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Finland: the art of looking both ways – from the archive

Big neighbour speaks

The Observer, 5 November 1961

Mr Khrushchev turned his attention to Finland on Monday and hit that always apprehensive country where it hurt most. Under the 1948 Pact of Friendship, Russia called on Finland to hold joint military discussions to meet the alleged threat of a West German military attack on Russia. In the same Note, the Nato countries, Norway and Denmark, were castigated for supporting West Germany, and neutral Sweden was censured for condoning the threatened attack, and for selling arms to Germany.

Since Finish foreign policy has inevitably, if reluctantly, given close attention to the wishes of “our great neighbour to the east,” there seemed little doubt that President Kekkonen would agree to the talks.

Coexistence in the shadow of Russia

9 June 1964
By a correspondent

Finland’s participation in the United Nations peace-keeping force in Cyprus underlines the complete acceptance of her genuine neutrality by both east and west and the success of her policy of reassuring the Soviet Union that its security would never be threatened through Finland. Why should Finland have survived as the only western democracy on the vast perimeter of the Soviet Union? Few commentators outside Scandinavia expressed any optimism after the war about the future of a country weakened by two lost wars and crippling reparations, facing a huge refugee problem, and having a Soviet base outside her capital.

Status quo
Why Finland was left alone is a question that can only be answered in the Kremlin. It is significant, however, that the Russians have seldom carried the cold war into Scandinavian and Baltic waters with any consistency. One needs only to look at the map to find the key: the fact is that these are extremely sensitive areas for the Russians, where they prefer a status quo – the “undigested area,” as some have called it.

The 30 million Poles, by far the most independent of the satellite nations, the three Baltic States with recent memories of independence, the vulnerable industries around Leningrad, the huge mining and prospecting going on in the Kola peninsula – all these demand peace and time for the Russians to carry out their long-term policies. It is still easier for Finns and Swedes to take their holidays in faraway Caucasus than in their traditional seaside resorts in what is now Soviet Estonia, only a few hours away by ship. Is it any wonder that the Russians have left Finland alone?

Touching Finland would stir up the whole of Scandinavia and the Baltic, with incalculable consequences in an area where the Russians have much to lose. The Finns, on their part, have done everything to reassure the Russians about their security, and the Russians, in return, have shown their appreciation in many ways. Continue reading.

Finland stumbles on non-aligned path

1 September 1972
Richard Norton-Taylor

As the debate warms up over American troop levels in Europe, over Europe’s role in the world, and the longer-term political aims of the EEC, one European country above all is fighting for a credible role as a scrupulously neutral State. That country is Finland.

In the west critics of American troop withdrawals refer to the threatened “Finlandisation” of Europe, a geo-political concept meaning that Moscow would always be able to exert influence, and therefore impose constraints on the foreign and commercial policies of a western Europe under the shadow of Soviet military power. The implication is that western Europe’s independence would slowly be eaten away.

Finland, which has 800 miles of frontier with Russia, and a treaty of friendship and mutual assistance with the Soviet Union, is restricted to some extent in its foreign policy. But how limited?

Finns proudly illustrate features of their independence; a healthy western-style democracy with several parties. About 70 per cent of the country’s capital is in private hands.

The real problem when the Finns were negotiating a peace treaty with the Soviet Union in the years following the war, Finnish diplomats say, was to convince Moscow that their common border did not represent a security threat to the Soviet Union.

The first two articles of the treaty state that “should either Finland or the Soviet Union through the territory of Finland become the object of military aggression on the part of Germany or any power allied with Germany, Finland will, true to its duty as a sovereign state, fight to repel aggression.
This is an edited extract. Read the article in full.

