The international situation has apparently left many people in the English-speaking countries confused. I write this thread in the hopes of sharing a perspective I believe is widely if not unilaterally shared in Finland, most leftists included.
What we see happening in Ukraine right now is, to put it bluntly, Russian (or more precisely, the Kremlin's) imperialism. If no other evidence convinces you, I beseech you to read a translation of Putin's speech yesterday.
This has very little if anything to do with NATO, and almost everything to do with Putin's desire to reinstate the Russian Empire. He has consistently maintained in public that it was a "mistake" to "allow" the former Soviet republics to become independent.
Now he said out loud that Lenin made an error in 1917 when he let the former Russian territories "go." One of the countries that gained independence from Russia in 1917, by the way, was Finland.
What Putin seems to fear the most, rightly so, is that democratic revolution reaches Moscow. Thus, democracy itself is a threat to him.
He is not really afraid of NATO military forces: we can objectively demonstrate that the deployment of NATO forces to countries close to Russia used to be laughably minuscule before 2014.
Only after Putin's blatant 2008 and 2014 breaches of post-World War II convention of not redrawing the map of Europe with a sword did NATO even step up military deployments. Still, the deployments were mostly cosmetic.
The post-2017 "enhanced forward presence" in the Baltics, for instance, consisted of four battalion task groups. Independent analysts have now counted about 125 similar Russian army groups massing along Ukraine's borders.
The most powerful nuclear weapon states in the world really do not fear an attack by other nation states. But what frightens Putin and his band of kleptocrats is the very real possibility that the Russian people decide to get rid of them.
Democratic, successful countries bordering European Russia are a menace to him personally. They show the Russians an alternative, and can serve as sanctuaries for dissidents that Putin would like to invite for a tea by the window.
This is the reason why Putin is doing his best to undermine the European Union, for instance. He cynically supports the European and American far right, up to and including support from clandestine intelligence services and financial assistance.
Failing Europe would be a boon for Putin, and a divided Europe is a weak Europe whose individual countries can be threatened or corrupted from within.
Putin also controls a formidable propaganda machine, which has been very successful in selling a story of poor Russia being threatened by evil NATO and thus forced to mass the second greatest invasion force seen in Europe since the end of the WW2 - against non-NATO Ukraine.
(I personally cannot see how the Ukrainians even would be responsible for NATO's actions even if the above was true, any more than those wedding parties the U.S. has droned over the years were the responsibility of Al Qaida or the Taliban.)
But in reality, the fact is that NATO has not "enlarged" itself: the fact is that democratic countries close to Russia have wanted to join NATO. I hope you ask yourself: why?
Do you really believe that people in countries like the Baltics are evil warmongers who just want to have a go at the Russians? Or that they are duped by some ominous NATO cabal planning to subjugate the Russians?
Or would a more plausible explanation be that people in countries bordering Russia are genuinely concerned that resurgent Kremlin could do precisely something like they have been doing in Georgia and in Ukraine?
I for one used to oppose NATO membership for Finland. I hoped the Kremlin would stop after the first two overt uses of military force, in 2008 and 2014. It did not do so.
Now I'm among those in Finland who are saying that the facts have changed and the opinions need to change as well. There has been a tremendous outburst of public support for Finland's NATO membership. Because we want to avoid a war.
I firmly believe violence cannot build a sustainable world. But sometimes the democracies need to find their spine. I'm still a reservist in the Finnish army and yesterday I voluntarily reviewed my wartime tasks and mobilization packing list, just in case.
Back in the 1930s, democracies turned their backs on democratic Spain. For years I've wondered, could the history have turned the other way if they hadn't? What if they had shown more solidarity when solidarity was needed?
Even if a war could be avoided by yielding to the Kremlin, I really fear what that would mean for the Nordic social democratic experiment. You see, what "finlandization" actually means is a circumscribed quasi-democracy.
A country that is at the mercy of the Kremlin, like we were during the Cold War, may be overtly democratic, but only as long as the people are wise enough to only choose candidates that are acceptable to the Kremlin.
I could well write another thread this long about the various downsides of finlandization, but I spare you for now. Just consider this: yielding to the Kremlin means that parties and politicians who like the Kremlin gain in power. Which politicians would those be?
Right now, the nationalistic-conservative far right is the favourite of the Kremlin. More European countries would end up like Hungary, dominated by the far right who proceed to sell off the country's assets, like public health services, to their cronies.
In Finland, our social democracy could effectively end. With it, the experiment to create a sustainable social democracy would suffer, and probably end as well. If the Nordic experiment then fails, what do the left has to offer to the world then?
This is a struggle between democracy and autocracy. I lament that many in the left take the side of autocracy, even though I understand the power of propaganda and the blunders the U.S. for instance has done in the past.
But I hope this thread helps some. If you have any questions, please let me know. Thank you for reading, and in solidarity from Finland!
[This appeared as a thread on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/jmkorhonen/status/1496047631969234944]

