Debate: Will Finland’s Addition to NATO Make Direct Conflict with Russia More Likely?

By Democracy Now, April 4, 2023

Finland is formally joining NATO on Tuesday in a move that doubles the military alliance’s border with Russia. Finland and Russia share an 800-mile border. Finland is joining NATO a week after Turkey’s parliament voted to ratify the Nordic country’s membership. Turkey and Hungary have yet to approve Sweden as a member of NATO, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accusing Stockholm of harboring Kurdish dissidents he considers terrorists. Finland and Sweden had applied to join NATO in May 2022, just months after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. For more on NATO’s expansion, we host a discussion between Reiner Braun, former executive director of the International Peace Bureau and longtime German peace activist, and Atte Erik Harjanne, a member of the Finnish Parliament for the Green League.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

Finland is formally joining NATO today in a move that doubles NATO’s border with Russia. Finland and Russia share an 800-mile border. Finland is joining the military alliance a week after Turkey’s parliament voted to ratify its membership.

Turkey and Hungary have yet to approve Sweden as a member of NATO. The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has rejected Sweden’s accession to NATO after accusing it of harboring Kurdish dissidents he considers terrorists and want extradited.

Finland and Sweden has applied together to join NATO. They did in May of 2022, about three months after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

This is NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaking today.

JENS STOLTENBERG: Today is an historic day, because in a few hours we will welcome Finland as the 31st member of our alliance. This will make Finland safer and NATO stronger. … By becoming a member, Finland will get an ironclad security guarantee. Article 5, our collective defense clause — one for all, all for one — will now, from today, apply for Finland.

AMY GOODMAN: The Kremlin has decried Finland joining NATO as a, quote, “assault on our security,” unquote. On Monday, Russian authorities announced they’ll beef up its military presence in northwestern Russia.

We’re joined by two guests. Reiner Braun is the former executive director of the International Peace Bureau, a German peace activist, historian and author, who’s campaigned against the U.S. air base in Ramstein and against NATO. He’s joining us from Berlin. And in Helsinki, Finland, we’re joined by Atte Harjanne. He is a Finnish politician currently serving in the Parliament of Finland for the Green League at the Helsinki constituency.

Let’s begin with Atte Harjanne. You are with the Green Party in Finland. It used to be opposed to joining NATO but switched last year. Can you talk about why you feel today is so significant?

ATTE HARJANNE: Today is, of course, significant, as we heard Mr. Stoltenberg talk there, that it’s a historic day as Finland joins the alliance. And I think we see it necessary in the time, but also not just guaranteeing and helping out to boost our security, but also us contributing more to the security of whole Europe.

Yeah, and the Green Party, we used to be a bit dubious towards the membership. Of course, everything changed in February 2020. And there has been a kind of like also vocal proponents of NATO for years already — me included, for example. But, yeah, everything pretty much changed with the Russian attack in Ukraine.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what is your response to the Russian position that the continued expansion of NATO further eastward is actually a threat to Russia’s security?

ATTE HARJANNE: Well, I think it’s very typical paranoid speech and the narrative of Kremlin, that it’s kind of like some kind of surrounded fortress. The fact is that NATO is a purely defensive alliance for Europe. And, of course, the accession to NATO is based on each country’s voluntary choice to do so. So, it’s a purely, I think, paranoid Kremlin narrative, that is — the main audience is acually the domestic audience there.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: When you say “purely defensive,” I would think that people who live in Serbia or in Libya might question whether NATO is purely a defensive alliance.

ATTE HARJANNE: Yeah, well, that is true. Of course, NATO has been having a role also in this, like — these operations. But looking at from the perspective of Finland joining the alliance, this is seen as completely a defensive act in order to kind of boost the European security as a whole. NATO, as such, poses no threat to Russia militarily, only in terms of securing defense, and thus kind of providing a certain stop and limit for Russian aggression and the idea of creating this sphere of influence with aggressive policies or even with violence.

AMY GOODMAN: Reiner Braun, if you can respond from Berlin to what is happening today, Finland joining NATO? Your response?

