Finland Reacts To Escalating UK – Russia Tensions

President and Foreign Minister express support for UK - but how would Finland react if Britain asked it to take extra measures against Moscow?

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File picture of St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow's Red Square / Credit: iStock

Finnish President Sauli Niinistö says Finland “is ready to give all its support and assistance to Great Britain” over a chemical attack that left a former Russian intelligence agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, and a British policeman, in hospital.

“The use of military grade neurotoxins in the attempted murder […] is a shocking act and a very serious blow to international security” the president said in a statement.

Since the attack on Sunday 4th March, British police and intelligence officials have been trying to put together a picture of how ex-spy and his daughter might have been poisoned, but the government has very clearly pointed the finger at Russia as the culprit: either intentionally in a state-sanctioned attack, or by losing control of its stocks of chemical nerve agents.

“It is imperative that the case is thoroughly investigated. Full clarity of the case must be established and perpetrators must be held accountable for their actions” says President Niinistö.

“Russia’s contribution to bringing clarity to the case is needed. Both of the provided alternative explanations of the event, deliberate action on the part of Russia or the possibility that dangerous substances are not under its control, are very worrying” he says.

On Wednesday afternoon, the British government announced it would expel 23 Russian diplomats from London; cancel high level official cooperation between the two countries; and not send any VIPs to the football World Cup in Russia this summer.

Professor of Russian Security Policy at Helsinki University Katri Pynnöniemi says she considers Britain’s countermeasures to the poisoning to be fairly low-key. According to Pynnöniemi, the least possible was done now.

On one hand she says, Russia is clearly behind the poisoning, but on the other hand, London doesn’t seem to want to escalate the situation too much at this time.

Finnish Government Response

At the Finnish Foreign Ministry, Timo Soini (Blue) says he was “shocked and deeply concerned at the use of nerve agend in the UK” but didn’t mention any Russian culpability in his statement.

Soini went on to say that Finland was “ready to support UK in efforts to establish facts and bring those responsible to justice”.

Security policy expert Charly Salonius-Pasternak at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs FIIA says that Finland’s seemingly bland statements are often welcomed by allies.

“I’ve been told that Finland’s greater subtlety is appreciated by a number of NATO allies and others, because it leaves more doors open for diplomacy” Salonius-Pasternak tells News Now Finland.

“President Niinistö always speaks about the need for dialogue and finding things to cooperate with Russia on, but he is also explicit on the need for building, maintaining and strengthening national defences” he adds.

Possible Future EU Action Against Russia?

Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council was visiting Finland today for talks with Prime Minister Sipilä (Centre).

At a Helsinki press conference, Tusk expressed his “full solidarity” with the UK “in the face of the brutal attack which was inspired most likely by Moscow”.

He also called for more unity between Europe and the USA, especially in times of crisis.

“At a time when someone on the outside spreads fake news, meddles in our elections and attacks people on our soil with the use of a nerve agent, the response must not be transatlantic bickering, but transatlantic unity. For real friends this should be obvious” Tusk said.

The chemical attack issue will be discussed next week at the European Council meeting in Brussels, with the possibility that Britain could trigger clauses in EU treaties to compel Finland, and other EU countries, to act together against Russia. Tusk says he is waiting for some suggestions from London about next steps.

There’s two treaty articles which could be relevant here:

Article 222.1: “If a Member State is the object of a terrorist attack or the victim of a natural or man-made disaster. The Union shall mobilise all the instruments at its disposal, including the military resources made available by the Member States”

and

Article 42.7: “If a Member State is the victim of armed aggression on its territory, the other Member States shall have towards it an obligation of aid and assistance by all the means in their power, in accordance with Article 51 of the United Nations Charter.”

If the UK requested coordinated action from EU countries against Russia it could be difficult for Finland to comply, for example by imposing financial sanctions against individual Russians. It would be easier to offer behind-the-scenes bilateral help however.

“I think the Finnish government at present would only have one option, sign us up. I don’t think they have any option. How they present it publicly, what they do, is an other matter” says Charly Salonius-Pasternak.

“It may be that Finland says sign us up and we’ll discuss how we can help, then Finland will do something nobody hears about. It’s hard in advance to know what it could be, because UK has to request it. But Finland would have no option but to support it. As long as Finland is an EU member and it’s in our constitution, EU solidarity and especially those clauses are important above all else” he says.

Britain Warns Citizens In Russia

The British Foreign & Commonwealth Office is now warning its citizens traveling to Russia in the coming weeks, about possible harassment.

“You should be aware of the possibility of anti-British sentiment or harassment at this time; you’re advised to remain vigilant, avoid any protests or demonstrations and avoid commenting publically on political developments” the new travel advice warns.