Presidential candidate Mika Aaltola. LEHTIKUVA

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In the realm of Finnish politics, Mika Aaltola emerged as an independent presidential candidate with a distinctive approach, emphasizing transparency and a commitment to fiscal responsibility in his campaign. Although standing independently for candidacy may be perceived as challenging by some, Aaltola viewed it as an advantage. He highlighted his familiarity with politicians due to his long spanning career as Director of Finnish Institute of International Affairs and believed that the advantage of being free from political party affiliations empowers him to maintain a balanced approach.

“Throughout my career, I have been working in an institute that operates in conjuction with the Finnish Parliament. My familiarity with parliamentarians, political party heads, decision-makers, and diplomats allows for interactions with major actors and build consensus among different political parties,” Mika Aaltola said.

“Having the benefit of not having a political party actually carries quite a lot of power to have a balanced approach. Nobody is going to question my background because I lack the narrow interests of one political party. When I will be choosing the advisors if I am elected as President, political membership of a party would be the least of my worries, over the qualifications of candidates,” Aaltola highlighted.

Mika Aaltola also addressed the recent voters support poll by Helsingin Sanomat which showed he finished seventh among the nine candidates, indicating a decrease in his support.

“It’s difficult for an independent candidate. You lack the machinery and the resources as compared to others. However I feel that it is a historical number for an independent candidate in Finland.

While we lack the substantial taxpayer funding political parties receive, we’ve garnered a significant amount from individual donations for our campaign. Though we won’t feature lavish TV commercials due to financial constraints, we believe people understand our approach,” he said.

Aaltola’s vision encompasses geopolitical shifts, Finland’s NATO membership, military resilience strategies, international relations, and economic sustainability. His perspectives shed light on Finland’s evolving role on the global stage.

Finland’s shift in foreign policy with NATO Membership

Aaltola believes that Finland’s NATO membership has marked a significant shift in its foreign policy, aligning itself more closely with Western defense alliances, reflecting a departure from a previous stance of neutrality.

“Looking at defence as a key part of the foreign policy, Finland has aligned itself with the best Western defence alliance. Finland is not sitting on a fence anymore. Being a member of European Union, also has provided Finland with significant stages in the western institutions. In my opinion, Finland can achieve this by integrating itself. NATO is a process and we are in the initial stage of figuring out what we can do with NATO and what NATO can do with Finland,” Aaltola said.

With half of Russia’s NATO border now situated in Finland, Aaltola asserts that this membership is a defining feature of Finnish defense and foreign policy.

Handling Russia-Ukraine conflict and deterrence policy

Concerning the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine, Aaltola dismissed the notion of compromising, citing the necessity of a deterrence policy in the face of Russia’s war footing. “There’s no need to compromise on anything. When it comes to policy, Finland has a tool called ‘deterrence’. Currently, Russia is on a war footing and this is not going to change for a long time. So there are no chances for dialogue or anything,” Aaltola noted.

Mika Aaltola foresees minimal changes in Finland’s relations with Russia over the next 5 to 10 years due to Russia’s aggressive stance and its economic reliance on war.

“Russia has taken 20% of Ukraine and this part of its long term plan is not going to end. Russian economy is fueled by its war economy. So, they are producing weapons and they are not focusing on developing the condition of citizens or developing as a political system, which is basically fascist,” he said.

“For the next 5 to 10 years, Finland needs to work as a lighthouse for the European states to increase the defense expenditures, so we can be prepared against Russia. That is the kind of the base policy for today’s difficult situation in Europe that it has to be achieved through containing Russia,” Aaltola added.

Aaltola suggested that Finland’s role as a peace mediator in the Ukraine conflict has shifted, emphasizing caution in negotiations with Russia.

“It is clear when your neighboring country starts a war in the region, then red lines are crossed. Now with the escalation, negotiating with Russia with a more balanced approach may appear as a sign of weakness for Finland for Russia,” Aaltola said.

“It is difficult for Finland to act as negotiator. If you look to the statements of Putin, he wants to negotiate with us, because he sees himself an equal to Finland. Given the recent extreme situation in Ukraine, the days of Finland’s role of building the bridge between East and West are gone, as it could also pose a danger to Finland. Hence we have to be cautious. That doesn’t mean that Finland cannot be a peace mediator in other types of conflicts,” he added.

Finland-U.S. relations and new defence agreement

Mika Aaltola sees the new defence cooperation agreement with the U.S. in positive light and emphasized the advantages, including the possibility of U.S. weapons storage in Finland, enhancing the country’s defence capabilities.

