Finnish Prime Minister 'Moscow Is Provoking a Number of Its Neighbors'

In an interview, Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb, 46, discusses relations with neighboring Russia and his country's flirtation with NATO. He says Finland will make a decision "without asking for permission."
Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb: "Of course some of my compatriots become cautious."

Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb: "Of course some of my compatriots become cautious."

Foto: Stephanie Lecocq/ picture alliance / dpa

SPIEGEL: Mr. Stubb, Moscow is following with great concern just how sympathetic you are to the idea of Finland joining NATO. Do you see it as a threat when President Vladimir Putin speaks of the "special attention" he devotes to economic relations with your country?

Stubb: Russia for us is a large, powerful neighbor with which we share a 1,300 kilometer-long (810-mile) border and against which we have waged war in the past. We know how the Kremlin speaks and acts. But I'm not anxious or afraid, because Finland is an integral part of the European Union.

SPIEGEL: Putin confidant Sergei Markov has explicitly warned of the consequences of NATO membership, saying it could trigger a World War III.

Stubb: Rhetoric can be razor sharp, and just as one needs to take some comments seriously, others should not be.

SPIEGEL: Currently, though, you're playing down tensions even though Russian jets have repeatedly breached Finnish air space recently.

Stubb: Finland is not an isolated case in that regard. Moscow is provoking a number of its neighbors. The most dismaying example is Ukraine. The message is: "Look, Russia is still a superpower."

SPIEGEL: Putin wouldn't simply accept Finland joining NATO.

Stubb: That may well be. But for us the question has to be whether this step would increase our security. And if doing so would provide us with greater influence over European security policy. This is a decision we will make without asking for permission.

SPIEGEL: In contrast to you, many in your country are critical about joining NATO.

Stubb: We should have become a member in 1995 when we joined the EU. Nevertheless, we are very satisfied with the close partnership we maintain with NATO -- even if things like the security guarantee in the event of an attack are formally missing. Still, even though we are paying great attention to the issue, for the time being I don't see any broad majority for joining soon.

SPIEGEL: During the Cold War, Finland remained neutral in order to keep from provoking the Soviet Union. Does intimidation by the Kremlin still have an effect today?

Stubb: On the contrary. Each threatening gesture strengthens those who support NATO membership. But of course some of my compatriots become cautious when Moscow falls back into the tone that prevailed during the Soviet era.

SPIEGEL: Russia is Finland's third most important export market after Sweden and Germany. Do the EU sanctions and Russia's counter boycott threaten to create an economic crisis in your country?

Stubb: The sanctions aren't the problem. We're suffering from the crisis in the Russian economy. Instead of modernizing it, Putin has placed his bet on profits from the natural gas and oil industries. This crisis is being amplified by the sanctions and we Finns are going to feel the effects. When the Russian economy does well, the Finns also do well. That's why we are stressing a diplomatic solution of the Ukraine conflict.

SPIEGEL: If Finland isn't suffering existentially over the sanctions, then why did you so vehemently resist their tightening recently?

Stubb: I first have to make something clear here. My government did not fight against this new round of sanctions.

SPIEGEL: But your foreign minister …

Stubb: ... didn't consider the timing to be very good and he stated this publicly.

SPIEGEL: He said it was "a question of war and peace."

Stubb: The cease-fire (in eastern Ukraine) had just been negotiated and it was a very delicate period. The foreign minister would have preferred to wait a bit.

SPIEGEL: The impression nevertheless came across that good relations with Moscow might be more important to you than unity in the EU.

Stubb: My government's position is that we are working in line with the EU. Nothing would alarm us more than a divided union. As a government, we have never wavered in that regard.

SPIEGEL: Finland obtains 90 percent of its natural gas and 70 percent of its oil from Russia. What would happen if Moscow were to cut off the supplies?

Stubb: Gas doesn't even constitute 10 percent of our total energy needs. We could absorb that. We import the oil cheaply, we refine it and we resell some of it. Overall, we're quite diversified and less dependent than others.

SPIEGEL: Is it conceivable to you that Putin could adopt a measure as drastic as that?

Stubb: The EU and Moscow have excluded energy deliveries from the sanctions. If we were to drag our gas and oil supplies into the conflict, it would mean an escalation that would be almost impossible to reverse. Even without this escalation, the winter could still be long and bitterly cold.

SPIEGEL: You are visiting Berlin this week. Is this also due to the Ukraine crisis?

Stubb: The visit is the start of a European tour. We will discuss many issues, but Chancellor Angela Merkel and I are also frequently in contact. And just to put you at ease: I won't be asking for money. Finland does fine on its own.

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