Is Finland going to be the next Russian target after one year of Russia- Ukraine war. According to the Barents Observer news outlet, Russia has deployed two Tu-160 and 14 Tu-95 strategic bombers, which are capable of carrying conventional and nuclear cruise missiles, to the Olenya Air Base on the Kola Peninsula. The news outlet referred to a satellite image of the air base taken on May 7. The base is located just 200 kilometers from Russia’s borders with Finland and Norway.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on multiple occasion had warned against Finland joining North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. Finland’s accession to NATO in April this year is considered a set back for Putin. Finland shares a 1340 km eastern frontier with Russia. Now Helsinki chose the protection of NATO’s Article Five, which says an attack on one member in Europe or North America is considered an attack on all. What does it mean?
It means if Finland were invaded or attacked, all NATO members, including the US, would come to its aid. If that happens China may come to Russia’s help that may drive Japan and consequently Korean peninsula into war. If it would simply mean a third world war. So any provocative action by Finland would risk the peace in world. What could be spark that can lead a war between Finland and Russia?
Shailesh Kumar, National Defence
New Delhi, 15 May 2023
Finland is currently having an adhoc leadership after Finland’s youngest Prime Minister Sannah Martin resigned after news appeared of her divorce with her husband. Sannah Martin known as partying PM for her alleged dance clip leak was instrumental in getting Finland a NATO cover.
Despite being a nation 55 times smaller in terms of geographical area and 26 times smaller population wise, Finland that ranks 51 in global fire power index against Russia’s number 2 of 145 countries is taking Russian Federation head on.
But the big question is when Russia will expand the war by opening war gates to Finland or Sweden. What would be the spark?
There are two developments currently happening at Finland borders. One— Finland is currently carrying out war exercise at its border adjoining Russia. And this exercise that started in April will continue to June. Many nations soon going to join this war exercise. I will discuss this exercise in detail but first lets talk about the second development—
Finnish Border Guard is fencing Finland’s South Eastern border with Russia. The 10 foot high steel fence with a barbed-wire extension on top is to prevent illegal immigration from Russia and give reaction time to authorities. The move was approved by PM Sannah Martin in 2015-2016 when Moscow allegedly attempted to influence Finland by organizing large numbers of asylum-seekers to northern Finnish crossing points in the Arctic Lapland region.
Russian authorities were allegedly seen deliberately ushering thousands of asylum-seekers — mostly from Iraq, Afghanistan and other Middle East nations- to those border crossing points. The move was seen as a show of muscle by Moscow. The issue was settled when Finnish President Sauli Niinistö held talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The flow of migrants stopped shortly thereafter.
So any skirmish at points where border is not properly defined may lead to escalation. To understand this we need to go back the dates between 1st and 2nd world war. Till year 1917 border between Finland and Russia was open. Post 1917, Finland shifted foreign policy to the West. Exports to Russia almost one third to Russia dropped below 5% in the years thereafter. Russia was increasingly portrayed as separate from Finland.
Views hardened and before the Second World War Russians were almost seen as barbarians by Finns. For over 70 years the border was practically closed. The border became more and more problematic. In negotiations in October 1939, the main Soviet demand was that the Finns cede small parcels of territory, including a naval base on the Gulf of Finland that the Soviets wanted to help them protect Leningrad.
In exchange, the Soviets offered to cede to Finland about 8,800 square kilometers of Karelia along the Finnish border, or about twice the amount of land to be ceded by Finland. Finland rejected these demands, and on November 30, 1939, the Winter War started when Russia invaded Finland without a declaration of war.
However, the Finnish resistance held much longer than expected and hostilities ceased in March 1940. The Moscow Peace Treaty was signed and Finland ceded more than 10% of its pre-war territory, much of its industry and power generation, and the fourth largest city, Viipuri, to Russia, resulting in the migration of approximately 12% of the Finish population behind the new border.
After the treaty signing, hostilities continued especially in the area of Eastern Karelia. The 1940 border was confirmed in the Treaty of Paris in 1947. In 1992 both countries signed the ‘neighboring area cooperation’ agreement. This agreement led to the promotion of cross border cooperation schemes. The number of border crossing points increased. Russian tourists began crossing the Finnish border for the first time. Before 1991, no more than 9000 Russian visitors crossed the border, but in 1996 this figure had surged past 170000 and continued to grow.
So given this historical background, Russia may object to any closure of border crossing points. This may lead to border skirmish that may escalate given Finland joing NATO amid ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine.
In this reference it is important to have a look at wars between Russia and Finland.
1714- The ‘Greater Wrath’
1742 – The ‘‘Lesser Wrath’
1809 – The Finnish War
The Grand Duchy of Finland was from 1809 to 1917 an autonomous possession of the Russian Imperial Family. After that family were murdered and the Soviets came to power, Finland then regarded itself as independent again. Russia then regarded it as invadable again.
1918 5.000 Soviet ‘volunteers’ entered Finland in order to assist in bringing about a Communist Revolution.
1939 The ‘Winter War’ 1941 Continuation War So Finland has to be careful of Russian sensitivities as it for long want to protect its border for which it has tried to negotiate peacefully in history.
