It’s healthier to tie up one’s horse at the roundpole fence of one’s enemy, than that he would tie up at ours
Bishop Johannes Rudbeckius
Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you: do ye even so to them
Jesus (Matthew 7:12)
The war in Ukraine is raging on, and so far the Finnish political leadership does seem to still be “looking” at what the options are to help Ukraine and to increase Finnish security. Let’s be blunt:
This war has not come as a surprise, but we’ve seen months of Russia moving units into position until it was more a question of when rather than if. As such, that there isn’t a ready plan is something of a failure of planning, as even if the Finnish politicians didn’t think that war was the most likely outcome, it should have been evident months ago that it was at very least a real risk and as such there should have been a contingency plan. Still, here we are, and in the interest of public service, here is what can and should be done:
Closer cooperation with Sweden (and possibly other partners as well)
While Finnish-Swedish defence and foreign policy cooperation is rather deep already, there are a few practical steps that can be taken swiftly and which would both serve operational purposes as well as provide valuable signalling. The lowest hanging fruit is to invite the Swedish Air Force’s intelligence gathering platforms – crucially the S 102B ‘Korpen’ and S 100D ‘Argus’ – to operate in Finnish airspace and potentially even from Finnish bases, Rovaniemi and Tampere-Pirkkala likely being the prime candidates in that case.
The S 102B Korpen (Swedish for raven, having gotten its name from the ravens that flew all over the world to bring information to the god Odin in Norse mythology) are SIGINT-equipped Gulfstream G-IVSP, while the S 100D Argus (named for the all-seeing giant in Greek mythology) is the Swedish AEW&C platform, a Saab 340 with an Erieye-radar on top (the designation ASC890 is also used). Both are regularly seen flying over the Baltic Sea towards Kaliningrad, but are also doing regular runs along the Finnish-Swedish border in the north, trying to get a look into Russian airspace. Allowing them to fly in Finnish airspace would significantly increase their reach, and allow the Swedes to gather better information on what Russia is doing. In the best of worlds, they might even be ready to share some of the material with Finnish intelligence, as while the Finnish Air Force does operate a SIGINT-aircraft, there might certainly be some differences in the sensors carried that allow for the Swedes gathering data which we don’t have, and in any case we lack an AEW&C platform. Even if the Swedish intelligence community would not want to share their information with us, helping Sweden to have a better situational picture on which to base their policy decisions is certainly in itself valuable for Finland. The political signalling would also be a value.
Joint buys of ammunition and other materiel would also be something that both would increase the combat capability (and therefore deterrence value) of the armed forces in both countries as well as signal political resolve in both countries. As it so happens, the Swedish CinC has already provided a request to the Swedish parliamentary defence committee requesting permission to buy more ammunition, fuel, food, and medical supplies than planned under the current budget. As Finland and Sweden recently signed a framework agreements for how to jointly acquire ammunition, this is an excellent opportunity to show both resolve and cooperation in practice.
Joint exercises are more difficult to drum up at short notice, but a few things could still be done. Letting key people such as unit commanders and other high-ranking officers meet for discussions (preferably with photo ops of them standing around a table or out in the field and pointing at maps and things to show how serious the discussions are) can be arranged at relatively short notice thanks to their small footprint. Everyone’s busy right now, but clearing out a day in the calendar should still be doable. Having the commanders of the Norrland’s dragoons and the Jaeger brigade stand at the shore in Suomussalmi flanked by their chiefs of staffs and look over towards at Hulkonniemi would be a rather clear message to any potential adversary, and the importance of personal connections between officers at all levels can’t be overestimated. The same can obviously be done at the political level as well.
Similar kinds of things could preferably be done with other partners in the region as well. A high-profile visit by Finnish Air Force personnel to Evenes Air Force Base in the Norwegian high north to discuss F-35 operations in adverse conditions or the decision to jointly acquire more Stingers with Latvia could certainly fit the bill. However, as Finland and Sweden are two of the only European democracies choosing not to be part of a defensive alliance with other fellow democracies, it is certainly possible that many of the other countries are too busy doing internal alliance-stuff, and it might leave Finnish-Swedish cooperation as the most viable path in the near term.
Weapons to ukraine
This really should have taken place back before Russia invaded, and it is outright bizarre that Finland has declined exports to Ukraine – not just decided not to gift weapons to Ukraine, both from allowing them to buy Finnish-made stuff – with the logic that Finland don’t ship weapon to conflict zones. Besides the obvious stuff that this hasn’t been a show-stopper in certain earlier cases – such as the Patria AMVs appearing in Yemen – it is utter stupidity that Finland would play a part in setting a precedent that if Russia threatens war, other countries should not export weapons to the threatened democracy. But that is all water under the bridge, and the next question is what to do now?