Janne Korhonen

13 Comments

  • Arthur Baker says:

    This is an absolute crackerjack. Thanks for posting this.

    • admin says:

      Arthur,
      Yeah. It was of great interest. The working of Putin’s mind is not something I wanted to concern myself with. However, since reading this thread, I have read much stuff and it seems that Dr Korhonen may have hit the nail on the head. The malevolent bastard Putin may have signed his own death warrant.

      • Arthur Baker says:

        As a counter-argument, you might like to read this from last Tuesday’s SMH: https://www.smh.com.au/world/europe/this-is-putin-s-war-but-the-us-and-nato-are-far-from-blameless-20220222-p59ymg.html

        Particularly the long quote from the venerable and highly knowledgable George Kennan, on the expansion of NATO after the Soviet Union broke up. I don’t suggest for one second that Putin is anything other than a thoroughly bad hat, but as Kennan apparently commented, the expansion of NATO probably wasn’t the West’s wisest move at the time.

        • admin says:

          Arthur,
          I am sure NATO could have been handled better, but that would not be a problem if the Russian Federation was a real democracy, and not run by a narcissistic kleptocratic despot. Even if NATO and the EU had not moved eastward Putin would still be a malevolent bastard trying to keep a barrier of former vassal states between democracy and himself. Now the threat is from within, and that scares the bejesus out of him. I suspect that the invasion of Ukraine is his attempt to revive past approval ratings which reached a maximum after his annexation of Crimea.

          • Arthur Baker says:

            Yes, my description of Putin as “a thoroughly bad hat” is a British-English euphemism with which you may not be familiar, so I apologise for deploying it in an Australia-based forum which predominantly uses Australian English. But I can assure you, being a native speaker of at least four variants of British English, that it does encompass “narcissistic kleptocratic despot”, “malevolent bastard”, and probably many other epithets you might choose to apply to the man.

            However, your claim that “NATO could have been handled better, but that would not be a problem if the Russian Federation was a real democracy” merits some challenge. NATO, and in particular the USA, its major protagonist, KNEW that Russia not only wasn’t a real democracy, but hadn’t been, for centuries, if ever. NATO KNEW it had been run by narcissistic kleptocratic despots from the Czars, right through the genuinely communist era (if there was one), through WW2, and the Cold War.

            The collapse of the Soviet Union was NATO’s big chance to perhaps step back and be a tad magnanimous to Russia during what were obviously difficult times for it, at least to anyone with half a brain, with a view to maybe encouraging some more liberal approach to government in that country. But instead, NATO, largely encouraged by a know-nothing US Senate which couldn’t give a shit, chose to shove itself right in Russia’s face, right on their borders, effectively sticking their middle finger up and saying “stuff you” and kicking them when they were down. This was bullying behaviour, not on a militaristic level like Putin’s current invasion, but certainly on a geopolitical level. It was, as George Kennan said, unwarranted and ill-advised.

