Perspective 71. The Finns Join NATO: A Fulfillment of History?
Finland and Sweden are preparing to join NATO and become full partners in a Western military alliance founded to contain Russia. During the Cold War Finland tread a careful path between East and West, with "Finlandizaton" as a label for policies avoiding provocation of the Soviet Union. Yet, for all that, does Finland joining NATO represent a deeper historical destiny?
Yes. Many people may be unaware that Finland was part of Tsarist Russia for over a century, and that much of its twentieth century history consists of efforts to stand against the pressures of its overweaning neighbor.
In perspective, Russian efforts to dominate the Baltic go back at least to Peter the Great (ruled 1682-1725). The Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania) were swallowed up during the 18th century, and Finland in 1809. A Tsarist campaign in the late nineteenth century to Russify the Finns only succeeded -- as such things usually do -- in intensifying Finnish identity and desire for independence.
Thus when the October Revolution came in 1917, Finland, along with the other Baltic states, moved to establish its independence, and all four nations become part of the interwar international order.
But in August 1939, Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Soviet Union, in the infamous Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, secretly agreed on dividing Eastern Europe between themselves -- and proceeded to invade Poland from both sides, kicking off World War II. Stalin wasted little time in reincorporating Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania back into the Soviet (that is, Russian) fold.
But Finland proved to be a tougher proposition. Soviet forces invaded in November,1939 (the "Winter War"), but were stymied and made little progress (a little bit like contemporary Ukraine?). With threats looming elsewhere, Stalin was forced to accept Finland's independence, gaining only minor territorial concessions.
When Germany attacked the Soviet Union the following year, Finland tried to regain its lost territory but ultimately, at war's end, lost even more. Still, Finland managed to preserve its independence even while remaining highly vulnerable to Soviet pressure. Thus, throughout the Cold War, the Finns maintained a studied neutrality to keep the Russians at bay.
But when the Soviet Union collapsed, in 1991, Finland moved steadily to integrate into the West. It joined the European Union in 1995, and over the years has de facto, if not formally, integrated into NATO's overall military design. It only took Vladimir Putin's moves toward re-establishing the Soviet (that is, Russian) empire to push Finland into taking the final plunge.
Let us pause here to give due recognition to the statesman (?) who has done the most to unify and expand NATO in recent history. All hail Vladimir Putin.