“It is the basic framework for military cooperation of the U.S. in Finland. It also comes to us as a part of being a NATO member. The main advantage, of course, is the possibility of having U.S. weapons storage in Finland, and that would add into Finish state’s defence capabilities as well. So the agreement has many plus sides to it. It was good that it was done in such a speedy manner and also other Nordic and Baltic countries are signing it as well,” Aaltola said.

Despite concerns voiced by some political leaders regarding the transportation of NATO nuclear weapons through Finland, Mika Aaltola remains undeterred in recognizing the advantages of the agreement

“That’s a separate issue. Nuclear weapons are not brought to the frontlines, and Finland is a frontline country. NATO, in its practices, doesn't involve the deployment of nuclear weapons on the front lines; they are securely stored in various European countries away from immediate conflict zones. While it might not seem directly relevant, Finland benefits from the nuclear umbrella, necessitating consideration of potential risks in our nuclear policies. Our nuclear energy laws aim to address various scenarios, showcasing our commitment to NATO integration without hesitation,” Aaltola remarked.

Enhancing military resilience

To bolster the resilience of the Finnish military against geopolitical threats, including hybrid and cyber warfare, Mika Aaltola highlighted that a multifaceted approach is imperative. While Aaltola acknowledged NATO’s role in contributing valuable intelligence capabilities, he also underscored Finland’s resilience against corruption and hybrid threats, attributing it to expertise developed over centuries.

“The good thing is that NATO's operations are primarily dispersed among member states, with the U.S., the U.K., and France contributing valuable intelligence capabilities, which could also add to the tools for combating different hybrid scenarios carried out by Russia. So now that brings additional things to the table for Finland. Unlike Russia, Finland has maintained low corruption levels, with equality and stability in its democratic system. This provides a great immunity against hybrid operations,” Aaltola said.

Aaltola also asserted on infrastructure development, as a key to countering hybrid warfare challenges such as severing of data cables. “We could also develop more active infrastructure, like undersea data cables have to be active surveillance devices as well, which has sensors that detect any hostile movement. Finland has companies that have been working on it. Nokia has created products of this type. So turning a passive infrastructure into an active infrastructure as a protection is one of the keys to fight this challenge. Creating products that protect against such physical damage is a crucial aspect of countering the more aggressive aspects of hybrid warfare,” he added.

Relations with China and BRICS nations

Highlighting China as a difficult case due to its economic support to Russia, Aaltola urged the western bloc to be vigilant and reduce dependencies on China, while emphasizing strategic focus on other BRICS nations.

“China poses a unique challenge as it actively supports Russia economically, framing their relationship as stronger than allies. Global dependence on China is extensive, strategically cultivated by the nation. If there would be some kind of military escalation in  East China Sea or in the South China Sea, then these dependencies might make us vulnerable. So we have to lower them as rapidly as possible,” Aaltola said.

“Considering BRIC countries, India, the world’s largest democracy, stands out as a natural partner for the European Union and Finland. So we have to strategically focus on other BRIC nations like India, Brazil, and South Africa,” he added.

Israel’s attack in Gaza and Middle East conflicts

Concerning Finland’s response to the ongoing attack by Israel in Gaza and conflicts in the broader Middle East, Aaltola expressed worry about regional escalation but also highlighted Finland’s limited role.

“I’m very worried about the potential of regional escalation there. We should also be very careful of certain key actors, especially Iran, that connects to conflicts. Iran is active ally of Russia and it has for years and decades been main sponsor of transnational terrorism in Middle East. Additionally, I’m worried about the Yemen situation and how it is hampering the sea traffic in the neighborhood.

Lebanon too is a constant worry. The Finnish role is minor though. U.S. Secretary of State is currently travelling around the region and perhaps U.S. can bring some stability into that region, but it is a difficult and alarming situation.

Elaborating on how the role of Finland is minimal, Aaltola elaborated on the challenges of balancing regional and global concerns and emphasized caution in Finland’s involvement.

“I think it is the distance mostly. It is similar to situation in Ukraine. So the further you are from Ukraine, the less stances you take. Your own regional issues prevail over the issue at the further distance. Like the countries of Northern Africa, they don’t have a clear stance on Ukraine.  So when it comes to Ukraine, it is directly linked to the Finnish national security,” Aaltola said.

“The situation in Gaza started in a way, where moral clarity is difficult to achieve. It started with a terror attack against Israel, but my concern lies in the potential for further escalation and collateral damage. Despite the geographical distance, we have had demonstrations in Finland, which underscore our empathy whenever civilian suffering is evident,” Aaltola added.

