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Kivinen: Finns Don’t Want to Participate in the Sphere of Influence Game

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The last week’s parliamentary elections in Finland led to the end of the Alexander Stubb government. Instead, Juha Sipilä’s Centre Party came out victorious. RuBaltic.ru discussed the election results, Finland’s role in European politics, NATO and relations with Russia with Markky KIVINEN, the director of the Aleksanteri Institute, a Centre for Russian and Eastern European Studies of the Helsinki University.

- Mr. Kivinen, what was remarkable in the elections?

- We had a very long tradition of a very much established mainstream parties, and since the previous elections we have a new situation when a populist the Finns Party came to power and sustained its position. This seems to be the most significant result in terms of exceptional things. The other result, of course, is that the government parties have lost to opposition parties - the opposition won the elections.

- Why did the government coalition led by the Prime Minister Alexander Stubb lose the votes? What made the opposition win?

- There were several issues, which weren’t implemented – the infrastructure, the local governance, the reform concerning the social sphere, the reorganization of healthcare sector. These things weren’t organized during the previous parliamentary period, they were supposed to be resolved, but they weren’t. So it was the indecision and inaction played a crucial role. On the other hand, the second element was the right-wing development within the coalition parties – Mr. Stubb is far more to the right than the previous prime minister, who used to be more on the left side of the spectrum and who seemed to understand the Finnish political positions much better.

The problem with Stubb was that he didn’t understand two countries, one is Russia and other is Finland. In that sense, he failed.

- How did he fail on Russia?

- He moved towards two extremes with his evaluations of Russia. His statements were very optimistic, yet his assessments of the international system were hawkish, too West-oriented. He didn’t understand that the international system has strong contradictions between the spheres of influence in the former Soviet region. He didn’t understand what the Soviet Union was and what sphere of influence game takes place in the post-Soviet space.

- So the public and the votes became dissatisfied with his views on Russia as well?

- I think the public had contradictory views on Russia. There were worries about the developments in Ukraine, but there definitely was no commitment to go into a military alliance against Russia. It means that most Finns don’t want to be used as a base for disagreements between great powers.

- A recent WSJ article claimed that Finnish elections became a setback for NATO and weakened NATO enlargement to the North. Do you agree?

- It is a too straightforward interpretation. Election result is pretty much a domestic matter within Finland. I don’t think that the Finnish line has been changing in this respect.

A pro-NATIO orientation has always been a minority in Finland, so there is no major change. But it is clear that the line of Finnish foreign policy is the same – we are a non-aligned country in military terms.

- Is the neutrality and non-alliance policy beneficial for Finland? What should be Finland’s role in modern Europe?

Obviously, Finland is a member-state of the European Union, so we have to follow the basic foreign policy line of the EU. But we also have to have bilateral relations with Russia. The most significant thing is that Finland and Europe need a prospect of positive development between Russia and the EU, which means that, in the long run, we have to integrate Russia into global Western structures. In the first phase we should confess that Russian-led organizations have relevant partners in our interests, such as, for example, the Eurasian Union.

- Then what should the newly-elected Finnish parliament and newly-formed government do in this direction, in your opinion?

- Finnish politicians should step by step try to do all they can to support the Minsk peace process in Ukraine. And then, they should promote good bilateral relations between Finland and Russia and between EU and Russia, because Europe just doesn’t have any alternative for this. It is both in the interest of Russia and Europe to have an integration process and pacification of the Russia-EU relations. We have to recognize that Russia is also a player in its organizations.
Sanctions don’t affect all spheres, so we should continue to work on the human dimension, increase economic, cultural and scientific relations, focus ourselves on the common interests and global challenges, like climate change and so on.

- A couple of weeks ago, there was a joint article in the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten by several Nordic defense ministers, including the Finnish minister Carl Haglund, about a Russian threat. Later the Finnish president said that Haglund signed the article without discussing it with him. How would you comment on that?

- First, the formula “Russia is an enemy” was denied by Mr. Haglund. Although it wasn’t explicitly stated in the article, but something in this sense was definitely implied. It wasn’t wise and Haglund was criticized about this in Finland. He not listening the president and foreign minister is another matter. But the basic assumption of the Nordic countries’ statement, which is accusing only Russia in growing tensions in Europe, is a failure by the Finnish defense minister.

- Estonia uses quite a belligerent rhetoric towards Russia; at the same time, it has good close relations and ties with Finland. Finland also enjoys good relations with Russia and Estonia. How do you manage to combine that?

- We have done it very good so far. They are such different neighbors. We do have good relations with Russia, cooperation and mutual understanding. It is not a problem for Finland. Russian-Estonian relations have problems, but we don’t interfere in them. It is not our business and we can’t influence those things. Finland is a small player in this sphere of influence game, and we don’t take a big stand into that. This is the difference in our position among some other states in the EU.

- Do you have media outlets, like in the Baltic states, that run warmongering reports, spread fears and claim that Russia might attack you at any time?

- This is a wrong analysis. It shouldn’t be supported. It means that there is little understanding of the Ukrainian conflict. It can happen in some events, but it is not a mainstream talking point in the Finnish media and in Finnish publicity in general.

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