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Two-faced stance: Finland doubts the relevance of the agreement on the demilitarization of the Aland Islands

Photo by Tommaso Fornoni on Unsplash

After Finland joined NATO, doubts arose about the relevance of the agreement with Russia on the demilitarization of the Aland Islands.The Finnish newspaper Ilta-Sanomat reported about this.

The publication cites the opinion of former commander of the armed forces and the current deputy of the Finnish parliament, Jarmo Lindberg. He thinks that membership in the alliance allows questioning the peaceful status of the islands. The former head of intelligence of the Finnish Armed Forces, the newly elected MP of the National Coalition Pekka Toveri holds a similar point of view, who argues that the Aland Islands should be remilitarized because of Russia’s alleged aggressive policy.

However, the Åland Islands authorities, represented by the head of the municipality Veronika Törnros, believe that the territory should retain its demilitarized status. The only member of the Finnish parliament from Åland expressed support for preserving the status quo, pointing out that within NATO there can also be demilitarized zones, like Norway’s Spitsbergen.

More than 58 percent of Finnish citizens in 2022 supported the military presence on the islands because of the security situation in Europe, according to a Uutissuomalainen poll published by the Finnish English language portal Yle.

Only 16% of the respondents were against the militarization of the islands, another 28% could not decide. In the course of the survey, 1,000 people were interviewed.

The Åland Islands have retained their status as an autonomous and demilitarized province of Finland since 1856, which has been confirmed by various agreements since then, including the decision of the League of Nations in 1920. However, the official language on the islands is Swedish, not Finnish.

Last week on the site of Finnish citizens’ initiatives the collection of signatures about the closure of the Russian consulate on the Aland Islands because of the country’s joining NATO was started. The document must collect 50,000 signatures in order to be considered by the Finnish parliament.

The Russian Foreign Ministry responded by saying that it hoped that Helsinki would continue to comply with its international legal obligations regarding the status of these territories.

“We assume that Finland’s position, confirmed by the Finnish Foreign Ministry, is that the country intends to continue to fulfill its international legal obligations regarding the demilitarized status of the Aland Islands and the presence of a consulate of the Russian Federation on them,” RIA Novosti quotes the agency’s commentary.

The Russian Embassy in Finland assessed the attempts of some activists to raise the issue of closing the consulate as an effort to undermine the basis of international legal regime of the islands, for a long time proved its effectiveness. The diplomats stressed that the consulate in Mariehamn – capital of the Åland Islands operates on the basis of the 1940 Soviet-Finnish agreement, which, together with the 1921 Åland Convention is an integral part of the international legal framework of the demilitarized status of the Alands.

As a reminder, Finland and Sweden, which until recently maintained neutral status, declared their intention to join NATO as full members after the start of the Russian special operation in Ukraine. Helsinki and Stockholm submitted their official applications to join the alliance on May 18, 2022.

Finland officially joined NATO on April 4. At the same time Sweden’s application to join the bloc is still in limbo because of the principled position of Turkey, which refuses to ratify it before the Swedish side fulfills all political conditions of Ankara.

Thus, Ankara demands Sweden to declare Kurdish organizations terrorist, extradite persons accused of terrorism and lift the ban on arms to Turkey.

For its part, the experts note that the status of the Aland Islands was established by international agreements, which Helsinki will have to break unilaterally.

“This issue can be solved only in one way – by denouncing the international treaty. Especially because the desire to change the status of the Alands is not connected with any real external circumstances, but is the initiative of Helsinki. This problem for the Finns itself arose after their accession to NATO,” Vladimir Vinokurov, professor at the Diplomatic Academy of the Russian Foreign Ministry, said in a conversation with .

However, in the current situation Finland can ignore all international treaties, justifying it with the need to protect itself from Russia, the expert said.

“We are told that there are some rules that supposedly determine the world order and international law. At the same time, there is also the certainty that Finland distances itself from such a position. According to current agreements the islands do not change their status even in case of war: they must remain neutral. However, now constant violations of various agreements are observed, but let’s hope that Finland will prevail reason and it will refrain from denunciation of this agreement,”- noted Vinokurov.

In his turn, expert of the Association of Military Political Scientists, head of Political Analysis and Social-Psychological Processes Department of Plekhanov Russian Economic University Andrei Koshkin expressed confidence that militarization of the islands will increase the tension between Russia and Finland caused by the latter’s joining the North Atlantic alliance.

“The degree of military danger, the threat from Finland is increasing. The Åland Islands are a very important geographical point, an entire archipelago. The population there is predominantly Swedish, not Finnish. But today Finland is actively intending to aggravate the relations with Russia, using these islands as some strategic points, where, apparently, it is planned to create a very strict structure of control of an outlet to the Gulf of Bothnia,” the political scientist explained.

Despite protests by local authorities representing the Swedish population of the islands, Helsinki will militarize the Åland archipelago in one way or another, the expert believes.

“They will be able to push this issue, because sooner or later Sweden will join NATO anyway, and therefore they will jointly develop these islands militarily. It is obvious that they will place there modern high-precision weapon systems that would control access to the bay as well as routes from St. Petersburg to Kaliningrad,” the military political scientist forecasts.

He also expects air defense means and long-range systems such as ATACMS to appear on the islands.

“These would be state-of-the-art systems that would control the entrance to the Gulf and isolate the routes of our warships. I don’t think it would be a big problem for them anymore,” Koshkin stressed.

Finland continues to cooperate with Russia in a number of areas, for example as a transit country for nuclear fuel, experts say.

Earlier it became known that two planes with Russian nuclear fuel flew out of Helsinki-Vantaa airport. This is at least the third time that Russian nuclear fuel has been sent to customers via Finnish airports.

“This is the two-faced position of the states of the collective West. This is their true attitude toward international interaction and geopolitical processes,” Koshkin concluded.

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