            I’ve asked my English contacts (relatives, school and university friends) how they would feel if the geopolitical shift had been in the other direction, eastwards from Russia instead of westwards towards Russia, and Russia had troops and missiles based in Netherlands, Belgium and northern France. None of them have so far provided a coherent, let alone constructive, reply.

          • admin says:

            Arthur,
            I was in Russia (and Kazakhstan) between the attempted coup in 1991 and the constitutional crisis of 1992, and there was considerable optimism about the future; that Russia would have a ‘normal’ relationship with the rest of the world. The son of one of my colleagues there had been on the barricades out the front of the ‘white house’ as the tanks were rolling up. She was immensely proud of him. It was she who took me to a park in Moscow to see the statues of scum like Sverdlov and Dzerzhinsky, which had been ripped from their plinths around Moscow and spattered with red paint, signifying their murderous pogroms. You rightly ask some of your pals how they would feel if Russian missiles and troops were stationed in the Netherlands. However, a nuclear-armed France is only a channel away from the UK. A nuclear-armed US is just over the fence from Canada and Mexico. The problem is Putin and the perversion of whatever democracy they used to have.

  • Arthur Baker says:

    “However, a nuclear-armed France is only a channel away from the UK. A nuclear-armed US is just over the fence from Canada and Mexico.”

    You’re being disingenuous there, and I suspect you know it. There are two important considerations about nuclear missiles when deciding how alarming they are: (1) their proximity (although, given the speed at which ICBMs travel, this probably makes little real difference); (2) who owns them and the red buttons which might launch them. I suspect you know that too.

    Proximity was a factor back in the early 1960s when Kennedy stared down Khruschev over his missiles in Cuba. The proximity wouldn’t have made much appreciable difference to the number of minutes of their delivery to American cities, but the psychological effect of the proximity on America’s population was profound, and allowed Kennedy to do what he did.

    But (2) (ownership) is the real factor that causes general alarm. I mean, are you really suggesting there’s any significant probability France would launch nukes against the UK across the Channel? Come on. I’m English born-and-raised and a teacher of French, and I’ve kept in touch with British and French affairs and opinion, in both languages, for decades. The French are disappointed that the UK took its demented decision to leave the EU, but that”s hardly going to make them launch a nuke to destroy London, Birmingham or Manchester, and the UK population know that. Similarly, what on earth would persuade the Americans to obliterate Toronto, Montreal or Mexico City?

    Most of your rants and comments in this forum are well-informed and intelligent, which is why I continue to subscribe. But this one is simply disingenuous – and mostly, I’ve noticed, people who are disingenuous are aware of that. Scott Morrison is a prime example. Come on. Own up. I reiterate: Russian missiles in Netherlands, Belgium or northern France would have a hugely adverse psychological effect on the British people, partly because they would overrate the importance of proximity, but mainly because the lunatic Putin would control them. Why would one expect the eastward expansion of NATO and the EU not to have a similarly disconcerting effect on Russian people, and perhaps unhinge an eminently unhingeable dictator like Putin?

    Once again I repeat: none of the above is meant to deny that Putin’s actions are anything other than illegal, immoral and deplorable. But he’s NOT the only problem in this situation.

    • admin says:

      Arthur,
      You miss my point entirely. You seem to think that the Russians are forever destined to be run by dictators and forever will be ‘enemies’. As I am sure you realise France and England were deadly enemies, off and on, for centuries, now they are not, the idiotic Johnson notwithstanding. This could be Russia’s future too. As my colleagues in Russia 30 years ago were optimistic in hoping for a normal relationship with ‘the west’, I am optimistic that it will eventually happen. The moral arc bends toward justice. I would live to see it in my lifetime.

      • Arthur Baker says:

        In guessing at what I “seem to think”, you’ve missed MY point entirely. I didn’t say anything about what the Russians are “forever destined” to be. You made that up. It’s a strawman.

