Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit to Finland gave Finnish media an opportunity to evaluate current relationships between Russia, Finland and the Baltic countries. Editorial writers detected a certain frankness in the talks between Putin and Finnish leaders. President Tarja Halonen did not mince her words in stating the obvious when she said that the Baltic countries will eventually join NATO.
Halonen's press conference statement triggered a mild reaction from Putin who said that in the end it is up to the Baltic countries themselves to make their choice. According to the regional newspaper Aamulehti (4 September 2001), this statement was new in the sense that Putin seemed reluctantly to approve the Baltic countries' eventual NATO membership. Earlier Putin had repeated his opinion that as a defence organisation NATO is redundant since there is no threat of an attack.
Halonen and Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen also turned down Putin's suggestion that Finland should serve as an example for the Baltic countries and also act as an mediator between Russia and its Baltic neighbours. Halonen emphasised that all countries in this equation are independent, implying that they should be left alone to make their decisions.
The Finnish President said that she did not expect the Baltic countries' NATO membership to alter Finnish security policy in any way . The Swedish-language daily Hufvudstadsbladet, headlining its editorial as "The world according to Putin" (4 September 2001), wrote that this attitude is typical of Finnish leaders, whilst the mood seems to be somewhat different amongst some security experts who have begun to see advantages in Finnish NATO membership.
According to Hufvudstadsbladet, Putin thinks that, contrary to what is said in public, NATO has not ceased to believe that in future Russia could be a threat to the West. The alliance is using Russia's current weakness as an excuse to strengthen its position in Europe in anticipation of a time when Russia is stronger.
The left-wing Kansan Uutiset (4 September 2001) wrote that for Russia, Finland is a direct and trustworthy contact to the European Union.
"This means that those people have been wrong who have criticised Finnish foreign policy for concentrating too much on the EU and neglecting Russia. It is Finland's EU membership which makes the relations between Finland and Russia even more important, not only for Finland but for Russia as well. This became clear during Putin's visit."
Kansan Uutiset says that instead of NATO enlargement, Russia would like to see security arrangements which strengthen the security of the whole continent.
"Finland's non-alignment fits this wish perfectly. In the long term, Finnish foreign policy is aimed at the same goal as Putin's Russia: Dismantling the remnants of European division into two and strengthening the whole security structure of the whole continent."
From the archive:
12 July 2001
17 April 2001
10 April 2000
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