Often we view the world through different narratives. In Russia the Slavophiles and the Zapadniki were two contrasting philosophical camps in the early 19th century. The Slavophiles advocated against western influences and values, preserving what they considered to be the unique cultural heritage of Russia. The Zapadniki - or westernizers - felt that Russia was lagging desperately behind the west in terms of advancement and industrialization. They felt that Russia had to industrialize and accept western cultural values in order to move itself closer to Europe and secure its footing on the global stage.
Sounds familiar? That´s because this debate is ongoing again. And the vast majority of Russians, led by President Vladimir Putin, are currently moving away from what we call the western values. These narrative differences did not appear yesterday. While Russia after the cold war was in many ways pushing a reset-button, there were also disputes. Now it looks very obvious: we have had different perspectives on Kosovo, Iraq, Georgia, Arab Spring, Libya, Egypt, Syria… And now it is about Ukraine and Crimea.
While we in the west have been advancing democracy, human rights, free elections, equality of women, freedom of speech and role of civil society, the Russian narrative looks different. In their eyes the west has been bringing chaos and disorder, to the extent that this disorder has come knocking on the gates of Russia, through “color revolutions” in Eastern Europe. And Russia, based on the Red October 1917, knows of course everything about color revolutions.
These two narratives are going apart even in the details: we have now different explanations for small green men in Crimea, for shot down of flight MH-17 in Ukraine and for bus stop shelling in Mariupol. We are in the middle of an information war.
We in Finland know quite a lot about information wars. Many elder Finns still remember 1939-44: fake shelling in Mainila, false “Finnish government” in Terijoki, propaganda leaflets from airplanes, attractive radio voice of “Tiltu” in Moscow, use of desants. Hybrid war is nothing new.
Unfortunately the dispute on Crimea and Eastern Ukraine has not yet come to an end. We have to support the sovereignty of Ukraine for its right to defend its borders. Human rights and minority rights should be guaranteed. But the different narratives also have to come closer, before there can be peace.
For Finland the escalation of the conflict in Ukraine is a new situation. It is evident that in these circumstances we have to take care of our capability to control our airspace and maritime border. For that reason we are increasing our military cooperation with Sweden and other Nordic countries.
Finland is not a member of NATO. In the opinion polls, NATO membership still gets quite a low support. Majority of Finns would like to maintain the current status quo. But this does not leave us neutral to the violations against sovereignty, international law and agreements. If we are moving towards an era where the mighty take what they want, or era of power politics instead of rule of law, then the world will also become a more difficult place for countries like Finland.