Finland must guard against Russian influence in NATO debate, says security service

Finnish intelligence said "broad influencing and unlawful intelligence operations" by Russia were top threats to Finland's national security.

By Essi Lehto, Reuters - March 30, 2022
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Finnish soldiers stand next to a tank during the Cold Response 2022 military exercises, which gathered around 30,000 troops from NATO member countries plus Finland and Sweden, amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, in Evenes, Norway on March 22, 2022. (Yves Herman / Reuters)

HELSINKI — Finland expects neighboring Russia to mount a campaign of disinformation in coming months to influence the Nordic nation’s debate over joining NATO, the Finnish security service said on Tuesday.

Opinion polls show Finnish willingness to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has soared following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, indicating for the first time a majority in favor of becoming a member of the western defense pact.

A task force led by Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto is currently reviewing ways for Finland to strengthen its national security, including possible NATO membership.

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Supo, the intelligence service, said in an updated assessment that “broad influencing and unlawful intelligence operations” by Russia were among the main threats to Finland’s national security.

“Finnish society as a whole should be prepared for various measures from Russia seeking to influence policymaking in Finland on the NATO issue,” Supo Director Antti Pelttari said in a statement.

“Public authorities must secure the conditions for a full and frank debate without intimidation, and ensure that outsiders are unable to influence security policy decisions made by Finland.”

[Finland to review security policy as it mulls joining NATO]

Supo has however seen no significant change in Russian operations targeting Finland, the agency added.

Both Haavisto and Finnish President Sauli Niinisto have argued that Finland should not hold a referendum over NATO membership, as it could easily become a target of outside influence.

Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a “special military operation” to disarm and “denazify” its neighbor. Kyiv and the West consider this a pretext for an unprovoked invasion.