At the invitation of the Körber Foundation, Finland’s Prime Minister Alexander Stubb held a speech on European policy towards Russia on September 29th in Berlin, highlighting the Finnish perspective. By way of greeting, and with a view to the 40th anniversary of the Helsinki Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe next year, Lothar Dittmer, Member of the Executive Board of the Körber Foundation, underlined that Finland plays an important role in formulating Europe’s position on Russia. The resolutions signed back then also embraced the principle that European borders cannot be changed by violence. However, war has now returned to Europe, relations with Russia have deteriorated due to their activities in Ukraine and borders have been changed. As one of three European countries bordering Russia, Finland has the largest border with a length of 1,300 kilometres. The economies of the two countries are closely intertwined.
Stubb, who on the previous day had run the Berlin marathon, highlighted three aspects in his speech: What has happened to Russia, which after 1990 was seen as a new part of Europe? How is the relationship between Russia and the EU today? What is the character of relations between Russia and Finland? According to Stubb, in the 1990s, after the end of the Cold War, everything was looking good. The assumption was that many states would welcome a liberal democracy and the market economy. However, a mistake was made in “imposing” the western model from above. Something of this nature cannot be forced, it must grow from below. Maybe not enough was done to understand Russia. Nationalism and a desire for strong leadership has now grown in the country, a tendency which according to Stubb can also be observed today within Europe.
However, Europe must defend its fundamental values and counter Russian aggression. Even though Russia is now increasingly turning inwards and to the east, he is convinced that the country is a European power. There can only be a diplomatic solution to the Ukraine crisis, whereby the imposed sanctions need time to take effect. However, one needs to guard against a stigmatisation of all things Russian. One also needs to think about the approach adopted towards Russia. Everyone wants a stable Russia, however in that country it proceeds from the top down, whereby with us it “grows from below”. According to Stubb, the entire situation needs to be analysed in an intellectually mature fashion, however he does not have a solution to the crisis.
Following his speech, Thomas Paulsen, Head of the Department of International Affairs at the Körber Foundation, asked Stubb what Russia represented for him today. A neighbour, was his response. However, there was still a chance they could become partners again. With respect to the economic sanctions, which he also considered misplaced, Stubb stated that money is the biggest peace maker in the world. Questioned about the building of a Russian nuclear reactor in Finland by a member of the audience, Stubb replied that his country is heavily dependent on Russian electricity. The planned reactor will reduce this dependency in the long term. He tries to view the decision soberly and objectively.