University terminates contract with Lassi Heininen over Moscow visit

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“We have clear instructions not to do this kind of cooperation or tours. He has not been in contact with the faculty about going [to Russia] or what he would be doing there,” said Merja Laitinen, dean of the Faculty of Social Science of the University of Lapland to the Finnish newspaper Ilta-Sanomat.

It was in the first week of March Heininen traveled to Moscow for Russia’s major Arctic event this year. 

“…these kind of gatherings are so important in order to improve, we need this kind of cooperation, and that kind of approach, where we do things together in stead of doing things alone,” Heininen said in a video-interview published by the organizers on YouTube.

 

 

Far East, Arctic – 2024 Conference was organized by key organizations and governmental structures engaged in Russian Arctic policies. Chairperson of the organizing committee is Elena Zlenko, member of the Federation Council from the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug. Zlenko is under international sanctions for her support for Russia’s violation of the territorial integrity of Ukraine.

The Kremlin’s information agency TASS was propaganda partner to the event. 

All universities in Finland, like in Norway, stopped cooperation with Russian universities and official research institutions following the full-scale war against Ukraine in February 2022.

Private or university?

Commenting on the case to newspaper Ilta-Sanomat, Lassi Heininen said that he traveled to Moscow as a private individual. In the video (above) posted by the organizers in Moscow, however, he starts by presenting himself:

“My name is Lassi Heininen. I’m professor emeritus at the University of Lapland, Finland.”

Heininen later told Helsinki Sanomat that the dismissal came as a surprise. “I would have liked a little more courtesy,” he said.

Heininen is concerned about lack of international Arctic contacts.

“Half of the Arctic region is located in the territory of Russia. If we cannot exchange information about what is happening in the region, we will lose a lot of information about the impact of climate change,” he said to the Finnish newspaper.

“The university pressed the panic button,” Heininen said to YLE on Friday. 

Circumpolar cooperation 

Lassi Heininen retired from from the University of Lapland in 2018, but continued under a contract as professor emeritus and has since actively participated in circumpolar conferences and gatherings.

Heininen is editor of the Arctic Yearbook, a annual publication of articles about the state of Arctic politics, governance and security.

It was also Lassi Heininen who initiated and organized the Calotte Academy, an annual traveling symposium and scientific forum across the borders between Lapland, Finnmark and Murmansk regions aimed at fostering international dialogue above the Arctic Circle among scholars and researchers.

Researchers with the Calotte Academy travel into the Kola Peninsula every year before pandemic and full-scale war. Here from a visit to Nikel in 2014. Photo: Thomas Nilsen