions and conditions imposed by Moscow.

Maintaining neutrality was the most important requirement – in other words, in simple terms, the ban on joining NATO, which was founded in 1949. Even when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, public opinion in Finland was reluctant to join NATO.

Economically, Finland has always been closely linked to Russia. Most of Finland's oil and gas needs are met from neighboring countries to the east. Rosatom, a Russian state-owned nuclear power plant construction company, was even planning to construct a power plant in Finland – an extremely rare project for western countries.

Continued political contact with the Kremlin was an integral part of Finnish politics. As recently as last January, Finland's President Sauli Niinisto was one of the few Western politicians who regularly spoke to or met with President Vladimir Putin.

Humiliation for Putin

But today a remix of the old war hit from 1939 can be heard in Helsinki. The Finns say Njet again – this time to Putin. And they are ready to join the North Atlantic Alliance. Finlandization, one of the most enduring features of the post-WWII European security landscape, was rendered obsolete in a matter of weeks by Russia's war of aggression in Ukraine.

For Putin, this is a major political setback. Since his first official visit to Finland in 2001, he has put a lot of effort into cultivating the country's politics and economy. Now he has to see how this policy collapses within a few weeks. In another symbolic act, Finland canceled the Rosatom nuclear power project.

Now Russia is reportedly threatening to cut off energy supplies to Finland shortly. But the Finns are prepared for temporary hardship and are looking for new suppliers. Her many years of experience with Russia have taught her that the Kremlin only takes seriously those who are willing to make sacrifices and remain steadfast.

Putin's shot in the knee

Putin's attempt at military Blackmail won't fare any better. The war against Ukraine has exposed the pitiful condition of the Russian army. The Finnish armed forces, on the other hand, regularly participate in exercises with NATO, have modern weaponry and are fully interoperable with the Alliance's armies.

Should the Kremlin increase its military presence along the 1000-kilometer border with Finland, the Finns can count on their new allies, including the US, to strengthen their defenses by moving material and troops to the region.

< p>Russia's strategic position in the region will deteriorate significantly. Sweden is expected to follow in Finland's footsteps, making the Baltic Sea effectively NATO's backyard. Kaliningrad, the Russian enclave between Poland and Lithuania, would then be even easier to isolate should the alliance wish to do so.

Putin cannot escape the irony of history: he made opposition to NATO expansion his own Hallmark – and will now have to watch as NATO troops are stationed 130 kilometers from St. Petersburg. No doubt Molotov would have disapproved.

Adapted from English by Phoenix Hanzo.