Environment Minister Ville Niinistö has taken to social media to defend comments he made to the influential business daily Financial Times, where he charged that Finland has been kow-towing to Russia in its foreign policy decisions.
Niinistö came under heated attack from senior politicians of all stripes who roundly condemned his comments as being “unpatriotic”.
Environment Minister and Green League chair Ville Niinistö found himself at the centre of a firestorm Wednesday when the Financial Times reported his comments that Finland had been putting Russian interests ahead of its own values and returning to the days of “Finlandisation”, a policy of Soviet appeasement practiced during the Cold War.
Niinistö objects to the construction of more nuclear power plants in Finland, and wants to hold government to a pledge not to build new nuclear capacity, as a condition for his party to remain in government.
On Monday however Economic Affairs Minister Jan Vapaavuori announced that he would recommend that government approve a revised plan to construct a new Russian-built plant for the Finnish power consortium Fennovoima.
Niinistö: Finland giving Russians leverage
On Wednesday Niinistö told the Financial Times that building a new nuclear reactor with Rosatom, the contractor selected to deliver the Fennovoima plant, would increase Finland’s energy dependency on Russia. Rosatom currently owns some 34 percent of the plant.
“There is a sense of Finlandisation here. We are giving the Russians the very leverage they are looking for with the west and the EU. This puts us into a very vulnerable position . . . Bluntly speaking, it is totally bewildering that the rest of the government thinks this is OK,” he added.
On Yle’s A-Studio discussion programme Wednesday evening, veteran politicians Mauri Pekkarinen of the Centre Party, Pertti Salolainen of the National Coalition and the Social Democrats’ Jouni Backman unanimously roasted Niinistö for the comments, calling them “less than patriotic”.
Minister Vapaavuori also weighed in Thursday, condemning the Green chair’s statements as ”low” and “below the belt”.
“It’s very confusing to talk about Finlandisation and these kinds of things when we consider that for example that I myself have long been a staunch supporter of NATO membership,” Vapaavuori added.
Greens want investment in renewable energy
Niinistö returned fire via social media, commenting on Facebook that Finland would appear in an odd light in the European Union if it took on board a joint investment with Russia in a major nuclear power plant in the middle of a sanctions regime against Russia.
“A few old politicians have taken issue with one word, but haven’t been able to address a single word of the actual content,” Niinistö wrote in Facebook as he commented on the A-Studio discussion.
“Russia will use this to its own advantage to show that not all EU countries believe that there is anything wrong with Russia’s actions. Their media have already said so,” Niinistö pointed out.
Niinistö said it’s odd that the nuclear project to be delivered by Rosatom has been automatically presented as the only right choice, when another alternative could have been to invest in domestic renewable energy and increasing energy self-sufficiency.
“If we can’t talk about this in Finland, then there’s something very strange about the political discourse in this country,“ Niinistö concluded.
On Thursday, Niinistö’s boss, Prime Minister Alexander Stubb limited his comments to noting that the word Finlandisation was a sensitive term.
“”It’s odd that it came out of the mouth of a Finn,” Stubb added.
The premier called for cool tempers, noting that a nuclear power project involves a long process.
Related stories from around the North:
Canada: Canada boycotts Moscow Arctic Council meeting over Ukraine, Eye on the Arctic
Finland: Russian food import ban halts Finnish lorries at the border, Yle News
Norway: Nordics rethink security after Ukraine crisis, Yle News
Russia: Sanctions on Russia – Helping or hindering the Arctic environment?, Blog by Mia Bennett
Sweden: Sweden pushes for tougher Russia sanctions, Radio Sweden
United States: Can an aggressive Russia remain U.S.’s nice Arctic neighbor?, Alaska Public Radio Network