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Finland will defend itself “to the last Finn” if it is invaded by Russia, the country’s head of military policy has told The National as officials prepare to shed neutrality and sign up to the Western alliance.
Though Russia is a major military power, “we have never feared Russia and we are not going to fear them now”, said Brig Gen Sami Nurmi outside of Finland’s defence headquarters in Helsinki as the country readied its application for Nato membership.
Joining Nato has made it less likely the Nordic country will be attacked by Russia, said Brig Gen Nurmi, who is in charge of Finland's defence policy.
And as to how the country would halt a Russian invasion, Brig Gen Nurmi firmly stated: “Well, we will defend it to the last Finn.”
He added that Finland has “the operational forces, the more capable and modern forces so we can make the centre of gravity shift in the direction that we need”.
Unlike its neighbour Sweden, which is also seeking to join Nato, Finland has continued with conscription since the end of the Cold War, giving it a fighting force of 280,000 troops, including reservists.
“After the Cold War, everybody said we don't need a military anymore,” said Brig Gen Nurmi. “I think what the situation today proves that we were right in our decision. We didn't get rid of conscription and our army has been modernised as well.”
Conscription requires all men aged 18 and over to serve one year in the military. This imbues them with “the will to defend the country”, said Brig Gen Nurmi, and “they understand what security means”.
“We're a simple and stubborn people but it's also our history, that tradition and memories that we have of the Second World War,” he added.
“We never trusted our eastern neighbour in such a way that we could give up general conscription or development of our defences, so we have always kept the possibility of military force being used against us and since we have been militarily non-aligned, we have taken care of it by ourselves.”
Fighting in Finland's rough terrain that includes lakes, swamps and pine forests is incredibly difficult — as the Russians discovered after losing 300,000 men in the Winter War of 1940.
The thousands of islands in its archipelago and shallow inlets also make it nearly impossible to invade from the sea.
This is made even more difficult by Finland’s concentrated use of minelayers. Its navy will also be supplemented by the Squadron 2020 programme of four frigates with air defences and submarine hunting capabilities.
But Finland also possesses an immense armoury of 2,500 artillery pieces that include everything from 120mm mortars to the advanced K9 Thunder tracked artillery.
The war in Ukraine has demonstrated the utility of artillery — an area somewhat neglected by other militaries, but one in which Finland excels.
The tactics also developed by Ukrainian forces, such as moving in small groups and being flexible, are “exactly the things that we have specialised in”, said Gen Brig Nurmi.
He added that there was clearly “serious issues” with the Russian leadership and “little will to fight” among its troops.
“That’s a big issue,” he said. “And launching massive attacks without back up forces shows a real lack of training.”
He described the government’s $10 billion purchase of 64 F-35 fighters a “massive change” to its capabilities, calling it the “Nordic fighter”, as both Denmark and Norway are purchasing it, too.
“But Russia will always be a superpower for us, it's so huge and they have such big capabilities,” he said. “Short term, we fear them definitely less after Ukraine but longer term, you never know.
Full spectrum warfare
Asked about Finland's possible response if Russia were to threaten to use nuclear weapons, Brig Gen Nurmi said “Nato has nuclear [weapons] as well”.
Nato has also expanded into the cyber sphere, offering Alliance-wide support for targetted members. In the past month, Finland has suffered two minor cyber attacks from Russia as well as two airspace invasions, both of which were chalked up to incompetence as opposed to malicious intent.
With Finland in Nato, Russia will have to seriously consider the repercussions of any future aggression.