        • Arthur Baker says:

          And right on cue, we get this in the Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/mar/06/history-repeats-itslelf-like-half-forgotten-song-once-we-remember-too-late. I quote the author, Neal Ascherson:

          “And here history is indeed trying to remember an old song: Moscow’s obsessive wish to paralyse and subjugate the space between Russia and western Europe. A wish that didn’t begin with Putin, or with Stalin’s ring of satellites, but 300 years ago with Peter the Great and later, above all, with the Empress Catherine.”

          I don’t know enough about Russian history to agree or to argue, so please don’t take these as my words, and please don’t guess what I “seem to think”. Meanwhile, the author, whose Wikipedia page says he “has been described as “one of Britain’s leading experts on central and eastern Europe” “, writes about Moscow’s obsessive wish going back 300 years. As for the future, who knows what that holds for Russia? Not me, for sure.

          What I do know about is the TPPN (Theory of Proximity of Perceived Nuisance). If the people who live 10 houses away from you play Led Zeppelin at Spinal Tap 11 volume at 2am, you might not be all that bothered, and might consider it to be the problem of those who live 9 and 11 houses away, if you’re even aware of it. If the people right next door to you or in the flat immediately upstairs do the same (yes, I have had that experience), it’ll drive you nuts and you’ll want to do something about it right away. NATO’s and the EU’s eastward expansion obviously worried the crappers out of Putin, and both of those organisations have known who and what he is for a very long time.

          Once again I repeat: none of the above is meant to deny that Putin’s actions are anything other than illegal, immoral and deplorable. But he’s NOT the only problem in this situation.

        • admin says:

          Arthur,
          It is probably because being a palaeontologist I tend to deal with long timeframes which colours my approach to politics and history as it affects politics, hence my reference to previous enmity between the England and France. Perhaps a better analogy would have been while I suspect many of the eastern European nations were concerned about having missiles pointing at them from western Europe. Now they are not. Indeed, many of them have joined the EU and NATO. Now they are worried about Russian missiles pointed at them. You also refer to Ascherson’s piece on the history of megalomaniacs in Russia. While such a history may have informed Putin’s psyche to a degree, and his desire to be Tsar, it is still what is going on inside his brain. It is ironic that I look at this stuff from the perspective of a long timescale and yet you quote a reasonably long Russian history at me.

          • Arthur Baker says:

            I quoted the “reasonably long Russian history” (TO you, not AT you), but explicitly said I don’t have the knowledge to either agree with it or argue against it. If you disagree with it, I suggest you take it up with the author of the article. I can’t comment on it, because I’m unqualified.

            My point is about proximity. And on that point there really is no controversy. Since the breakup of the USSR, “the West” (NATO, EU) has moved closer to Russia, and Russia’s sphere of influence has shrunk. They didn’t move closer to us. We (well, fundamentally the USA and its sphere of influence) moved closer to them. Obviously, this benefits the Baltic nations, Poland, and several others. I would have thought that, just as obviously, Russia would see this as a worry, especially with a former KGB dude as head honcho.

            In today’s Russia under Putin, your colleagues of 30 years ago and their equivalents today are unlikely to get a look-in or have any say in whether Russia gets a normalised relationship with the West. When they speak out and/or demonstrate, Putin just arrests them. Putin is who we have to deal with, and that’s been the situation for quite a while. NATO and the EU knew all that, including how prickly and unstable Putin is, but still chose to move their sphere of influence, and their troops, and possibly even their missiles, right up close to Russia’s borders. Now they see Putin’s entirely predictable reaction, and they’re all surprised. What the hell did they expect? I’m not saying they caused Putin’s insane reaction, but their spread eastwards couldn’t possibly have helped.

            Once again I repeat: none of the above is meant to deny that Putin’s actions are anything other than illegal, immoral and deplorable. But he’s NOT the only problem in this situation.

          • admin says:

            Arthur,
            The EU and NATO moving closer to Russia likely had an effect on Putin, but that is where the problem lies. However, nothing much (as far as membership goes) has happened in the last 18 years. Poland and the Baltic states joined in 2004. Putin was elected in 2000. It is not like NATO or the EU have been slowly creeping up on him.

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