Signing of the Helsinki Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe at the Finlandia Hall in Helsinki. Heads of state from left: Helmut Schmidt (West Germany), Erich Honecker (East Germany), Gerald Ford (USA), August 1975.
Signing of the Helsinki Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe at the Finlandia Hall in Helsinki. Heads of state from left: Helmut Schmidt (West Germany), Erich Honecker (East Germany), Gerald Ford (USA), August 1975. Photograph: ullstein bild/Getty Images

Editorial: Before the ink is dry

2 August 1975

For thirty years the peoples of Europe have lived in peace because of two unused words, one Russian and the other American. The balance of nuclear fear has kept the continent peaceful. The Helsinki agreement now offers Europe the opportunity to make cooperation instead of terror the basic reason for not getting killed by your neighbour. The chief merit of Helsinki’s 300,000 words is that they set standards of international behaviour and of behaviour towards individuals which are higher than those which much of Europe has so far experienced. Frontiers are not to be changed except by agreement; and high time too as the Greek Cypriots are no doubt saying to themselves this morning. No state shall interfere with the government of another; and high time too as the Hungarians (1956) and the Czechs (1968) must also reflect today.
Continue reading.

Finland: The art of looking both ways

6 November 1984
By Simon Tisdall

On the final day of December 1917, a Finnish delegation waited anxiously in an antechamber in Moscow. The delegation had presented to the new Bolshevik rulers of the Russian empire the Helsinki Senate’s request that Finland, under the hand of the tsar since 1809 be granted its independence.

After seemingly endless delays, Lenin appeared brandishing the all-important piece of paper upon which was his signature signifying statehood for Finland. ‘Well, are you happy now?’ Lenin inquired.

The question remains relevant today. Independence has brought problems, challenges and compromises with which the Finns still wrestle. It’s brought a civil war in 1918, in which 35,000 people died, war again in 1939 and 1941, and a complex relationship with the Soviet Union which has tended to overshadow all else.

But two things stand out. After more than 65 years and in spite of its small population of five million, its limited resources, and its 800-mile border with an unpredictable superpower, Finland retains its independence.

Secondly, in spite of appearances, the least cautious Finnish exteriors, the determination to sustain that legacy is fierce and undiminished.

Finnish determination to secure the country’s position has taken the form of a diplomatic rather than a dogmatic offensive in the postwar period, what is called active neutrality. In spite of the misgivings, frequently voiced abroad about the 1948 Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance treaty with the Soviet Union, this repeatedly renewed agreement has resulted in a range of bilateral ties with Moscow, and by a progression, with the Comecon countries.

Under the leadership first of President Paasikivi, then Kekkonen, Finland has paid attention to the Soviet sensitivities and has traded profitably with the Soviet Union while at the same time gradually opening up links with the West through the Nordic Council, the OECD, through Efta and by means of free trade agreements with the EEC.
This is an edited extract. Read the article in full.

Scandinavia: neutrals in a twist

19 June 1996
By Jon Henley

With neighbouring Russia opposed to Nato expansion into central Europe, Finland and Sweden are debating how much longer they can stay non-aligned.

Writing in the Swedish Dagens Nyheter daily, Finland‘s president Martti Ahtisaari calmed Swedish fears that its Nordic neighbour was about to abandon half a century of neutrality: Finland will continue to rely on an “independent and secure” defence.

But the Finnish Helsingin Sanomat said Finland may have no option but to join. If Nato expands eastward faster than the EU, it said, “it will be difficult even for Finland to stay out”.

The paper warned of concern that Nato may be trying to force the issue. “The real question is, what can the west do for Baltic security, to keep it from falling under the Russian sphere of interest?. Nato eyes are clearly on the Nordic countries. Already co-operating with the Baltic states, they could help them militarily too.”

Hufvudstadsbladet, a daily for Finland’s Swedish-speaking minority, argued that Finland should, for now at least, maintain its doctrine of non-alignment: “At present, any Finnish application would enrage Russia. If on the other hand, after the presidential elections, relations with the west fall below freezing point, Moscow would have nothing to lose by a neo-imperialist policy towards the Baltics.

“But it would know then that any suppression of the Baltics would be likely to take Finland into Nato. If Finland really wants to help the Balts, it would do better to hold the Nato card in its hand rather than play it now.”


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