Russian information warfare is old news to Ukraine and the Baltics, but increasingly it is being deployed against Finland as well. Reuters reports on the view from Helsinki, where Finnish authorities have noted an uptick in Russian propaganda:
Sitting in his office in the government palace – built for Russia’s Grand Duchy of Finland – Markku Mantila leads a network of officials who monitor attempts to influence the country.
He says Finland is facing intensifying media attacks led by Kremlin.
“We believe this aggressive influencing from Russia aims at creating distrust between leaders and citizens, and to have us make decisions harmful to ourselves,” he said. “It also aims to make citizens suspicious about the European Union, and to warn Finland over not joining NATO.” […]
Russian propaganda attacks on Finland have not occurred in a vacuum. Since 2014, Moscow has indulged in a series of escalatory actions that have unnerved its northern neighbor. In 2015, Finland fired warning shots at a Russian submarine in its waters. Last month, Russia deployed S-400 anti-aircraft missiles to the Finnish border, and this month Russian airplanes once again violated Finnish airspace.
More insidiously, Finland has experienced unpredictable influxes of Syrian migrants crossing the border from Russia. Such movements could only have been possible with the cooperation of the Russian FSB, and Finnish leaders suspect that the refugee flows are a signal from Moscow about its ability to destabilize the country.
From Finland’s perspective, Russia’s actions are provocative and irresponsible, as Finland is militarily neutral and has sought to avoid confrontation with Russia. Moscow sees things differently. Finland has long entertained a discussion about possibly joining NATO: a highly unlikely scenario that nonetheless has the Russians on edge. At a meeting in July, Putin directly warned Finland that joining NATO would cause Russia to send troops to the Finnish border.
Even if Finnish membership in NATO is unlikely, Moscow aims to pressure Finland and punish the country for its European proclivities. Although Finland formally maintains a policy of military neutrality, it has taken several clear steps westward. In August, Finnish Defense Minister Jussi Niinsto announced an imminent cooperation agreement with the United States on joint military training and information sharing. This followed a similar deal with the UK that was signed in July, a Swedish-U.S. defense agreement in June, and both Finland and Sweden’s ongoing participation in NATO exercises around the Baltics.
For Moscow, those steps are more than enough to justify breaking out the hybrid warfare playbook. Time will tell if Moscow pushes too far—and if Finland dares to push back.