Opinion digest: Erkki Bahovski on Finland and the alleged Baltic scheming

Columnist Erkki Bahovski (Pärnu Postimees/Scanpix)
9/13/2016 9:01 PM
Category: Opinion

Columnist Erkki Bahovski commented on the curious, decidedly defensive turn that seemed to be taken by Finland's Social Democrats following the release of a lengthy report by the Finnish Institute of International Affairs (UPI) which suggested that Russia, in its own self-interest, is attempting to hamper Finland's total integration with the West.

The UPI published an 80-page report at the end of August which concluded that Russia was attempting to hamper Finland's maneuverability in foreign and security policy in an attempt to prevent Finland's total integration with the West, as the latter would in turn limit Russia's options in the region. "What happened following the publishing of the report was — I'd guess even considering the circumstances in Finland — unprecedented," wrote Bahovski in an opinion piece published by Estonian daily Postimees (link in Estonian).

Bahovski highlighted how Social Democratic Party of Finland's (SDP) former chairman and former Speaker of the Eduskunta, or Parliament of Finland, Eero Heinäluoma provided a newspaper with an overview of the report written in an ironic tone, and current SDP Chairman Antti Rinne wrote a column in which he found that UPI was attempting to scare Finns with a Russian threat, pointing out that it was strange to think that Russia would begin to question Finnish independence following the Winter and Continuation Wars. "UPI Diretor Teija Tiilikainen responded to Rinne that the report was compiled with all rules taken into consideration, and if the research leads to that particular conclusion, so they must write," noted Bahovski.

But such reactions didn't stop there. Former Finnish Minister of Foreign Affairs Erkki Tuomioja (SDP), who has previously criticized UPI's activities, also had a say, the Estonian journalist pointed out, citing that Tuomioja not only agreed that UPI was attempting to scare people with a Russian threat, but went on to accuse the report's attempt to group Finland with the West, or the EU, as being based on the Baltic States' position.

Bahovksi likewise brought up Helsingin Sanomat journalist Jussi Niemeläinen's recent column in which he claimed that relations between Estonia and Finland were strained, and to the point that Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves was impeding Finnish and US military cooperation. "If you consider UPI's report now, Ilves is doing the Kremlin's work — he is impeding Finland's cooperation with the West," he pointed out, adding that both Estonia and Finland's ambassadors and a number of experts had rejected the allegations made in the Finnish column. He noted that it has been claimed that Niemeläinen got his info from the SDP, who are scaring their way into a special position in communicating with Moscow, which is why Finland and the West's approaching one another must be discouraged and Estonia must be cast in a negative light.

Bahovski brought up one more recent article which appeared in Finnish daily Helsingin Sanomat regarding Estonia's recently appointed new Minister of Foreign Affairs Jürgen Ligi, which he found could be considered in the same context as the others. Now that Ilves was leaving office, there wouldn't be anyone left to take swipes at Finland, summmed up the Estonian columnist, but perhaps Ligi would save the day and replace Ilves in that role, and so journalists could continue writing about how strained relations are between the two neighbors across the Gulf of Finland.

Bahovski found that the fact should be accepted that Estonia belongs to NATO, Finland doesn't and these decisions, made independently, do not stymie cooperation in any way. "But no," he sarcastically concluded, "The Russian threat is allegedly just intimidation, just as allegedly there is an evil Ilves somewhere who just keeps cooking up plans against the Finns. And Ligi is still to come..."

Editor: Aili Vahtla

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