Finland, once revered for its neutrality, has reversed course, pledging to support Ukraine’s confrontation with Russia and seek a position in NATO.
In the 1960s, Finnish families used to stockpile food at home, and it was widely believed that everyone should be prepared for conflict that could break out at any time.
Now, six months after Russia launched a special military operation in Ukraine, and Finland is about to join NATO after decades of neutrality, many Russians are returning to wartime habits.
“My mother was very careful when she did this, there was always excess food and supplies at home,” Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said in an interview. “And now, the real conversation is centered on ‘you Got something for the family for a week?'”.
After the disastrous battle between the two countries in the early 20th century, people in the Nordic countries have long been hoarding food and necessities, largely due to the Russian mentality.
“We’ve always been very concerned about security,” Havestow said at the State Department office. “Europe is going through a crisis and I think people are becoming more cautious now than they were before.”
The Finns are always trying to build and train a formidable military force ready to fight against their huge neighbours to the east with more than 1,300km of borders. But that self-reliance effort is changing after Finland and Sweden applied to join NATO.
Officials say their decades of experience preparing for conflict with Russia have made Helsinki a major NATO asset.
“In the post-Cold War era, the armed forces of many countries have developed towards international peace support operations, and we have not taken this path,” said General Timo Pekka Kievenen, commander of the Finnish Armed Forces. “Our goal is to protect home.”
The country provides for voluntary military service for both men and women. They have not been affiliated with a military alliance for decades, but since the mid-1990s the country’s military has begun to coordinate more closely with the armed forces of NATO countries in many exercises.
Before deciding to join NATO, Finland bought the US-made F-35 stealth fighter. In April, Helsinki announced a roughly $2.19 billion increase in its defense budget, bringing military spending to 2 percent of GDP to meet NATO requirements.
General Kievenen also highlighted the military’s operational experience in the Arctic environment and years of operating in the airspace bordering Russia as a potential contribution to NATO.
“We are the guarantors of safety,” he said. “We will increase NATO’s security by being a member rather than relying on the security of the alliance.”
Helsinki’s rapid progress towards NATO was unimaginable a few years ago, which surprised many people at home and abroad. A survey conducted by Finland’s Defence Information Advisory Committee shows how public perceptions of its neutrality policy have changed since the outbreak of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.
Within 6 months, support for neutral views dropped from 50% to 20%. Meanwhile, support for joining NATO rose from 25% to 68%.
“If I had been asked last year if Finland would apply to join NATO, I would have said it was unlikely, or there must have been something very serious that forced us to change our minds,” Havestow said. “That serious thing happened in February, when Russia launched a military operation in Ukraine.”
In addition to applying to join NATO, Helsinki also announced its readiness to assist Ukraine in resolving its conflict with Russia. They have provided several rounds of military aid to Ukraine, although the government has not elaborated on what the shipments are. In early August, Helsinki also decided to take part in a British-led training operation for Ukrainian soldiers, according to General Kievenen.
Foreign Minister Havestow welcomed the recent agreement with Russia to allow Ukrainian grain exports, saying it was “a little bit brighter at the end of the tunnel”. However, he noted that Helsinki still “fully supports Kyiv’s goal of regaining territory”.
As for the process of joining NATO, Finnish officials said they did not expect any immediate changes to the country’s military.
“It may take us a few years to get used to the NATO military structure,” General Kievenen said. “It’s not going to happen right away.”
In the short term, however, joining NATO will provide Finland with the security guarantees under the alliance’s Article 5, which requires member states to lend a helping hand in the event of an attack. It also nearly doubled NATO’s border with Russia, which of course displeased Moscow.
But so far, Finnish officials have said Russia has not responded with any military means. “In fact, they have treated us well,” said Major General Juha-Pekka Keranen, commander of the Finnish Air Force.
Although much of Helsinki’s military cooperation with Moscow has been severed since Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014, the two sides continue to communicate regularly to address the risk of air and sea conflict. General Kievening. “We have a hotline with Moscow,” he said.
Even as it prepares to join NATO, Helsinki continues to prepare for a conflict with Moscow, as it has for decades.
“If you go to Hakaniemi metro station, you can see the largest bomb shelter in Finland, and if you take shelter there, a lot of people can be safe,” Havestow said. “In times of peace, our troops are always in good shape.”
The family of Foreign Minister Havestow has also resumed their tradition of stockpiling food in case of conflict. “I always have pasta at home,” he said.
Takeo (follow Wall Street Journal)