Finland: Finns await NATO membership amid relief and fear of retaliation | International

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In the south of Helsinki, facing the waters of the Baltic Sea, stands a female figure more than five meters high on a granite pedestal. “This statue was erected by the Finnish people as a symbol of peaceful coexistence and friendship between Finland and the Soviet Union,” reads an inscription written in Finnish, Swedish – the co-official language – and Russian. Built in 1968 on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the mutual defense treaty that Moscow forced Helsinki to sign, the monument symbolizes the decades in which the Nordic country lived in the shadow of its gigantic neighbor. “I think it’s time to demolish it; it commemorates the shameful years in which we lived on our knees”, claims Jaakko Heinonen, a 21-year-old biology student, while holding his skateboard with his right hand.

After the historic step that Finland (5.5 million inhabitants) took this Thursday, in which the Prime Minister, Sanna Marin, and the President, Sauli Niinistö, showed their support for joining NATO, the Finnish population has woken up With mixed feelings; The relief of perceiving closer the protection guaranteed by the Atlantic Alliance is mixed with the unease that many feel at the risk of Russian reprisals. The Kremlin has repeatedly tried to intimidate Helsinki over these months with warnings of possible “military and political consequences” if it chose to join the transatlantic organization. “Finland is seeking its destruction as a country,” Senator Vladimir Djabarov once said. “Russia will be forced to adopt response measures of a military-technical and other nature, with the aim of stopping threats to its national security,” the Russian Foreign Ministry announced hours after the statement signed by Russia was released. the leaders of Finland in which they urged to enter “as soon as possible” in the Atlantic Alliance.

A survey published Thursday by the EVA think tank indicates that one in five Finns believes that Russia will attack their territory before the end of this year; 30% consider that there will be an armed confrontation with Moscow before 2027, and more than half think that Finland will suffer constant cyberattacks from Russian hackers and interference in electoral processes.

Russia’s brutal aggression on Ukraine has completely transformed Finnish public opinion. If at the end of last year only 20% of the population was in favor of joining the Alliance, a survey by a public body released last Monday shows that only 11% of citizens prefer that the Nordic country stay out of NATO. Support for integration into the military bloc has not only spread among the country’s inhabitants, but also among all the forces of the parliamentary arch, including environmentalists and former communists, whose sister formations in Stockholm are still positioned against accession from Sweden.

Since Finland declared its independence from Russia at the end of 1917, while the neighboring country was bleeding in the fierce civil war between Bolsheviks and anti-communists, the relationship between Helsinki and Moscow has been turbulent. Two armed confrontations during World War II —in which Finland gave up 10% of its territory— gave way to more than four decades in which the Nordic country was subjected to the interests of Moscow and had the possibility of joining the European Union vetoed. NATO. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the winds of change came to Finland. In 1992, Helsinki disassociated itself from the treaty that had conditioned its foreign policy for almost half a century, and three years later it joined the European Union.

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Hilda Hannikainen, a 55-year-old nurse, sees NATO membership as essential. “If you are threatened by a nuclear power, you need the protection of others who have nuclear weapons. [Estados Unidos, el Reino Unido y Francia]”, he comments in the Senate Square, a few meters from the statue of Tsar Alexander II of Russia and in front of the Helsinki Cathedral and the Government Palace. Hannikainen, however, is concerned about what may happen in the six to 12 months that, according to sources from the military organization, the ratification process may take longer, and during which the mutual defense clause would not yet be applicable (article 5 of the founding text of the Alliance). Several NATO members, including the US, have assured that the Nordic country will be guaranteed its protection during that period. And the British prime minister, Boris Johnson, signed on Wednesday in Helsinki and Stockholm mutual security guarantees agreements by which London commits itself to the defense of Finland and Sweden in case of aggression. “I trust more [el presidente estadounidense, Joe] Biden than Johnson, who I think only came here to get political gain, ”says the health worker in the square where several mass rallies have been held in recent months in support of Ukraine.

The precedents of Georgia and Ukraine

The collective memory of Finland is deeply marked by the Soviet invasion that was repelled by blood and fire at the start of World War II. But the cases of Georgia and Ukraine are also weighing on the population, two countries that at the Bucharest summit in 2008 received the promise that in the future they could form part of the Alliance and that today have Russian troops occupying part of their territory.

Alpo Rusi, a Finnish diplomat who has been ambassador to Switzerland and foreign policy adviser to former President Martti Ahtisaari (1995-1999), comments by phone that the population “has had enough of the Kremlin’s attitude.” Rusi, who has defended integration into NATO for more than 20 years, assures that Helsinki “has done everything on its part” to maintain a good relationship with Moscow in recent decades, but that the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, “settled any possibility of understanding on the morning of February 24 [día del inicio de la ofensiva por tierra, mar y aire sobre Ucrania]”.

Not the entire population of Helsinki (630,000 inhabitants) celebrates the future entry into the Alliance. Abshir Ibrahim, a Finnish citizen born in Somalia – a country in a perpetual state of war – who arrived with his parents in northern Europe when he was five years old, believes that since Thursday Finland is more vulnerable: “I don’t think it’s time to integrate in NATO. Putin had no reason to notice us; now he does have them. And he has made it very clear that he has no limits.”

Ibrahim, about to turn thirty, is worried that the guarantees offered by Washington and London for the duration of the ratification process could fall on deaf ears. “What good were the promises that were made to Ukraine when she gave up her nuclear weapons [el memorándum de Budapest de 1994, suscrito por Rusia, Estados Unidos y Reino Unido]?” asks this publicist in a park in the center of the Finnish capital. “I think that if, for example, the Russians occupied one of our uninhabited islands, the allies would say: ‘We put the weapons; you, the dead, ”he sentences.

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