Interview with Marko Meretvuo09.10.2021
A few days ago, the world recalled the tragic events that occurred on September 11, 2001. This historic event significantly influenced the global geopolitical order. It forced small countries to seek support in large ones, and large ones to take small ones under their wing and form new or strengthen old military blocs.
For example, the United States remembered about the NATO, which, in the wake of the fight against global (mainly Islamic) terrorism, undertook to break regional conflicts (Afghanistan, Iraq etc.). But the Russian Federation and the People Republic of China have been resorting to direct threats to their neighbors for several years, which they see exclusively in their orbit. Putin’s own Muscovy is carrying out open aggression against neighboring countries (Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova), trying to prevent their drift to the West.
Finland, like Ukraine, is of strategic importance to these three world leaders for a number of reasons and circumstances. For communist Beijing, Helsinki is, first, a trade and financial foothold, which makes it possible to master the economy of the whole Baltic-Scandinavian region; For the сhekist Moscow, this is an arena of double pressure: on the one hand, military pressure (constant maneuvers near the Suomi border should remind its residents of the consequences of the 1939-1940 and 1941-1944 campaigns and hint at the invariability of the neutral position), on the other, diplomatic and economic (Vladimir Putin’s closest associates, for example, Gennady Timchenko, are citizens of Finland and have their own business interests there, on which the viability of entire sectors of the national economy of this northern European country depends). But for democratic Washington, it is a flank pawn that is put into action when American hands do not yet have the necessary trump card to put pressure on the Kremlin.
Therefore, to get outside the complex twists and turns of Finland’s relations with the US, the Russia and the PRC, as well as to understand whether the local experts were able to learn the tragic Ukrainian lesson of 2014, we talked with Marko Meretvuo, a leading security and defense expert from the University of Jyväskylä.
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– Good day, dear Marko, we are glad to welcome you! Recently, your new book was published, dedicated to the problem of political realism in the world and geopolitical miscalculations in the 21st century. Tell us, what is the main purpose of the book, who is it intended for and what exactly did you want to convey to your reader?
M.A. Meretvuo: Political idealism and its main embodiment liberalism has become so dominating in our foreign policy that it was necessary to write this book. As we know, liberalism is all about utopias like “world peace” or “human rights”, and it uses things like interdependence, international institutions and humanitarian interventions to support its goal. Liberalism tryes to reduce sovereignty of states, since it sees states as obstacle in its globalist mission. So, rather than being interested in national benefit and welfare of the nation, they are interested in rights of all kinds of minorities in faraway countries.
Realism on the other hand is all about national interests. The world is shifting fast towards realism, as we can see in the behaviour of states like Russia, China, India, Turkey etc. US is also moving towards realism, and not just because of Trump, President Biden is also forced to that because rise of China. A state that plays by idealist playbook in a realist world, can only lose the game. That is why we in Finland need a steep turn toward political realism.
– Let’s move on to more interesting questions. In Ukraine, Suomi is known about national security and defense only in a historical context. Our citizens are superficially guided by the events of World War II on the territory of Finland, and even less know about the so-called policy of Finlandization imposed by the anti-Hitler coalition after 1945. What would you tell us about this, revealing little-known facts from the past, linking them directly to the nowadays?
M.A. Meretvuo: Cold war was difficult time for Finland, since trying to remain neutral in bibolar system is impossible. So, we had to submit to Soviet Union in our foreign policy, and in the same time we were doing everything we could to build relations towards West behind the scenes. Little known fact is that there were people in the military intelligence community that tried to acquire nuclear weapons for Finland. This was ofcourse a big secret, since our foreign policy leaned officially towards USSR. The line between stability policy and Finlandization is thin, a thing that has to be kept in mind today. We also have to remember that the current World Order was formed by an alliance of Churchill and Roosevelt: an alliance that Finland was not part of.
– In the context of the topics you raised, I would like to recall the recent report of the Finnish Defense Ministry, in which your officials urge society to be more careful and more attentive to Russia and China. Is Helsinki again considering Moscow, and with it Beijing, as the main threat in the military and other spheres? Is it appropriate to say that the Finnish military personnel, as descendants of the Mannerheim’s Army, have now decided on the main enemy for the future confrontation?
