Joining alliance would constitute a “military threat” to Russia, Makarov says
Russia's efforts to re-establish its great power status and to increase its influence in great power politics are manifesting themselves on a concrete level in policy toward Finland.
Moscow has made note of Finland’s defence and security policy decisions, and the Russian government is becoming more open in attempts to influence those decisions.
Perhaps the bluntest message in recent history came when General Nikolai Makarov, the commander of the Russian armed forces, offered a fusillade of views concerning Finland at an event organised by the Finnish National Defence Course Association at the University of Helsinki.
In previous years Russia’s official stance was that it is up to Finland to decide whether or not to join NATO. However, this view now seems to have changed quite radically.
Makarov warned directly that possible NATO membership for Finland would constitute a military threat against Russia. Russia is also concerned about closer military cooperation between Finland and NATO.
General Makarov mentioned as examples the military exercises held in Northern Norway earlier this year, as well as the manoeuvres held in the Baltic Sea in 2010.
Even defence cooperation among the Nordic Countries was seen by Makarov to be a military threat to Russia.
Makarov did not stop at the international activities of Finland's Defence Forces. In his speech he wondered why the Finnish Air Force is holding so many exercises near the Russian border, and why an exercise by the Army was given the name “East”.
“We feel that these kinds of actions are not compatible with the aim for bilateral cooperation”, Makarov said.
One of the participants in the meeting was Charly Salonius-Pasternak, a researcher at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, who said that such straight talk has not been heard in Finland in recent times. In her view, it is clear that the general’s warnings about cooperation with NATO had the approval of the highest political level.
“Russia wants to show that it is a regional great power, an in its view, all neighbouring countries are part of its sphere of interest”, Salonius-Pasternak said.
Minister of Defence Stefan Wallin (Swed. People’s Party) commented on the speech by saying that Finland is a free country, where people can express their opinions freely.
“Finland evaluates its relationship with NATO in a manner consistent with its government policy programme on the basis of its own security and defence policy interests. This sentence says that Finland makes its assessments and decisions itself and independently”, Wallin told Helsingin Sanomat.
Russian general warns Finland about NATO