Thursday, March 09, 2006

Finland Commenting and Debating

It's been a fairly hectic Nordic day for me today.

Breakfast in Stockholm. Lunch in Helsinki. And dinner in Oslo. And useful discussions - at least in Helsinki and Oslo.

A deecade or two ago the Commander of the Finnish Armed Forces Admiral Kaskeala would have been in great trouble indeed.

Now it's little more than a debate about political etiquette.

On a visit to the United States in connection with a crisis managment exercise, he has been fairly explicit concerning developments in the great country neighbouring Finland to the East.

That's Russia.

The reason was some reports that the Russians are strenthening their military capabilities in areas adjacent to Finland. And issues like these used to be rather sensitive in Finland - for very obvious historical reasons.

Admiral Kaskeala said that these rumours were "greatly exaggarated". The Russian armed forces have been in decline for a long time, and the fact that there is now the beginning of some modernisation was not something to be unduly worried by.

So far so good.

But then he went on to say that this wasn't the real problem concerning Russia. The real problem was the political developments in the country:

"All power now tends to be concentrated in the hands of president Putin, and neither in the Duma nor anywhere else in the country does there seem to be any balancing power. This is not the promising development towards democracy that we had hoped for."

Hardly too sensational a statement. You would find it difficult to find a well-informed Russian who would disagree.

But it still caused a small stir when these words were uttered by the Commander of the Armed Forces. Political statements of this sort used to be made by the political leadership. In particular in Finland.

Neither the President nor the Prime Minister or the Foreign Minister has chosen to comment on Admiral Kaskealas views. The Minister of Defence disagreed mildly - unclear why - but said that the Admiral had the right to express his view. The Social Democratic Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Parliament praised what he has said.

It's a breeze in a teapot - these days.

And essentially you don't really find anyone in Helsinki disagreeing with the Admiral.

You do find quite a number that find it refreshing that someome actually said it.

Finland is a normal European country.

It's a different and better Europe nowadays.