M.A. Meretvuo: As Lord Palmerston has fameously said, there are no eternal allies or eternal friends, only eternal interests. It might sound like geopolitical determinism, but it seems that Finland is an eternal interest for Russia, and for this reason it is only logical to consider it as only real military threat to our country. On the other hand, Russia is the third biggest trading partner of our country, so we don’t want to behave too aggressively in our foreign policy. Military prepares for its job, but politics must see the bigger picture: in our actions we can make Northern Europe either more or less stable. So, according to military, confrontation may be unavoidable, but it is the basic function of any nations foreign policy, that it should be avoided as far as possible.
– What about NATO? After the end of the Cold War, the Finnish establishment, as it is now in Ukraine, has repeatedly raised the issue of abandoning its own neutrality and the desire to join the NATO. Where have these rants from year to year taken in your country today, and are there any specific strategic plans worked out by the government in Helsinki together with Washington and Brussels?
M.A. Meretvuo: Finland has worked with NATO for decades now, and we are as close to it we can without being actual members. At the moment there are projects to integrate USA and NATO more closely to the EU security policy. US military forces participate military exercises in Finland regularly. This may be good for military defence, but we should be careful not to lose our latitude in foreign policy decision making process. This is the main argument against common security policy of Europe: it would mean that we lose our sovereignty if decisions are made as majority decions. And there are also many risks in involvement with NATO, for example drifting to war that does not consider our own national interest. So, being afraid of Russia should not lead to selling our sovereignty to liberalist world order of the west! Realist world is a world of self-help, and there is a double risk of abandonment and falling into trap in any military alliance.
– Energy security of the Old World is also an important topic of our time, in particular due to the completion of the construction of the “Nord Stream 2” gas pipeline and its full launch. Don’t you think that the Kremlin’s pressure on European countries, in particular on Finland, through manipulative correlations of the market price for blue fuel will only grow? In Ukraine, we have repeatedly experienced a similar hybrid war since the restoration of state independence in August 1991.
M.A. Meretvuo: Let me remind you about history. In the 1980’s president Reagan noted that Soviet sales of oil and gas provided foreign earning that kept the USSR afloat. In order to reduce that income, Reagan pressured European statesmen to stop buing Soviet gas and cancel the building of the Siberian pipeline. He had no success, so he had to make another plan: he noted that Soviet economy was vulnerable to price fluctuations, and if prices were to drop, the Soviet books would no longer balance. Around 1985 he made Saudi-Arabia increase their oil production considerably. This was disaster for the USSR, because price fall cut of the Soviet export earnings by more than half.
So, with “Nord Stream 2” we have nothing new under the sun, just the same old power politics with energy. If Russia someday will use “Nord Stream” as weapon against Europe, they probably think: “they did it to us in the 80’s, why shouldn’t we do it now?”. This is why autarky should be promoted as much as possible: it is the only way to guarantee energy security.
– Under the light of the recent visit of the current Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Russia Valery Gerasimov and the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army Mark Milley to Helsinki, do you think Moscow is negotiating with Washington behind us again? After all, how else can we comment on this sudden meeting of generals in Finland, who are directly responsible for the implementation of the strategic plans of the two irreconcilable states of the world.
M.A. Meretvuo: Yes, I think that is possible. US wants to negotiate with Russia, so that they can concentrate their forces in the Pacific Ocean against China. A worst-case scenario is some kind of “Molotov-Ribbentrop pact” that splits Europe to spheres of influence. This is the logic of power politics, and in a world of power politics small states cannot afford to trust the bigger states. We don’t have any choice but to fight for ourselves, and fight hard.
– How do the Finns see the future union or alliance of the countries of the so-called Intermarium triangle, closed between the Black, Baltic and Adriatic Seas? Do you have your own opinion about this? After all, it is quite obvious, and the history of our two countries has repeatedly proved that only the emergence of such a supranational military-political bloc, which will not obey either Brussels, or Moscow, and even less Beijing and Washington, will finally be able to stop the destructive tendencies that waves roll on us from the West and the East at the same time.
