Trump, Putin to meet in Helsinki on July 16: What is ‘Finlandization’?
Soon after the venue and date for the summit between US President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin were announced on Thursday, June 28, the Cold War memories came alive in the minds of the followers of international relations.
The summit on July 16 will take place in Helsinki, the capital of Finland, a country which has been a buffer between the former Soviet Union and the West during the Cold War era. Helsinki has been a popular venue for meetings between the top leaders of the US and Soviet Union/Russia on a number of occasions.
In this connection, the term 'Finlandization' becomes relevant once again. The term was coined in the Cold War period by former Austrian foreign minister Karl Gruber to warn those setting examples with the former Soviet Union.
By this term, the West meant that even while Finland was nominally independent and had its own political functioning, its proximity with a massive neighbour in the Soviet Union left it so threatened that it could not act unilaterally without taking into consideration the extent to which such action could offend Moscow as the latter could overrun it at will.
While the size of the former USSR was 22.4 million square kilometres, that of Finland is just 338,424 square kilometres, making it evident how imbalanced their power equation could be.
This compromise of sort was termed by the westerners, including the Americans, as "Finlandized" which was also used to define equations between weaker and stronger nations in other cases well, like between Denmark and Germany or between Switzerland and Germany till the end of World War II.
The Finns were not impressed with this terminology, however, for it showed them in a weaker light. As the Cold War progressed, there was a time when it was apprehended that West Europe could also be Finlandized. The Soviets' tactics of propaganda and disinformation were seen as means by which Moscow would increase its influence and power in Europe and eventually Finlandize Europe and leave the US isolated. It was only because of the presence of the American military that the Soviets did not plunge into an outright mission to Finlandize Western Europe.
While some saw in Finlandization a moderate form of "Sovietization", others defined it as a way of reconciling one's differences with the mighty Soviet Union.
Is Finland moving away from Finlandization today?
The term "Finlandization" gained currency in 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine as it was thought whether Ukraine and the West should also follow a policy as like Finland in the past to ensure that the Russians did not expand their base further in exchange of a compromise.
But the country which gave wings to the original theory - Finland - has shown more assertion nowadays by raising its defence budget; is considering joining the Nato despite the Kremlin's warning and is also pursuing ties with the West more openly.