Now coming to the second development that can spark a war between Finland and Russia is— ongoing border war exercise by Finland. The exercise started with Sweden would see many friendly nations participate in it. The exercise in May – June will certainly raise temperature with Russia. Finland Army in a press release told media that the objective of the exercises involves further developing Army interoperability and interoperable operating with forces of the alliance and with Sweden.
Swedish Armed Forces -led exercise Aurora 23 was conducted in Southern Sweden during 1– 11 May 2023. The exercise participated by the Finnish Defence Forces’ unitsLink to an external website from all services and from the Logistics Command. From the Army, the exercise participated by a jaeger battalion from the Pori Brigade, and by a ground-based air defence element from the Armoured Brigade, altogether 700 troops in total. In the exercise, the Army battalion-level unit operated under the command of a Swedish brigade.
In Finland, the international training and exercise activity sone with the Armoured Brigade – led mechanised exercise Arrow 23 at Niinisalo during 1–14 May 2023. The exercise participated by units from the Armoured Brigade, Karelia Brigade, Jaeger Brigade, Army Academy, Utti Jaeger Regiment, and Defence Command subordinated establishments. The exercise involved Air Force and Army aviation flight activity. The total strength of the training audience forces was 2,200 soldiers, of whom 850 were of allies’ troops from the armies of the U.K., Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and the U.S.A.
In Northern Finland, exercising will be led by the Army Academy in the exercise Lightning Strike 23 starting from today during 15– 26 May 2023, and in Northern Forest 23 from 27 May to 2 June 2023. The exercises will be participated by units from the Army brigade-level units, Air Force, Finnish Border Guard, FDF C5Agency, Centre for Military Medicine, and Logistics Command. The exercises will involve up to 8,000 soldiers, of whom 1,100 will be international troops from the U.S.A, the U.K., Sweden, and Norway.
The Utti Jaeger Regiment leading the exercise Southern Griffin 23 in Southern Finland during 10–21 May 2023. The exercise is participated by the Finnish Defence Forces’ service personnel, agencies’ representatives, and international partners from the U.S.A. and Europe. The total strength of the exercise’s training audience is 1,150 personnel. The training audience’s operating activity is visible on land, at sea, and in the skies across the area of southern Finland.
The Karelia Brigade -led exercise Karelian Lock 23 will be held in South-eastern Finland from 26 May to 2 June 2023. And this exercise will be most sensitive with Russian point of view. The exercise will be participated by units from the Karelia Brigade, Army Academy, Pori Brigade, Armoured Brigade, Air Force, Finnish Border Guard, Logistics Command, and FDF C5Agency. The exercise will involve visiting forces from the U.S. Army. The total strength of the exercise’s training audience will be 7,000 soldiers of whom 440 will be international troops.
The Kainuu Brigade will lead the exercise Northern Belt 23 in the area of Kajaani and Vuosanka during 2–19 June 2023. The exercise will involve training audience units from the Kainuu Brigade and from the U.S. Army. The total strength of the exercise’s training audience will be 340 soldiers, of whom 160 will be international troops.
During the spring, the Army also participate on a small scale in the exercise Brave Beduin in Denmark during 23–27 April 2023, and it will also participate in the exercise Adriatric Strike in Slovenia from 29 May to 9 June 2023.
Global fire power index says that Findland has 24,000 active military service members whereas Russia has 8,30,900 active personnel. Finland ranks 4th with 9 lakh reserve personnels where as Russia ranks 17 with 2,50,00 reserve personnels. There are 14,000 paramilitary personnels in Finland whereas the number of paramilitary personnels exceeds 2,50,000. Finland and Russia stands almost equal in external debt rank at 98 and 95 respectively. Russia ranks 6th in foreign reserve against Finland’s ranking at 71. Similarly Russians have better purchasing power with global fire power ranking at 6th place against Finland’s 58th rank. There is also a huge budget difference between the two countries Finland ranking 34th and Russia ranking at 3rd.
So, by conducting the military exercises Finland wants to make sure it can fight with foreign forces together with interoperability. At national level, Finland deepens its competence in receiving and supporting international forces as regards maintenance and logistics.
The exercise drills this spring is being participated by conscripts, reservists, and service personnel as applicable from the Army brigade-level units and from the other services. According to Finland military, in May and June, the total number of international troops in Finland will vary in accordance with the ongoing exercise drills in-progress.
– Training and exercise activity will support sustained competence of conscripts, reservists, and service personnel both on individual soldier’s level and on force level. In practice, the exercising of the international forces will align on the Army annual plan and brigade-level units’ training rhythm. Additionally, the exercise drills this spring will also include the closing battles for the conscripts about to muster out into the reserve, Colonel Kaakinen says.
The arrival of international training audience forces’ personnel and equipment in Finland will be in phases. The given exercise-leading brigade-level units will inform about the upcoming exercises in more detail before exercise start.
While Europe and US supporting Ukraine against Russia with latest support including financial support coming from Germany and France, Finland and Sweden understand they could be the next target as Russia feel more threated, intimidated. Any overture or misstep would have a reaction and escalation from Russia. Any military support of other country including China to Russia would work as fuel to fire. Dousing that raging fire would then be impossible. Baltic should be contained and confined.