Despite ongoing media campaigns that fill the Finnish population with misgivings about “evil” Russia, Finns don’t seem to be particularly keen on state-induced paranoia. Recent polls suggest that Finns have become less afraid of Russia and more doubtful about joining NATO.
Less than half of Finns have been found to consider Russia’s development a threat to Finland in a survey performed by pollster Taloustutkimus on behalf of Finnish national broadcaster Yle. Compared to the record year 2014, when 56 percent of Finns voiced fear of Russia’s proceedings, the percentage of Russia-wary Finns fell to 47 percent, which was stressed by Finnish president Sauli Niinistö.
This positive development can be ascribed to the fact that the conflict in Eastern Ukraine, which led to a sharp cooling of the relations between Russia and the West, has partly fallen out of the Finnish media’s focus. In 2014, when the fear of Russians reached its peak in Finland, Finnish mainstream media were also swamped with reports about Crimea’s re-unification with Russia, which was in terms like “aggression,” “annexation” and “occupation,” which helped bolster the image of Russia as an antagonist.
“It seems that the feeling of imminent threat caused by the events of 2014, is already partly forgotten. In recent years, the Russian militarily has been active in Syria, but this is not perceived as a threat. The situation, however, may change once the conflict in Ukraine flares up again,” researcher of international politics Matti Pesu from the University of Tampere told Yle.
According to a related poll by Yle, Finns are also becoming increasingly uncertain about whether or not the non-aligned Nordic country should join NATO. In 2014, only 16 percent of respondents hesitated in these matters, as opposed to 28 percent this year. Today, only 21 percent of Finns support NATO, whereas 51 percent are against joining the alliance. However, 38 percent of Finns said they would rather join NATO provided that Sweden set an example, Yle reported.
In both Finland and Sweden, which are the only Nordic countries remaining non-aligned, a bilateral alliance is often seen as an alternative of joining NATO. Both Swedish and Finnish politicians and military bosses have repeatedly stressed the need for closer defense cooperation, yet refrained from establishing a formal alliance.
In Sweden, though, the public are systematically being indoctrinated about Russian “aggression” and intimidated by imminent Russian attacks. Recently, Major General Björn Andersson, Secretary of the Royal War Academy, suggested that a Russian attack would come as a total surprise and ensured his countrymen that it would take Russians one to two days to invade Norrland, Sweden’s largest and northernmost region. According to him, the same was applicable to the island of Gotland and southern Sweden.
“Their aim is surely to re-create a Greater Russia to gain control over neighbors in one way or another,” Björn Andersson told startled northerners during a lecture in Luleå, as quoted by Swedish national broadcaster SVT.
But first, however, Russians have to pass through Finland, which Andersson estimated would take them three days at the utmost. However, Swedish National Defense College researcher Tomas Ries brushed aside the idea of a Russian sneak attack on Sweden or Finland as small and distant, Finnish daily Ilta-Sanomat reported.
Remarkably, though, a January poll by the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter revealed a rising percentage of Swedes that were hesitant about the perspective of joining NATO. Two thirds of Swedes were simultaneously found to question Sweden’s ability to defend itself.