Finnish Model is Not a Solution for Ukraine

Two eminent American diplomats and experts of international relations and diplomacy, Henry Kissinger and Jack Matlock, proposed in March of this year that a solution to the Ukrainian-Russian crisis after the annexation of Crimea by Russia should be based on a “Finnish model”.  They obviously believed that Russia would be trustworthy negotiating partner and that an escalation of the crisis was preventable.

The question is, however, what Kissinger and Matlock meant by the “Finnish model”. This reference has been used to describe the Finnish-Soviet relationship during the Cold War, during which time Finland accepted certain limitations on its sovereignty, especially in the areas of foreign and security policy. Because of these limitations, Finland did not join any Western military alliances and had difficulties gaining access to membership in some European economic arrangements.

A “Finnish model” is based on a hierarchical relationship between two parties. The weaker party is forced to accept that the stronger one has the power to dictate what the weaker one is able and allowed to do. To preserve its democratic political system and market economy, during the Cold War Finland did not have autonomy in foreign affairs. The model also required that Finland publicly endorse this model and praise the good nature of its relationship with its Eastern neighbor.

It is not surprising that the Soviet Union was happy with this arrangement. In official Soviet-Finnish communiqués the arrangement was described as “a positive example of the fruitful nature of peaceful coexistence between countries belonging to different social systems”. The formulation never mentioned the hierarchical nature of the relationship, but it was certainly present. Finland’s freedom and room for manoeuvre were limited and included an obligation to make sure that any dissatisfaction with the Soviet system could not emerge. So, when this Finnish model is given as a solution to Ukraine, six important points must be taken into consideration.

First, the model is based on Cold War structures. Its aim was to cement existing structures, to prevent any uncontrolled or undesirable changes to take place.

Second, the model is hierarchical, presuming that all parties are not equal. In the post-Cold War world, however, the relationships between states should be based on equality and on reciprocal and voluntary acceptance.

Third, the new European system has been built on new multilateral arrangements and agreements between all European states. If any party of that system breaks these rules, it cannot expect that its conduct will be accepted as a fait accompli.

Fourth, stable and reciprocally accepted arrangements in the long run benefit all parties. In the opposite case, the impact is negative for all parties.

Fifth, normal neighborly relations cannot be created if one or the other party is denied the right to decide matters belonging to its power as an independent state. For example, a membership in NATO or the European Union cannot and should not be an obstacle to having normal relations with Russia.

Sixth, Finland has today normal political and economic relations with Russia. But it is disturbing that in spite of assurances by the highest level of state leadership, there are voices in Russia that want to restrict Finland’s rights in this respect. Russia has also shown that it does not want to give such rights to all its neighbors.

To conclude, the so-called “Finnish model” that has been proposed is a solution that belongs to the past and does not solve the crisis in Ukrainian-Russian relations. Ukraine can build good relations with Russia. All that is needed is for Russia to accept proposals put recently forward by the Ukrainian leadership. This too would be in Russia’s interest.


Jyrki Iivonen, PhD

The writer is a retired researcher, columnist and official who has worked decades at the Finnish Ministry of Defense and at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs