Russia is still mostly pretending that Finland applying to join NATO isn’t really a major concern for them. But that doesn’t mean they’ve dropped the subject altogether. (Though Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov contradicted that claim, saying Russia “would not accept” such a development.) This week, however, Russia’s Representative to the European Union, Vladimir Chizhov, said that Russia would be challenging Finland’s ownership of two territories that have been in dispute in the past. One is the Aland Islands, an “autonomous region” located between Finland and Sweden. The other is the Saimaa Canal, part of which runs through land traditionally leased by Finland from Russia. What they plan to do about these territories and how this would impact the NATO application process remains unclear. (Newsweek)
Russia may bring into question the status of the Åland Islands, an autonomous region of Finland that has long been demilitarized, and the Saimaa Canal, which runs partly through land leased from Russia, as the Nordic country attempts to join NATO, according to reports.
Russia has voiced concern over the prospect of Finland and Sweden joining NATO after they were prompted by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Russia’s Permanent Representative to the European Union, Vladimir Chizhov, said Finland’s membership in NATO would raise two specific territorial issues, according to a RU News 24 report.
It’s still not clear precisely where Russia plans to bring these questions up. To the European Union? To NATO? Perhaps directly to Finland? It also wasn’t specified what this would have to do with Finland’s application to join NATO beyond both areas when becoming NATO territory.
The question about the Aland Islands seems to be a moot one for the most part. If you consider it part of Finland, then the islands also become part of NATO. If you consider them to belong to Sweden, that doesn’t much matter since Sweden is also applying to join. They also don’t seem like they would be of much strategic interest to Russia because the only navigable waters they control access to is the Gulf of Finland. Of more concern to the Russians would be the straits around Copenhagen which offer local access to the North Sea.
As for matters of ownership, the islands originally belonged to Sweden and the people there speak Swedish. The territory was ceded to the Russian empire in the early 1800s, so there’s a bit of history involved. But the idea of Russia suddenly laying claim to the islands or even occupying them in the 21st century sounds rather preposterous. Of course, I said the same thing about Russia invading Ukraine and yet here we are.
The canal is another matter. Since it technically runs through Russian territory, if Finland and Russia are severing ties permanently, Russia would have little incentive to continue renting the land to Finland, right? That would effectively cut off the use of the canal. But is that really enough of an incentive to convince Finland to back off on applying to join NATO? It doesn’t sound that way. And if worse comes to worst, they could probably dig an extension going around Russia’s territory.
If nothing else, these latest maneuvers make it seem less likely that Putin is actually considering an attack on Finland. Rather than rattling sabers and moving around military assets, Russia appears to be treating the situation with Finland as more of a legal matter. And it’s certainly better to have them threatening to take Finland to court than rolling some tanks across the border.
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