When questioned about whether, as a presidential candidate, this approach of not intervening unless an issue is regional or directly affects the country is acceptable, he said,

“Well, it's the realism of foreign policy. It can lead to accusations of double standards, but honestly I think for most countries globally, the priority remains the nearby complexities over conflicts farther away. I agree that it is sort of striping humanity out of us, but in my opinion, it should not absolve us of the responsibility to condemn all civilian killings and uphold the laws of war universally. Finland consistently emphasize the crucial need for respecting international norms.”

“Often countries hesitate because of economic dependencies. Like when countries discuss China, they think whether it will hurt their exports, if they are vocal about the behaviour of China in any part of the world. However, when it comes to morality, the unequivocal condemnation of killing innocent lives should always take precedence,” Aaltola added.

Economic strategies and climate policy

Considering the current recession and debt crisis, Aaltola underscored the importance of long-term economic planning, bipartisanship, and sustainability in overcoming economic challenges. “This reminds me of the whole debate about guns versus. A resilient defence requires a robust economic foundation, and in countries like Finland with low corruption and high development, investing in defence can yield substantial benefits. The thriving workplaces, growth rates, and export possibilities create a market where defence investments translate into tangible outcomes,” Aaltola said.

“However, the concern arises from the past 15 years, during which governments from diverse political spectrums have struggled to produce economic growth. This highlights the need for bipartisan, long-term planning to ensure sustained economic development and support the country’s security,” he added.

Aaltola also highlighted fostering innovation and reducing economic dependencies as strategies to enhance Finland’s competitiveness in the global market.

“Our reliance on the German economy is significant, given its role as the export engine of the European Union. Finland’s economic well-being is closely tied to the performance of the German economy, especially with substantial subcontracting occurring here. To mitigate risks, my recommendation is to prioritize innovation and technological advancements, focusing on producing Finnish products independently rather than being part of complex value chains,” Aaltola said.

“The key lies in fostering independent, competitive companies capable of selling their products globally. Instead of swiftly selling startups to European or American investors, the emphasis should be on creating sustainable businesses and generating long-term investments that contribute to job creation. Finland excels in producing the world’s best quantum computers, showcasing our high-end innovation capabilities. Supporting and nurturing such promising endeavors should be our main focus for sustained economic growth,” he added.

Regarding his plans to meet Finland’s carbon neutrality targets while balancing development and mitigating climate change, Mika Aaltola said,

“Geopolitics intersects with climate policy, and my vision for Finland is to be independent and free from energy dependencies. Ambitious policies in this regard are important to reduce reliance on Russia and potentially China. The complexity arises due to their monopoly on minerals crucial for the electrified global economy. However, by prioritizing independence, we not only cut dependencies but also transition to cleaner energy. Developing a diverse portfolio, including atomic power plants, not only aligns with our goals but also attracts investors.”

Rise of right-wing in Europe and Finland’s global reputation

Aaltola highlighted the growing anti-migration movements amid the rise of right-wing governments in Europe. On the repercussions of the rise of right-wing governments in Europe, Aaltola said,

“Borders are still very important identity markers for people who vote. Global dynamics are shifting, and anti-migration movements in Europe are on the rise, shaping foreign policy stances. Like in Italy, the current government is relatively right-wing, but they still have very pro -Ukrainian policies. In Netherlands, the Dutch elections are likely to produce a government that is a little bit more critical about providing aids to Ukraine. Of course, it is alarming that democracies are changing, but it is important whether they are still following the democratic process after the elections.”

Aaltola acknowledged the impact of new right wing government on Finland’s global reputation but underscores the democratic process in decision-making. He also highlighted the need for equitable economic burden-sharing.

“So I don’t like the fact that they are cutting benefits for the poor and decreasing taxes for the rich. I don’t think it’s Finnish way of doing things. The burden of the economic recession should be equally shared by all types of people of Finland. So that’s my stance on the government’s policies, but it was democratically elected government, and they have the right to implement their policies.

Democracy allow citizens to choose, and elections provide an opportunity to assess governments on policy merits,” he said.

On Finland’s recent plan of decreasing embassies abroad, Aaltola asserted on aligning embassy strategies with Finland’s evolving role, especially in the context of seeking UN Security Council membership.

“It is crucial to align our strategy with Finland’s evolving role, particularly as we apply for UN Security Council membership. While we may consolidate embassies in key countries, reducing them elsewhere requires careful consideration, especially as it may be viewed paradoxically during our UN campaign,” he urged.

Funding sources of presidential campaign

On his funding sources, Mika Aaltola highlighted that his political campaigns are exceptionally transparent, with funding detailed on his website. “Without taxpayer-backed office or party support, we rely on individual donations. The crowdfunding website displays the current number and individual contributions, ensuring complete transparency in our financial sources,” he said.

Sonali Telang - HT

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