: Putin's territory in Finland
Politics19:25 Jun. 15, 2016

Putin's territory in Finland

Could Kremlin annex more neighbouring countries if they don't follow Russia?

Finland and Russia share more than just a border.  These two countries have had their share of tumultuous history. Russia annexed a part of the Finnish territory years ago but it seems that it wasn't the only piece of Finland that Moscow actually stole.  Aland Islands, an autonomous region within Finland may have the answer.

The islands can be compared to Crimea in more ways than just an autonomous part of the country, they are a key bargaining tool between Moscow and Helsinki.  

Vladimir Putin is planning to visit Finland this July. It will be the first trip since the sanctions against Russia were put in place after it annexed Ukraine's Crimea.

Read also The Thief Next Door: Russia's rich history of annexing neighbouring countries

Though, the Ukrainian ambassador to Finland thinks it wouldn't be a surprise to see a shift in Putin's policy towards Europe.

Andriy Olefirov, Ukraine's Ambassador to Finland: "There are a lot of parallels. The Soviet Union back then created the FDR, so-called republic that was very similar to what Russia is trying to creat with DPR and LPR.  Putin is using the same slogans his U.S.S.R. predecessors did."

The ambassador is quick to bring up facts about the Russo-Finnish war.  Then, the U.S.S.R. annexed more than ten percent of Finland, forcing nearly half a million people to become displaced.  Markus Pelton often recalls his grandfather's stories about the time.

Markus Pelton, Finnish citizen: "My grandfather fought on the land that was ours, and then Russians took it.  And it hurts me, just like it hurts other Finns.  And another reason why it hurts because these stories are passed on from generation to generation."

Aland Island's peaceful existence would not cause anyone to get alarmed if it weren't for a small piece of land.  Recently, the Finnish media revealed an odd find.  A plot of land, in the Aland Islands actually belongs to the Russian Federation.

The U.S.S.R. signed an agreement with Finland back in 1940 so comparing it to the current situation with Crimea is only fair.

Andriy Olefirov, Ukraine's Ambassador to Finland: "When we talk about Crimea and Aland islands, as if there could be little green men here at any point... that's concerning."

In 2015 that concern was high enough for the Finnish Minister of Defence who warned that Finland is ready to defend the Aland Islands especially if someone in foreign uniform shows up there.

Read also Finland prepares to defend Aland Islands against possible 'Russia's occupation'

The Aland Islands have more than a few dents of the Russian Empire, old sculptures, stones, buildings. But, it's not the historical past that is topping the headlines. 

The driver knows exactly where we are going - to the property of the Russian Federation, but he is much less politically correct.

"You mean Putin's territory.  That house there is very old," he says.

Indeed, the property seems to be dating back to the Viking times.  It's strikingly green too.

Unlike the neatly-trimmed lawns we passed by, this greenery looks unruly, it's overgrown with weeds, abandoned.

The home itself seems to have been left a long time ago as well.  Although it's big, and evidently was quite exquisite at one point here, appliances were obviously left untouched for decades, and their trademark Soviet-style gives them away.

Aside from the old stove and fridge, there are seldom few reminders of its connection to Russia. So how did property end up in Russian hands?

Local resident: "It belongs to Russia.  Sometimes we bump into people from the Russian consulate, diplomats, they come here, look around."

Aland Islands have a strategic location. They are right in the middle of the Baltic region between Finland and Sweden, and just a stone's throw away from Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia.

So, is the Kremlin's plot here a coincidence or a well thought out strategic move? 

And who better to ask than Mats Lofstrom.  He is the only parliamentarian representing the autonomous Aland region in the Parliament of Finland.

Mats Lofstrom, Finnish parliamentarian: "The size of the property is about 6 thousand square metres.  A few years back, Russia, since it is the owner of this land, split it up into two halves, and gave one of them to the office of its president."

The transfer happened after the Second World War. The reason behind it may be the most surprising part - the property belonged to a Finnish-German family.  According to the Paris Peace Treaty - everything once German became Russian.  That went unnoticed for years... until Moscow decided to violate the Budapest Memorandum causing Finland to reevaluate its policy.

Read also NATO troops land in Finland for the first time ever

Lt. Col. Heikki Ilmari Valivehmas, Finland Defence Policy Department Director: "We understand very well what is happening, and that is why we regularly conduct training exercises and study what can happen with the changes. I can't give you any details but we are carefully observing the situation now."

And so it comes down to the NATO question.  For years, Finland stood aside from the alliance, carefully watching, and not taking any steps towards closer cooperation.  This suited the Russian Federation well - given its stance on the alliance.  However, recently Finland shifted its focus on NATO rattling more than a few feathers in the Kremlin. Putin's upcoming visit to Helsinki could be a warning that Russia won't let go that easily.  Meanwhile, Finland's government is actively planning for a referendum on joining the NATO. 

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