M.A. Meretvuo: I was intrigued by the idea of Intermarium at some point, since it would be good idea to balance power against Russia without institutions that support the US liberal hegemony. I wrote some articles about it here in Finland, but to be honest, the feedback was not that good. It seems that majority of Finns are not interested in involvement with Eastern European countries militarily, since they are afraid of getting tanglet in a war that would not otherwise consider us. This is propapbly the main reason why majority here is also against NATO. Most of the Finns think that in turbulent times it would be better to stay neutral than to take alliances, at least alliances that have no military superiority against Russia.
– We cannot ignore such a complex and vulnerable topic today as terrorism, especially against the backdrop of events in Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Libya, Israel and even in Europe. Do you think the withdrawal will affect the level of terrorist threat in the world, although we will speak frankly – it is nothing more than flight and defeat of the US and NATO troops from the Afghan, and soon Iraqi lands? After all, competitors in the East – Moscow and Beijing – will not wait for the American fall, if not the complete destruction of the so-called “world democracy”, which has recently degenerated into multicultural nothing.
M.A. Meretvuo: Afghanistan will become an incubator for new terrorists, even if Taliban denies this, or indeed, even if they don’t want it. This will increase the number of Islamist terrorist attacks around the world during this decade. But the bigger consequencies of Afghanistan are the changes in world politics: the turn from away from idealism towards realism in the West is imminent, and I’m sure we are witnessing the end of an era of humanitarian interventions, democracy export and society building of undeveloped countries. This will mean turbulent times in international relations, but we must remember: the idea of the world without wars is not realistic. It is an idealist dream that has caused a great number of wars itself!
– The migration crisis of the 2010s directly follows from your arguments. Tell please, how has the attitude of the Finns towards refugees from the same Syria or Afghanistan changed, do they not see a threat in Muslim fugitives who can bring ideas of radical Islamic fundamentalism to European lands under the slogans of jihad and a world Caliphate?
M.A. Meretvuo: To be honest, the greatest threat with Muslim immigration is not terrorism but the financial problems and increase of street crimes. Threre is a large number of immigrants already in Finland living on social security system and this is dissasterous in the long run for any economy. Street crime is also increasing in our cities and large portion of it is because of young immigrants and children of migrant families. Soon there will be migrant drug gangs and constant shooting, like in Sweden. No one, except the Finns Party, wants to talk about this, because it would be “racist” to say things like that. Alas, terrorist attack can kill few people, but the financial problems of mass immigration will eventually kill us all.
– What about the coronavirus? How does this global pandemic, with its hitherto unseen quarantine restrictions, panic, intrusive vaccinations and brutal police violence against COVID-dissidents, affect national and global security? Because we understand that not all countries are equally provided with vaccines, not all are able to maintain an adequate level of the health care system, which means that this is a significant financial investment, sometimes at the expense of foreign creditors, who benefit from driving countries that have just begun to stand on their own feet into a debt trap.
M.A. Meretvuo: The playing cards of the Great Game are indeed being dealed again because of COVID, and its effects remain to be seen. Another financial crisis in the West is a serious possibility when states stop to compensate the losses of the companies and the debts become reality. All this might make China once again stronger and weaken the West. My prediction is that China will eventually win the Great Game of hegemony against the US, and COVID will be a part of it. What this means for Europe remains to be seen, since US will sooner or later want Europe to chose between itself and China. Looking from this perspective, it is possible that we will see evidences that China actually was behind the pandemia. It is also possible that such evidences are fabricated by the US, as the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq were.
– And finally, what advice would you give to Ukraine and our citizens, who have been defending all of Europe for the 8th year from the new Horde invasion from the wild Moscow boggy forest?
M.A. Meretvuo: Stay strong! As Thucydides wrote over two thousand years ago: strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must. There is no one in the world that can help the nation except the people themselves, so any kind of alliances can only be temporal and at worst, unreliable solutions. Age of idealism is over; age of the power politics has come. Let us not be afraid of it, but let us rejoice for the battles to come: the future always builds upon the ruins of the past!
The conversation was conducted by Denis Kovaliov – postgraduate student of History, founder of the Research Center of Finland