For several post-war decades the North European region remained relatively stable and secure. The security order was based on cooperation, mutually approved principles, common undertakings and confidence-building measures. Consensus-based international cooperation forums with Russian participation were established on the perimeter of the northern European states’ borders, such as the Arctic Council, the Council of the Baltic Sea States, the Barents Euro-Arctic Council, providing for extensive cross-border contacts.
The Northern Dimension boosted cooperation between Russia and the Northern European states in such areas as transport and logistics, the environment, culture, health and social welfare. Maintaining and consolidating the zone of peace and stability meets the fundamental interests of all countries of the region. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has traditionally provided a forum to address the issues related to regional security. According to Finnish Foreign Minister Timo Soini, «For Finland, it is important that security in Europe is strengthened and rests on the principles of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe».
Today the stability is undermined by the recent increase in NATO presence in the Baltic States and Poland – a destabilizing factor to directly affect Finland due to its geographic position.
On March 21, US Defense Secretary James Mattis and Finnish Defense Minister Jussi Niinistö met at the conference of anti-Islamic State coalition to discuss alleged «Russian aggression» and Helsinki’s ties with NATO. The US Defense Department’s report about the meeting does not make clear if the term «Russian aggression’ was used by the Pentagon’s press-service or the defense chiefs themselves during the talks. «The two leaders discussed Russian aggression, Finland's relationship with NATO as an enhanced opportunities partner, and the bilateral security cooperation… between the US and Finland», it states.
During the meeting, Mr. Niinistö said, «I reiterated the Finland’s position that the deployment of new American forces in the Baltic States and Poland is a stabilizing factor for the Baltic region» («Toistin Suomen kannan, että uusien [amerikkalaisjoukkojen] sijoittaminen Baltiaan ja Puolaan on Itämeren alueen kannalta vakauttava tekijä»).
It’s not the first time, the Finland’s defense chief welcomes the US-led NATO deployments and ensuing tensions such a move entails. Last October, Finland and the United States signed a bilateral defense cooperation pact, pledging closer military collaboration. The declaration signed by Defense Minister Jussi Niinistö stated that "the US presence in and around the Baltic Sea undergirds stability in the region, and creates opportunities to increase defense cooperation between our countries."
But does his stance dovetail with what President Sauli Niinistö says? The president believes that «It is not in Finland’s interests to stir up confrontation. A wise person asks whether there are means of alleviating confrontation. This is called dialogue, or diplomacy. It is also Finland’s long-term foreign and security policy. It is also my policy». According to Sauli Niinistö, «Finland is a force for stability in the region, based on its own foreign and security policy which includes a credible national defence, cooperation with the EU, NATO and the Nordic countries, and dialogue with Russia». The president does not include stationing of NATO forces into the list of factors providing regional security.
The deployment of troops in the proximity of Russia is a violation of the NATO-Russia Founding Act, which states that NATO would engage in no «additional permanent stationing of substantial ground combat forces». The document also contains a pledge «to strengthen stability by further developing measures to prevent any potentially threatening build-up of conventional forces in agreed regions of Europe, to include Central and Eastern Europe». Looks like the Finnish Defense Minister is happy about the major international security treaty being torn up to whip up tensions in the region his country belongs to! Does he express his own views or is it the stance of the president and the government? This issue requires clarification. Perhaps the two Russian-Finnish summits expected in the course of the year will provide such a chance. There are just a few days left till President Sauli Niinistö arrives in Arkhangelsk, Russia, to attend the International Arctic Forum on 30 March 2017.