Finno-Russian relations,

Rene´Nyberg, ambassadör i Moskva 2000–2004

Finland is not the only European country facing a significantly larger neighbor with a fundamentally different society and culture. But Finland shares the longest European border with Russia. This has geopolitical, cultural, and societal implications.

  • The proximity of Finnish territory to both St. Petersburg and the Murmansk coast with its strategic nuclear forces is a geostrategic factor.
  • The Finno-Russian border is a historic cultural divide going back to Rome and Byzantine.
  • The societal divide that is centuries old has not changed. Finland is a country ruled by law, while Russia remains a country ruled by man.

The stabilization of Finno-Russian relations after the war was a major European achievement. The crucial explanation remains that while Finland lost a just war, because it was attacked, it never suffered occupation. Loss of territory and large war reparations were a small price to pay in comparison to the destruction and human suffering of an occupation.

The radical decision by the Finnish Government to evacuate every single Finn — around ten percent of the total population — from the ceded territories in Karelia stunned Stalin. It was a historic novelty because normally armies advance and withdraw but the population stays put, like in Alsace-Lorraine, not to mention the Balkans. Only 2 000 civilians lost their lives in the war and around 90 000 soldiers were killed. But by bringing its people to safety from Karelia, Finland avoided an irredenta with all its consequences. The border remains a sharp divide that paradoxically is also an important factor of stability. It would have been impossible to develop friendly relations after the war with the Soviet Union, had 400,000 Finns been abandoned to the Soviets. Ren’e