REINER BRAUN: You know, it is not an historical day. The day today is the end of a longer story. Finland was, all the last years, a part of the NATO command and control system, a part of many NATO exercises, including NATO troops in Finland, and enlarging their military budget to over 2% like NATO. So, it is the end of a militarization of Finland and the whole region. And this day is not historical. It is a breakthrough of the history of Finland, which was a neutral country, from my understanding, with a lot of successes in peacekeeping missions, in having big international peace events, like the Helsinki Conference of 1975. This time is over.

And for what? For having more Russian troops nearer to the border? For having maybe even nuclear weapons on both sides? Now they are saying only on the Russian side are new nuclear weapons, but let us wait for two or three years. And this makes — it’s, again, a step for the escalation in Europe, and not a peaceful step. And frankly speaking, to say NATO is a defense military alliance, have we forgotten Libya? Have we forgotten Afghanistan? Have we forgotten Yugoslavia? I think this is really stupid.

And let me say one more sentence to NATO. NATO said it’s the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. This is not any longer true. NATO is the biggest military alliance in the world, with main focus also surrounding China, with all the new agreements with Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Philippines, end and end. So, it is the biggest — historically biggest military alliance in the world, and it is not, definitely, making peace. It is even creating many problems for peace and security.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Can you talk, Reiner Braun, about the significance of the German vice chancellor’s surprise visit to Kyiv?

REINER BRAUN: You know, again, all the members of the German parliament were visiting Kyiv up to now, and the minister of economy was missing. And what he is doing, he was going with the big industry of our country, because in the redevelopment of the country, the reconstruction of the country Ukraine, also the German industry wants to earn a lot of money, like we are the profiteer of all the new development in East Germany and in East Europe. And that is the main reason that he’s going.

And the interesting point is that they are discussing about the reconstruction of Ukraine. But what is needed for the reconstruction of Ukraine? The first step must be ceasefire and negotiations. So, hopefully, the minister, Habeck, will come to the great idea to support our position that immediately ceasefire and negotiation for Ukraine are needed, that we can start with the reconstruction of this heavily destroyed country.

AMY GOODMAN: Reiner Braun, if you can talk about the proposal put forward by German politicians for a negotiation that the Ukrainian president, Zelensky, rejected this weekend?

REINER BRAUN: You know, interestingly, he rejected our appeal by his deputy foreign minister, but he is supporting the suggestions from China, which are quite of the same level, saying we need negotiations for overcoming this brutal war. And the idea behind it is that no one can win this war militarily. So, the alternative is continuing of day-to-day killing. We have more than 200,000 dead people up to now. And when we are thinking about the so-called military spring offensives, we will have maybe again the same number. What is the alternative? The alternative is not to accept the actual situation, but to stop the war and start on negotiations about a new development in Ukraine and a new peace process in Europe.

And our suggestion is that it’s impossible to do this from the European perspectives, because the European countries, about all, are deeply engaged in the war by training the Ukrainian soldiers, by sending weapons, by spy offensives and by security purposes. So the only possibility is that we have an international peace coalition coming from the Global South being the moderator or mediator for a peace process. And this is why we are saying we are supporting the suggestion of Brazil and China, Indonesia and India to develop such a peace coalition. And we hope that this peace coalition will get the support of the government of Germany and France.

In any case, we will work for this. And this could create an atmosphere for coming to negotiations and for stopping this day-to-day killing and for opening the door for a peaceful and better future for Ukraine, but for the whole Europe, because the alternative is the escalation. And we see it with the depleted uranium. We see it with the new nukes in Belorussia. We are, step by step, escalating the situation, which has a danger to lead to a nuclear war. The alternative is negotiations and ceasefire.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I’d like to bring in Atte Harjanne again to talk about this issue of: Is a ceasefire and negotiations possible toward a diplomatic solution of the war? You’ve advocated in the past pushing European governments to offer more military weaponry to Ukraine.

