A map and section of Nord Stream 2, an abandoned natural gas pipeline that was to link Germany and Russia, in Kotka, Finland, on 30 September 2022. Alexander Stubb, a professor at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy, on Wednesday said one of the mistakes he made during his tenure in Finnish politics was not to oppose the pipeline project. (Sasu Mäkinen – Lehtikuva)


FORMER Finnish Prime Minister, Minister of Finance and Minister for Foreign Affairs Alexander Stubb has admitted to making mistakes in regards to Russia.

Currently a professor at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy, Stubb on Wednesday published a video on social media in which he admits to being wrong to believe Russia could become a European democracy.

“The basic idea was that if you start integrating economies, if you start integrating institutions and cultures, that will create a path dependence, which then makes rogue behaviour or illegal or aggressive behaviour impossible,” he said, characterising the prevalent thinking in many parts of Europe. “We were a little bit naive, to put it mildly, with Russia. Russia is a big power, it’s an imperialist power and it thinks like it.”

The Baltics and Poland, he acknowledged, knew what they were dealing with and warned others about the imperialist tendencies and the futileness of attempting to integrate Russia with Europe.

“A lot of it was about the legacy that these countries had as Soviet satellites,” he commented. “But a lot of it, really, was a profound understanding of the Russian psyche on foreign policy.”

Finland made its share of mistakes by mixing idealism with realism in its foreign policy toward its eastern neighbour, as evidenced on the one hand by its pursuit of broad-based co-operation and, on the other, it maintaining a formidable defence, according to Stubb.

“We still have one of the largest standing armies in Europe,” he reminded. “It was to a certain extent [because of] what I’d call a healthy fear about Russia.”

Germany, France and Italy were even more bright-eyed, though, in giving precedence to pragmatism over principles based on the assumption that they could wield their own power to deal with Russia.

Stubb estimated that he personally made four mistakes in office in regards to Russia.

The first, he said, was avidly supporting the visa-free regime with Russia, thinking that free travel would bring the countries closer. The second was Nord Stream, the underwater natural gas pipeline linking Russia to Germany.

“I wasn’t an advocate of the pipeline as such, and I did raise issues around security and criticise the bilateral deals that Russia and Germany had made,” he said. “But in office I spoke that it only has an environmental impact for Finland. I was wrong, it was much more than that. It should’ve never been allowed to be built.”

“I think the Baltic states were right. I think Poland was right. I think I was wrong.”

The third mistake is the infamous nuclear power project with Rosatom, the Russian state-owned nuclear energy company. “Was I an advocate or driver of it? Not necessarily. But was I prime minister at the time and therefore should I’ve taken responsibility? Absolutely yes. It was a mistake.”

Stubb also identified as a mistake his failure not to speak more ardently in favour of Nato membership. Although joining the defence alliance would have been difficult at the time given that only roughly one-fifth of the public supported it, not pursuing the membership more strongly was a mistake for someone in a position to do so.

Among the conclusions has drawn from the situation is that the ongoing war can only end on the battlefield, in a victory for Ukraine, and that the integration of other states with western institutions should continue through both the EU and Nato.

“[Russian President] Vladimir Putin and Russia have to be defeated. Putin only understands power, and a total defeat is the only thing that will find a solution to the current war,” he argued.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT