University of Connecticut Department of Geography research scholar Barry Scott Zellen conducted an interview with University of Lapland Professor of International Relations Dr. Julian Reid on the implications of Finland’s April 4 accession to NATO. Reid is based in Rovaniemi, Finland – just 415 km by air or 583 km by road to Russia’s northern naval bastion of Murmansk, and the target of Soviet troops during the 1939 Winter War between the Soviet Union and Finland, when Moscow initiated its unsuccessful lightning conquest of Finnish Lapland. Just a few years later, during the 1944 Lapland War between Finland and Nazi Germany, the Battle of Rovaniemi caused the near-total destruction of the city, with its destruction reminiscent of the scale of damage to Ukraine’s cities in the last 400 days of war.
With Ukraine now experiencing Russian aggression on comparable scale of destruction as experienced in the Lapland War, and a military stalemate reminiscent of the Winter War when the outgunned and outmanned Finnish defense forces held off the numerically-superior Soviet invasion force, there’s little wonder why Finland has so quickly pivoted from its long history of neutrality to full NATO membership. But the repercussions of Russia’s loss of one of its longest and most stable neutral buffers along its western frontier as NATO comes ever closer to the Russian heartland remain to be seen, and is the subject of this interview with Dr. Reid.
Zellen: How goes the NATO expansion in Finland, and how do Laplanders feel about it? Do they find comfort in the military protection from an expansionist Russia or do they worry it may provoke a bear that had been productively cooperating regionally with the Nordic states?
Reid: The overarching sentiment of the Finnish public is indeed one of comfort and assurance that NATO is willing to take Finland as a member. There is confidence that this is the right move, and scant sense that it might provoke Russia or make Finland less secure. The process by which Finland has grown closer to NATO has been gradual, although it is difficult to overstate the importance of the invasion of Ukraine for hastening the shift of its allegiance westwards. It has happened with a sense of urgency, underpinned by fear. Parliament and the policy community have mimicked the public mood, and it is very hard to locate meaningful opposition to NATO membership anywhere here.