January 1999

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Karelia: from geopolitics to geoeconomics

Could Finland gain concessions from Russia in Karelia in exchange for staying outside of NATO? This issue was raised by Professor Kauko Sipponen in his contribution to the Karelia Study Day at the Finnish Institute in December. He put his remarks in the context of the recent intensified co-operation between Finland and NATO.

Sipponen asked: "Could one find and would one need to find the political leadership and public support in Finland in order to play the NATO card in a way that would enable Finland to abstain from NATO membership and in return gain some territorial or other concessions in the Karelian isthmus?"

Professor Sipponen says that this idea was prompted by an historical issue raised by Professor Heikki Ylikangas. The issue refers to the question of whether Finland could have used a Franco-British card in the negotiations with the Soviet Union in the closing stages of the Winter War in February and March 1940. Finland could have asked for help from a relief contingent of French and British military personnel who were standing by for such an eventuality.

The worry was that with such a request for Western help, Finland would have been drawn into the World War. Professor Ylikangas has stressed that Finland never tried to play this card in her negotiations with Russia.

Sipponen reminded the listeners of how the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991 had triggered a lively discussion concerning the position of the ceded Karelian territory. He also referred to the major, unanticipated changes that had occurred in world politics in the last few years. In such a fluid international situation, the question of Karelia has gained new urgency.

Several ideas have been proposed in relation to the future of Karelia. These include the unconditional return of the ceded territory, buying the area partially and total or partial leasing. In another possible scheme, the autonomous Karelia could belong to Russia but autonomy would make it possible for the Finns to return permanently to the area.

"If agreement were to be reached on the restitution of Karelia, the non-Finnish population living there should be given a guarantee of choice, either to remain in the area or to move," Sipponen said.

He also emphasised Finland's position at the junction of a geopolitical way of thinking in the East and a geoeconomic thinking in the West. "If people in Russia were to start thinking geoeconomically, the geopolitical value of the ceded Karelian territory would decrease and the issue of the border would be reconsidered.

Professor Kauko Sipponen is Advisor to the Karelian Association. He has had a distinguished academic and political career. In the 70s he worked as President Kekkonen's   close advisor. Sipponen was one the speakers on the Finnish Institute's Study Day on Karelia on 12 December.

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