The obvious fact still stand. It is in Finland’s interest to aid Ukraine with as much weapons and ammunition as possible. This argument does not rest on altruism – though you can make that argument as well – both on cold hard realism. Finland has only one possible military adversary in today’s world, and that is Putin’s Russia: a country ruled by a dictator that has outright invaded some neighbouring countries, propped up dictators in others, and supported (more or less organic) separatist movements in yet others, and which has as late as this week warned Finland (and Sweden) against us exercising our sovereign right to choose our security solutions. As such, few things would improve Finland’s geopolitical situation as much as a Ukrainian “victory” (whatever that means) in this war.
The cold hard truth is that every T-80BVM tank of the 200th OMB that is knocked out in Ukraine is one less tank in Pechenga, and that means less forces close to the Finnish border, and that in turn means less combat capability that Russia can use to threaten – or if the worst comes, invade – Finland with. It also means less funds for training and more of the training done being at a simpler level, as the focus in the Russian armed forces shifts to replacing lost equipment and personnel.
This is the cold face of war, that securing the upper hand usually means those on the other side of the border will die or otherwise be made to suffer. It is the grim reality we need to keep in mind when discussing these things, but at the end of the day we didn’t choose this any more than the Ukrainians. Instead, Putin did, and we need to be prepared for him actually staying true to his word when he keeps threating the use of force. As such, arming Ukraine builds Finnish deterrence as our relative strength grows, meaning that the Russian leverage to put pressure on us decreases.
So what can we do?
The obvious thing is the old AK-clones in different version. Finland has earlier bought numerous different foreign-made AKs, including from ex-DDR and Chinese stocks. Following the downsizing of the armed forces, word on the street has it that none of these would be used by the 280,000 strong fully mobilised force (with the exception of the rather limited number of foreign-built folding-stock rifles used by AFV crews), and already back in 2006 there was talk that they could be gifted to the Afghan National Army as the FDF didn’t want or need them. It is highly unlikely that the FDF would need them more now than they did back then, and they could certainly fit the requirement of simple weapons that could be handed out to volunteers in the campaign Ukraine has now embarked upon.
One weapon system that has not been mentioned is the sniper rifles that are becoming surplus in the near future with the introduction of the Sako M23 which will replace most 7.62 TKIV 85 (a highly modded Mosin-Nagant) and all 7.62 TKIV Dragunov. These sport calibres that are found in Ukrainian service and rounds which will be surplus to the FDF with the retirement of the rifles. While it is too early to ship away all, I would certainly believe that at least some of them could be declared surplus right away.
But the big deal is the NLAW and Stinger missiles. With armoured vehicles and massed helicopter assaults being among the key threats facing the Ukrainians, providing simple weapon systems that Ukraine already operate would be a significant addition the combat capability of the Ukrainian army. Also, the knowledge of more missiles being on the way will ensure that the Ukrainian defence forces are freer in using the stocks they already have. And from a Finnish perspective, again, tanks that become burning hulks in Ukraine won’t be used to intimidate Finland in half a years time.
But doesn’t Finland need these weapons for ourselves?
Yes, and no. The weapons are needed, but right now we are in a rare situation where Russia actually does not have the capability to perform offensive operations in our neighbourhood thanks to the better part of the units normally stationed nearby being in Ukraine. If Finland is quick (because we might not be the only one who wants to top up our stocks) to call Saab and Raytheon and place orders for more NLAWs and Stingers respectively this could provide a good opportunity to rotate stocks (granted the current stocks probably have plenty of shelf life left, so it isn’t urgent from that perspective), and still be back at having a sizeable stocks of missiles by the time the Russian units are back from Ukraine and have recovered from their losses. Obviously, that would require more funds, but the weapons right now would certainly do more for Finnish security in Ukrainian hands than in Finnish depots. And as mentioned, we have a framework for buying anti-tank munitions jointly with Sweden, so this would fit in with the idea of using that very framework as expressed above.
We are back to political will. If the political leadership is ready to grab the opportunity and prepared to pay for the costs, it certainly is doable (though the scale depends on a number of factors, many of which are classified).
Yes, we should have joined NATO ages ago. Nothing has changed, besides there now being yet another data point that non-NATO countries get invaded by Russia more frequently than NATO-countries. Why we wouldn’t want to build our security together with or European and trans-atlantic partners is beyond my understanding, and anyone arguing for us being safe from Putin’s anger if we just keep calm has a rather more difficult time making that argument convincingly following this week (though in all honesty this was clear to anyone willing to look at the world and make a sober assessment already in 2008). The exact form and steps taken to join can be discussed, and I leave that to other.