Preparing for the Putin era

"Vladimir Putin knows Finland better than the Finnish leadership knows Russia." This comment by an anonymous Finnish official is part of the current guessing game about the meaning for Finland of the new era in Russia. The hopes and fears about the new Russia echo the history of the Finnish-Soviet relationship which could change quickly from official declarations of mutual friendship to periods of nervous tension.

Putin's knowledge of Finland goes back to his previous job as Deputy Mayor of St. Petersburg. During that time Putin visited near-by Finland dozens of times as part of his duties. This is how he learned the facts of economic co-operation between the two countries. In hindsight it is interesting to note that on these visits he drew very little attention to himself, always remaining in the shadow of more colourful Russian visitors.

The pace of change in the Russian leadership has made it difficult to keep up with the personalities in the Kremlin. During Paavo Lipponen's five years of Premiership, his Russian counterpart has changed five times. On the other hand, experts emphasise that the bi-lateral relations are not as important as they used to be. The leading Finnish daily, Helsingin Sanomat (29 March 2000) sees a good example of this new situation in Lipponen's statements on the Russian presidential elections. In his statement, Lipponen did not mention Finland once. Instead he spoke about how the elections were being viewed in the European Union.

According to Helsingin Sanomat, the Russian side does not necessarily see matters in the same way. Last December Russia criticised a meeting in a Helsinki cafe between a Finnish Foreign Ministry official and a Chechen representative. In the Russian view, such a meeting was not compatible with "good neighbourliness". Subsequently, the quarrel has been dropped, probably because of the EU's muted reactions to events in Chechnya.

See also:

Was Finnish media silenced by the Soviet Union?

February 1999

Debate on Karelia stirs controversy

February 1999

Karelia: from geopolitics to geoeconomics

January 1999

The North West in Russian regional politics by Martin Nicholson

January 1999



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