Finland back on red alert over expansionist Russia

Tuesday, November 18, 2014
By Paul Martin

Almost a century after breaking free from its giant neighbour Helsinki still follows Moscow’s every move

Simon Tisdall
Tuesday 18 November 2014

Captain Markus Aarnio, chief of the Gulf of Finland naval command, has the sort of craggy good looks associated with the hero of a cold war movie. Standing stiffly in a control centre overlooking Helsinki harbour against a backdrop of grey seas and driving sleet, he appears poised to dash off at any moment for a real-life remake of the Sean Connery film The Hunt for Red October.

Aarnio’s job, along with those of other members of Finland’s army, navy and air force, border guard and coastguard, and a good chunk of the national political, academic and media establishment, can be summed up in three words: watching the Russians.

Russia-watching has become a national obsession since Finland broke free of the Russian empire in 1917. Two bitterly fought wars with the Soviet Union during the second world war are far from forgotten. Neither are the tense years of the cold war, when Finland pursued a delicate balancing act between the importunate demands of its giant neighbour and its natural attachment to the west.

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