Valtteri Hirvonen on the background and threats of joining NATO

Valtteri Hirvonen on the background and threats of joining NATO

Ambassador Hirvonen, do you really expect Russia to attack your country?
Valtteri Hirvonen: There is currently no immediate military threat to Finland, but we are following the development of the situation. Finland’s security and defense policy is based on a strong national defense potential and on keeping the national room for maneuver and opening up various options. However, military threats are not limited to land warfare. Finland carries out most of its foreign trade via the sea – therefore protecting sea routes is crucial for Finland.

Over the past 800 years, Finland has fought about 30 wars with Russia. What has changed today?
Russia has waged many wars against us, and Russian troops ravaged the country for those 800 years, plundering and destroying. Our last wars against the Soviet Union were the Winter War 1939-40 and the Continuation War 1941-1944, in which we were able to defend ourselves against the Soviets in such a way that we were not occupied and were able to maintain our independence and our democratic social order – but still so ten percent had to give up our territory. We learned that strong partners are essential to avoid a military raid.

How is the war against the Soviet Union present in Finland in 1939/40?
The Winter War is well remembered in Finland. National celebrations and monuments constantly remind us of the Soviet invasion. The national collective memory of the war also shaped our national character: in difficult times we stick together and overcome difficulties together.

To what extent did the situation of Finland ease after the collapse of the Soviet Union?
Following the end of the Cold War, most European countries decreased their focus on defense spending and developed smaller but highly professional armed forces. Finland chose a different route – not only because of the 1,400 km border with Russia. The Cold War never ended for Finland. We maintained a strong national defense stance based on conscription and a large, well-trained reserve.

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About 100,000 Russian-speakers live in Finland. Are you worried about national cohesion?
non-Russian speakers are mostly peaceful people. You also have to consider that there were hardly any Russian-speakers in Finland before the end of the Cold War. Almost all of them moved to Finland only after the collapse of the Soviet Union. 84 percent Finns said in polls this week that they are ready to defend the country militarily, and nearly 80 percent. is in favor of joining NATO. I’m not worried about consistency. On the contrary, the war binds the Finns together.

Personally: Valtteri Hirvonen

Valtteri Hirvonen (60) has been the Finnish ambassador to Switzerland since 2021. Previously, he was a director at the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Helsinki. The chartered geographer is married and has four adult children. Forestry is one of his hobbies. He is fluent in German.

Valtteri Hirvonen (60) has been the Finnish ambassador to Switzerland since 2021. Previously, he was a director at the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Helsinki. The chartered geographer is married and has four adult children. Forestry is one of his hobbies. He is fluent in German.

Cyber ​​attacks from Russia are to be expected. How is your country arming?
Until all 30 NATO countries agree to Finland’s membership, Finland will not be a full member of the defense alliance. We are prepared for Russia to consider aggressive countermeasures during this transition period. Large-scale impact attempts, hybrid attacks, airspace violations and attacks on data are to be expected. And then there are surprises that no one can name yet. However, we are ready to use whatever means are available to respond to attempts to influence the NATO accession process.

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Finland is heavily dependent on Russian raw materials. How is the country quickly recovering from this situation?
Finland’s decentralized, diversified and efficient energy production is the basis of our energy security. Even if 60 to 65 percent of our energy imports come from Russia, we are not dependent on Russian energy: imports can be replaced with our own production and with energy imports from other countries. This weekend, natural gas imports from Russia will end. However, gas only accounts for about five percent of total energy consumption. We are in talks about increasing gas imports with Western gas suppliers. On Friday, we signed a ten-year lease contract for the Exemplar gas carrier that carries LPG from other countries. It will be expensive, but there will be plenty of energy.

Finland relies heavily on nuclear power plants. If the war with Ukraine shows anything, how dangerous is nuclear energy!
Nuclear power plants in an international armed conflict between two contracting states are under special protection. In principle, an international agreement has been reached, including with Russia, that nuclear power plants cannot be attacked, even if they constitute a legitimate military target and therefore can be attacked. In Ukraine, nuclear power plants were and are military targets, but Russia has also avoided direct attacks on reactors. Radioactive contamination will also affect the attacker. Nuclear energy plays a key role in Finland’s energy supply and in achieving its climate goals and is not substitutable.

What does joining NATO and the end of neutrality mean for Finland?
It is safe to say that Finland has not been a neutral country for over 30 years. Finland and Sweden joined NATO’s Partnership for Peace program in 1994, and the EU in 1995. However, in the political rhetoric of the 1990s and early 2000s, Finland retained its role as a non-military country. Finland has long been on the verge of joining NATO. The upcoming accession will strengthen the security of Finland and the stability of both the Baltic region and the whole of Northern Europe and the Arctic.

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Turkey announced that it would block Finland and Sweden from joining NATO. What would a failure mean for Finland?
We are desirable partners in NATO. However, we will continue to work diligently at all levels to bring the project to a good conclusion. It is natural for obstacles to arise along the way, but we must stay cool and overcome obstacles together with our future partners. We received positive signals from Turkey some time ago and now we need to see what Turkish security concerns are really influencing and how we can deal with them.

Are you also advising Switzerland to join NATO?
It would be inadvisable to give any advice to a sovereign state. Switzerland will no doubt make its own decisions.

Switzerland prohibits other countries from delivering Swiss-made weapons to Kiev. Would you be pleased if Switzerland relaxed this export practice?
Only Switzerland can and should answer this question. Finland has changed its practice and is also supporting Ukraine with weapons attacked by Russia. For the first time, Finland provided weapons to a country at war.

The interview was conducted in writing.

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