Tarja Cronberg, a former minister of employment for the Green League, was photographed at a media event in Helsinki in April 2022. The University of Eastern Finland has decided not to grant Cronberg an honorary doctorate following the emergence of reports that she participated in events linked to propaganda operations by the Kremlin. (Emmi Korhonen – Lehtikuva)

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THE UNIVERSITY of Eastern Finland on 7 May announced it has cancelled its decision to grant an honorary doctorate to Tarja Cronberg, a former cabinet member and chairperson of the Green League.

The decision was made on grounds that the former lawmaker had participated in a seminar organised in Kaliningrad, Russia, reportedly as part of an influence operation by the Kremlin.

“Cronberg’s co-operation and appearance at the event in question violates the university’s principles and practices, whereby there are no longer grounds for granting the title of honorary professor to Tarja Cronberg,” a university spokesperson explained in a press release on 7 May.

The university became aware of her participation at the event through reporting by a group of news outlets, including Finland’s Iltalehti. Iltalehti on 6 May reported that Cronberg has visited Russia after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 to take part in events that have been linked to propaganda disseminated by the Kremlin, including as a speaker at a seminar organised as part of Baltic Platform in Kaliningrad.

The Baltic Platform is officially marketed as an international discussion forum created on the initiative of universities and research centres in Russia.

Secret documents reveal, though, that it has been devised as a tool to legitimise Russian actions under the pretext of ecological problems in the Baltic Sea, according to another news outlet that participated in the reporting, Lithuania’s LRT. Its objective is thereby to shape public opinion in the Baltics, Nordics and Germany to align with the goals of Moscow.

Cronberg also delivered a speech in Moscow in November 2023, according to Iltalehti.

She argued to the newspaper that her visits are part of her ongoing research projects. “I’m currently researching Russia’s role in the nuclear weapons system, and I’m writing a book about it. In this kind of research, it’s very important for me to know and understand what’s going on in Russia as it relates to the issue of nuclear weapons.”

If the Kremlin was shown to use western scholars in its influence operations, she assured that she would not participate in such events.

Also in Sweden, her appearances have come under scrutiny given her role at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri). According to Expressen and Insider, Dan Smith, the director of Sipri, has said Cronberg made the decision to participate in the seminar herself and was not there as a representative of the institute.

He added that participation in the event has been deemed justified to maintain lines of communication.

Johan Forssell, the Swedish minister for international development co-operation and foreign trade, said the Swedish government has asked Sipri to provide an account of the measures it has taken to make sure it is not utilised in influence operations by the Kremlin.

“We’ve got an aggressive Russia that’s determined to spread propaganda and disinformation whenever it can. We have to be awake in these questions and aware of the danger of being used as an instrument for propaganda,” he said to Expressen.

Ville Niinistö, a former chairperson of the Green League, on 6 May wrote on X he has never agreed with Cronberg’s views on Russia. Currently a Member of the European Parliament, Niinistö added to Helsingin Sanomat that his social media post was referring particularly to the period following Russia’s invasion of Crimea in 2014.

“The Greens as a party and I as the chairperson were the strictest in Finland about making sure the sanctions on Russia are so firm that the message is clear,” he commented. “I thought it peculiar already at the time that Cronberg had a different view on the sanctions than the Greens did as a party.”

In an interview with YLE in 2014, Cronberg viewed that sweeping sanctions would be overkill due to the negative impact they would have on shopping tourism. She would have rather reduced international investments in Russia and excluded Russian President Vladimir Putin from the Group of 8.

Cronberg served as the minister of employment in the cabinet of Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen 2007–2009, as a Member of the Finnish Parliament in 2003–2007 and a Member of the European Parliament in 2011–2014. Currently, she is a distinguished associate fellow at Sipri.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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