Erkki Tuomioja: FIIA’s Russia Brief—a study, an investigation or an opinion?


This text is the translation of a blog post published on Erkki Tuomioja’s website, concerning a recent report on Finland’s  relations with Russia.

The recent Russia report by the Finnish Institute of International Affairs (FIIA) has received both praise and critique. The institute has responded by claiming, among other things, that the people behind the criticism are trying to restrict the freedom of the report. Part of this freedom, however, is critique and open conversation as well. Additionally, the line between a study, investigation or even an opinion is a very thin one. The preamble of the brief describes it as an investigation, but when defending the report the director of FIIA, Teija Tiilikainen, says it is a research report. Both the researchers and investigators can have objectives and opinions. They also have the right to present such. But disagreeing with them is permissible without it being directed towards the independence of the report itself.


The first question is: how is it possible—-in a study detailing developments from only a few years—to analyze Russian actions without even attempting to evaluate whether the country’s reasoning for its own policies are in any way founded. A genuine research could indeed come to the conclusion that these actions are mere substitutes for the power politics, which Russia resorts to whatever the case. But to FIIA, unlike to many other Western research institutes, this seems to be a natural starting point.


This report is certainly not guilty of any type of “whataboutism”. It does not stop to think, or even to describe, the factors which may have led Russia to act the way it does. A more genuine academic research would approach the subject from an angle typical to comparative studies on superpowers. If that were the case, for instance the United States’ reaction to Castro’s rise to power in Cuba and placing soviet-missiles on its soil could provide perspective for how Russia experiences the actions of Ukraine.


When Russia sees threats at its borders, the report considers them as unfounded. When Russia pleads to these threats it is considered as “strategic diversion”. For example, a Nato missile defense shield in Eastern Europe is in the report quickly bypassed. If the opinion is that the West has not acted in any manner which could alarm Russia, it is easy to conclude that “it is very difficult to influence Russia’s foreign policy and its policy reasoning”. It is also easy to state that we must “concentrate on ways how Finland can lessen the risks created by the Russian actions”.


Once again it has to be said that a more diverse, larger view on these matters is not necessary because Russia’s actions must be justified somehow, but because instead of polarizing—which in this report is labelled as ‘the new normal’—we could aim to reach a position where everyone would accept and understand that cooperative security is, in a world of increasing dependency on one another, the only way to produce and build security and prosperity for all, the Russians included.


The report disregards influencing policies and active stabilizing politics as unnecessary and suggests that we instead concentrate only on preparedness. This means strengthening both Finland’s own defense as well as the cooperation with Nato. The report does not directly say that Finland should become part of Nato, but it becomes clear enough, as is the case with the in-person appearances of any FIIA representatives.


The core argument of the report is indeed fear. This is evident for example when it describes how “Russia has aimed many indirect and direct threatening acts towards Finland, such as encroaching and sudden military training exercises nearby”. Another threat the report sees is the health, social services and regional government reform: while creating it, we may also create an “institutional vacuum”, which Russia could take advantage of. This observation is based on an evaluation a defected KGB major gave over 35 years ago. This is cited in the report as “…being able to see where the weaknesses are and there you will find the KGB”. The report goes on to say that this evaluation is still very much current today.


The most provocative comments on the type of pressure Russia could push towards Finland come in the form of anonymous comments. In its conclusion section the report additionally makes an assumption that Russia could take advantage of Finland’s 100th birthday celebrations in 2017 and “question Finland’s independence in different ways”. There are additionally some other claims in the report which sink to the level of fearful tabloid headlines.


FIIA probably attempts to emphasize its independence by the fact that a report funded by the cabinet can at least indirectly accuse the government and the foreign policy leaders of not objecting the Nordstream 2 gas pipe project and of accepting Rosatom into Fennovoima and, additionally, that it has dared to communicate and make deals with Russia.


The report’s clear desire to attach Finland into the West or the EU seems to share an angle similar to that of Baltic nations. Nordstream is bad, because it is bypassing the Baltic states and Ukraine. It ignores the fact that both Russia and Germany may have completely non-political reasons to seek options for routes outside of Ukraine, where sometimes a third of gas was stolen en route. I, too, rejected Fennovoima, but I would have done so even if Rosatom had been replaced by a Western supplier. Going behind the EU’s back does not mean that Finland would give up its support to policies it benefits from. The other EU nations have not done so either, even when they lack a mutual, 1300 kilometer border with Russia. Besides, it is difficult to appeal to the uniformed EU views when you don’t even have them.


A couple of observations: in the arctic section of the report—where the environmental angle isn’t even mentioned—the threat seems to be that Russia is, partially at least, making its arctic policy more “secure”. It would have been very helpful to speak to the special delegate of the United States, admiral Papp. Papp has not witnessed any Russian actions in the arctic which the US would not be conducting also and by which Russia would somehow be strengthening its position.


As for the security situation in the Baltic Sea, the report repeats the familiar mantra according to which it would be impossible for Finland and Sweden to stay outside if there would be a conflict in the area. Maybe this is the case. The only way to guarantee 100% that we will not be left out from any such conflict is, of course, a military alliance. It is important for Finland to keep this option, even if any justification for it does not currently exist.


Of course, there is some good and useful analysis in the report as well. For instance on the internal developments in Russia, which we cannot close our eyes of. Additionally, emphasizing the fact that we now live in a different environment than a couple of years ago. It is hard to disagree with that statement. Mostly Finland and its government has taken this development into account the right way.

Categories: Defence, International, Security, Uncategorized

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