Finland heads for elections under new iron curtain

IMATRA, Finland: When Russia invaded Ukraine, a new iron curtain severed once-close ties between Moscow and Helsinki – something Ari Joronen can see with his own eyes from his farm in eastern Finland.

“The trees have been cleared because of the new border fence,” he said, overlooking part of his property in the town of Imatra that adjoins the Russian border, a few hundred metres from his house.

Finland – which holds legislative elections on Sunday (Apr 2) – unveiled plans last November to fence off 200km of its 1,300km border with Russia.

“The war in Ukraine has been a turning point. Finns have had to rethink their relationship with Russia,” said Johanna Vuorelma, a researcher at University of Helsinki.

So close to the border he can hear a firing range on the other side, Joronen’s property is currently separated from Russia by just light wooden livestock fences, like the rest of the Finnish-Russian border.

But by summer, Joronen will see a 3m-high steel fence topped with barbed wire erected on his land.

The whole fence is due to be completed by 2026.

“It is good for the future. At some point, it will probably be needed,” Joronen said.

The project is just part of Finland’s massive turnaround in its relations with its eastern neighbour.

Finland ceded around 10 per cent of its territory to the Soviet Union during World War II, but even at the height of the Cold War it never erected a wall – though it did submit to a period of forced neutrality under Moscow’s watchful eye called “Finlandisation”.

Following the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, Finland remained militarily non-aligned and had high hopes for a new era with its powerful neighbour.

Helsinki hoped to become a hub for trade and diplomacy between the West and Russia.

More than a century after its independence from Russia and three decades after joining the European Union, the country of 5.5 million people is now forging a new foreign policy identity – cementing its ties with the West as it takes its final steps towards North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) membership.

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