Finland is anything but neutral since it picked sides after the Cold War. This is the message being sent by the Northern European country’s former prime minister Alexander Stubb, who tells Kathimerini that misinformation on this count is a threat to his country’s national security.
“The only country that says we’re neutral is Russia,” adds Stubb, who is openly in favor of Finland’s accession to NATO. As an active partner of the Alliance, Finland “basically has everything, except Article 5,” he says, referring to NATO’s mutual defense clause. He stresses, however, that this is a decision that cannot be taken lightly, because “what you do not want when you have a war in front of you is an escalation that can shift the focus to your area.”
Stubb believes that the European Union needs to take Vladimir Putin’s threats very seriously, saying that the Russian president “knows that dictators go either in a casket or to prison or with asylum to another country.”
Russia recently threatened Sweden and Finland with “serious military consequences” if they join NATO. Do you think it is prepared to act beyond Ukraine?
This is not a new threat; we’ve heard it from Russia before. But I think that we in Europe need to prepare for every eventuality, because Putin will not necessarily stop with Ukraine in this war. He has already stated that he has three aims: to invade Ukraine to compel the West to recognize Crimea; to change the European security system by securing guarantees or getting central European nations ousted from NATO; and to prevent Sweden and Finland’s accession to the Alliance. Therefore, we must take Putin’s threat of military action very seriously, regardless of where we are in Europe.
‘Finland was neutral during the Cold War, but has been anything but since it ended. We picked a side, and we will stick to that side for the sake of our national security’
Support for NATO membership seems to be growing in Finland and you have personally expressed your belief in this. What kind of risks would it entail for Finland?
Finnish public opinion has shifted dramatically in the past week and not because of Putin’s threats, but because of the war in Ukraine. We had a public opinion poll a couple of days ago that was carried out over three days: one without war and two with. It found that 53% were in favor of NATO membership, 28% were against it and 19% were undecided. I think that the percentage in favor will be higher in the next poll. Personally, I have always been in favor of accession to NATO, because I believe it would increase security in northeastern Europe and in Finland more specifically.
We belong in this organization. Finland is more compatible with NATO than most of the countries in the Alliance. We have more than 60 F-18s and purchased an additional 64 F-35s. We have always participated in the Alliance’s training program, and also in its operations, such as in Afghanistan. And even though we are not a member of NATO, Finland basically has everything, except Article 5.
Independence and a strong defense are the cornerstones of Finland’s national security and we have maintained these. We have compulsory military service, strong investments in military materiel and equipment and significant reserves. In this sense, we feel safe. But this is a region where you face a real threat, whether you are in NATO or not. Of course, we hope that the situation does not escalate further, and this is why it is so important that we remain calm and cautious. What you do not want when you have a war in front of you is an escalation that can shift the focus to your area.
Therefore, I imagine that the political leadership in Finland is examining the new security situation in the region and will take calm, level-headed decisions at some point. What these decisions will be, it is too soon to say. But we do not want an escalation of the crisis in our region.
There has also been a lot of talk in the past few days about why Finland is not in NATO.
It’s true, this is a subject that keeps coming up these days. It has to do with the illusion or misconception that Finland is a neutral state. Finland is not neutral. It has not been neutral since the early 1990s. Since we joined the European Union and became NATO partners, Finland’s neutrality has just been a fairy tale. It is very important that people who do not understand where we stand should stop spreading misinformation about our position. Because this is a security risk to us. The only country that says we’re neutral is Russia. And there’s a reason for that. Finland was neutral during the Cold War, but has been anything but since it ended. We picked a side, and we will stick to that side in the name of our national security.
What are the different scenarios about Ukraine right now?
Russia’s invasion of Georgia in 2008 should have been a wake-up call for the West, but now is not the time for this conversation. From now on, Russia will be completely isolated at every level. This will not end until there is a change of regime, and this is something that can only come from the inside. Putin does not have the luxury to lose this war. He knows that dictators go either in a casket or to prison or with asylum to another country. And this is why he will go to a big war and then to a big peace. Or he will take it to the end, destroying Ukraine and turning it into a failed state. Or he will opt for a ceasefire and try to establish a west and east Ukraine.