ATTE HARJANNE: Yeah. I think the clear thing is here that negotiations over peace — about peace cannot be done over the heads of the Ukrainians. Ukraine is a sovereign nation being under a criminal assault by Russia. So, we have to avoid this false symmetry in the situation. About escalation, it pretty much seems that Russia is kind of just using the escalation thing as a basis to try to limit the support for Ukraine. And we should make sure that as democratic Western countries, we make sure that we help Ukrainians to protect their own sovereignty, their own human lives, their freedom and also the values that we hold dear.

But, of course, in the end, after war comes peace. And we have to make sure that there is room for peace, but it cannot be negotiated over Ukrainian — Ukrainians. So, they have to have say over the terms. And in the meantime, it’s very important to keep the military support and the civilian support on a level that helps the Ukrainians to gain the upper hand and maintain the upper hand in this war, which is completely — completely, the whole responsibility over the war lies in Russia and in the Kremlin.

AMY GOODMAN: Atte Harjanne, if you can also talk about the election that just took place in Finland? You have a new prime minister — correct me if I’m mispronouncing his name — Petteri Orpo, who eked out a victory at 20.8% of the vote, center-right National Coalition Party, against the Prime Minister Marin’s party, the center-left Social Democrats, who got almost 20%. These are very small numbers. What does this mean for Finland?

ATTE HARJANNE: Well, I think it means a kind of turn towards a more conservative, right-wing path. I think the main issue here is the economy. So, kind of the — how to make sure that we — or, the prime goal of the new prime minister is to combat the debt and balance the economy of Finland. So, that’s been the main issue regarding the elections.

Regarding foreign security policy, as you know, the NATO decision itself was done with overwhelming majority, and no parliamentary body or parties has been opposing, really, the accession. So, probably it’s clear that the foreign security policy line, the idea that we’re committed to NATO and also committed to support Ukraine, I don’t see any major changes there.

Prime Minister Marin, she actually — she did eke out a victory, so that her party gained more seats, which is quite unusual for a sitting prime minister. And she’s still [inaudible] gained a massive amount of votes in her constituency. But, yeah, so, the issue, rather, is domestic and largely economic and regional economic matters that really then decided the vote, so to say.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Reiner Braun, we only have about 30 seconds or so, but could you talk about the antiwar movement in Germany, your plans for April, and how the German media is covering the war in Ukraine?

REINER BRAUN: You know, we have — we are in front of our Easter marches. We will have ten thousands of people on the streets during the next days. That’s our one step of our big activities. And, you know, we are following up the big activities in Munich and Berlin in the beginning of the year.

But to my colleague, he has a misunderstanding of the war. It is not only a Russian and Ukrainian war. It’s a proxy war and a civil war. And to say the whole responsibility lies by Russia, this underestimates the development to the war. And I think this is a really big mistake not to see what’s happening with the Minsk agreement and why our chancellor and Macron was lying about the Minsk agreement and don’t want to make it. So, I think it is really very much too easy to say that the whole responsibility lies by Russia,.

AMY GOODMAN: Reiner Braun, we’re going to have to leave it there. We thank you so much, former executive director of the International Peace Bureau, and Atte Harjanne, a Green member of Parliament in Finland. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

German Peace Activist Warns Finland Joining NATO Could Be Step Toward Nuclear War with Russia

Finland’s president and prime minister say they plan to end decades of neutrality and join NATO. Sweden is also expected to seek NATO membership. The Kremlin says Russia sees the expansion of NATO on its borders as a threat. “People on both sides will suffer,” says Reiner Braun, executive director of the International Peace Bureau, who warns Russia will escalate in response and move more nuclear weapons near the 830-mile-long Finland-Russia border.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

Finland’s president and prime minister announced their support Thursday for Finland to join NATO, ending decades of neutrality. The leaders called on Finland to apply for NATO membership without delay. Finland shares an 830-mile border with Russia. Sweden is also expected to join Finland in seeking NATO membership, something few discussed prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Russia responded to the news by threatening to take retaliatory steps in order to stop what it calls threats to its national security. The New York Times reports the addition of Finland and Sweden to NATO increases the prospects of a broader war between Russia and the West.

