Finnish experts see changes in Russian defence policy
Restoration of superpower status seen as goal
According to a report written by four Finnish experts on defence, Finland needs to pay heed to ongoing changes in Russia’s military policy.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, the European security system has largely been based on cooperation. The confrontation between east and west was largely seen to be over. The risk of war was seen as an obsolete notion, especially in Western Europe.
Now the situation has largely changed, say Dr. Stefan Forss as well as retired officers, Brigadier General Lauri Kiianlinna, Commodore Pertti Inkinen, and Colonel Heikki Hult in a report drawn up for Finland’s National Defence College. The writers are experts in Russia’s military policy.
The development toward the present situation began in the previous decade, when Russia initiated a policy aimed at restoring its Soviet-era superpower status. Moscow aims at reversing decisions that were made in the 1990s, including the eastward enlargement of NATO, which it sees as going against its interests.
Russia is also spending heavily on renewing its dilapidated armed forces. For instance, this year the defence budget is to grow by 19 per cent to EUR 38 billion.
At the same time, Europe’s NATO allies have done exactly the opposite. The economic resources of the United States are declining, and the country’s interests focus increasingly on Asia. This is leading to uncertainty among the countries of Eastern Central Europe, as well as in areas near Finland, the report states.
The writers do not disguise their concern about Russia’s focus on its own interests, and its attempts to get rid of existing security arrangements. This has been experienced especially by the former Soviet republics, which Russia is trying to pull back into its sphere of influence.
The West-oriented Georgia was humiliated by a rapid war, the pro-western Orange Revoluion in Ukraine is but a memory, and Belarus is nearly completely integrated with Russia’s military systems. The Estonian conflict over the Bronze Warrior statue could also be added to the list.
The West has been largely powerless in the face of Russia’s actions. There was loud opposition to the war in Georgia, but Russia did not incur any consequences. According to the report, the West, with the possible exceptions of Poland and the Baltic countries, has not completely understood the challenges posed by Russia, which is taking advantage of disunity in Europe and in NATO, while seeking to boost its influence and its interests.
The report points out that Russia has altered its division into military districts. The combining of the military districts of Leningrad and Moscow, to form the country’s Western Military District, shows that the military focus has been moved from Central Europe to the northwest – closer to the Baltic countries and Finland.
“Many emphasise that there is no immediate threat on the horizon. Nobody is likely to be able to give a reliable answer to the question of what the situation of the world and our nearby areas will be in ten or twenty years, which is the time frame that the decisions that are being made now will be aimed at”, the report notes.
The report also takes issue with the ongoing Finnish debate on the future of the country’s defence forces.
The message is clear: Finland will continue to need a sufficient regional defence and a strong reserve to keep defence at a credible level.
At the publication of the report on Tuesday, the writers emphasised that they do not want to suggest that Russia would be a threat to Finland, or any other country. “We aren’t talking about a threat, only about [military] capability”, Stefan Forss said.