We go now to Berlin, Germany, where we’re joined by Reiner Braun, the executive director of the International Peace Bureau, German peace activist, historian, author, who has campaigned for years against NATO.

Can you talk about this decision made by Finland’s president and prime minister and the significance of this? It looks like Sweden is, you know, at their side in this.

REINER BRAUN: You know, it’s, again, a significant change in the security system in Europe. Above all and first, it is a break of a contract. Finland has a contract with Russia — first contract is from 1948, the second one is a new one from 1992 — which described neutrality and friendship between Finland and Russia as the background of their common relations. And Finland has not — had not canceled this treaty, so they are going against this treaty, which is a quite illegal action they are doing.

The second point is the relations between Central Europe or NATO and Russia by the military spending is about 50 to one up to now. Now it will be 70 or 80 to one. And it is obviously that Russia will be react. So we have again a continuation of the escalation spiral in the center of Europe, and this is not peaceful. What should be the next? Should be the next Moldavia and Georgia? Should be the next that we — that Kazakhstan or Uzbekistan will join NATO? It will be the next, Japan?

And what are the reaction of Russia? They will bring more nuclear weapons to the border of Poland and the Baltic countries. They will enlarge their military spending. Peoples on both sides will suffer. So it is definitely a step absolutely on the wrong direction, which is definitely not helpful for coming to a new security architecture after hopefully ending so quick as possible the war in Ukraine.

What we need are negotiations, and for Finland, which has a history of neutrality — Finland was a country of the OSCE and the CSCE agreements. There were the meetings, were in Helsinki. This time will be over. Finland will give up its independent, active position bringing East and West together, only for joining NATO, only for being a very small part in the NATO architecture. This is really an unpolitical and unsecurity step for a calm security system in Europe.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the letter that you helped co-write, both to President Putin and President Zelensky of Ukraine, calling for ceasefire?

REINER BRAUN: You know, for us was May 9th a historical day, which made Europe free from fascism. And the countries which bring the most victims were the Soviet Union, which included Russia and Ukraine. So, our letter was to say, when you make your speeches on the 8th or the 9th of May, after these speeches, you should come together and negotiate for peace in the tradition of the victory above the fascist system. And you should think about ways how you can combine again the people of these two countries, which have so many things in common, which have so many things in their common history, which have so many things together in the languages, in the agricultural system, in the treaties, in educational system. And we have to overcome this horrible split between these two countries.

And the first point which we are calling for was and is ceasefire. The 8th and the 9th of May passed. It is a pity that we could not start with the negotiations. But we will continue working on ceasefire. And I think we need more international pressure for these negotiations. And for me, the pope was sending a very interesting and very hopeful sign for starting these negotiations. I hope other political leaders in the world — maybe Macron, maybe Xi from China — will follow to bring these two countries, Russia and Ukraine, at the same table for negotiating.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain what the peace summit you and a number of other groups are planning in June in Spain?

REINER BRAUN: You know, there is a NATO summit. And NATO is the biggest military alliance in the world. NATO is the biggest military spender. Sixty percent of the whole money which is spending worldwide is spending by the NATO countries. So, this NATO summit will send signs in the absolutely wrong direction: more militarization, more actions against Russia and China, more encircling of these two countries.

And we want to protest and convince more parts of the public that this is the wrong way. This is the way to catastrophe. This is a way in a new nuclear war will be the final nuclear war. We cannot do this kind of politics when you want to solve the climate problem, when you want to overcome hunger. Hunger becomes much stronger since we have the Ukrainian war. How should these people in Africa survive when there are no crops any longer coming from Ukraine and Russia?

So, we want to say signs that we need an alternative politics. So our summit is a summit for making propaganda and actions for a policy of common security, which on the background says we have to take in account the security interests of all countries. And we need, nationally and internationally, a process of disarmament. It is not possible to spend any longer 2 trillion of U.S. dollars for military purposes, when people are suffering and when we do not know how to solve the climate problems.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Reiner Braun, I want to thank you for being with us, executive director of the International Peace Bureau, German peace activist, historian and author, who has campaigned against a U.S. air base in Ramstein and also against NATO.

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