Finland, the iron curtain has fallen on the Russian border
It was two days before the Russian bombs started raining down on Ukraine. Everything was still going well in the best of all possible worlds, between the mayor of Lappeenranta, a Finnish town of 73,000 inhabitants, and his partners in Saint Petersburg, just 200 kilometers away.
In the middle of the Winter Olympics, the elected official in charge of international affairs for the city of Vladimir Putin had just sent him a nice message of congratulations, after Finland’s victory against Russia, in ice hockey. Then nothing. No justification: everyone knows why.
The European “Green Leaf”
In its former life, Lappeenranta, a peaceful city that received the European Commission’s « Green Leaf » award in 2021, aimed for carbon neutrality and ecological tourism. Each year, 1.5 million Russians could make the trip to enjoy its nature and its relaxed way of life. They also came there to pick up products boycotted by Moscow, in retaliation for European sanctions taken after the annexation of Crimea in 2014.
Ended. Twenty minutes from the Russian border, the neighborhood has become threatening. Lappeenranta is paying a high price: one million euros less in revenue every day. A trade iron curtain has fallen over the 1,340 km that separate Finland from Russia.
Helsinki also plans to install a wall there, similar to what has been done in Poland or Lithuania, to guard against “hybrid attacks” of migrants that Moscow could push to the borders, as Belarus has done. To respond to public apprehensions, the alphabetic code « Z », used by Russia as a symbol of its attack, has been removed from several bus lines in favor of the letter « X ».
Membership of NATO
“This city has now chosen a different path. There will be no turning back,” said the city’s mayor, Kimmo Jarva. Finland, known for its pragmatism, submitted its official letter requesting NATO membership on May 18, at the same time as Sweden. The social democratic government of Sanna Marin has taken the same turn as its citizens, 76% ready to give up their traditional neutrality.
Finns probably remember the story. Caught in a vice between two great powers, their country experienced in turn Swedish domination, until 1809, then Russian occupation until 1917. In 1939-1940, Finland had to concede 10% of its territory to the USSR at the end of the Winter War. Among the catches of Moscow, Vyborg, half an hour by train from Lappeenranta.
The Finns, ill-equipped, had resisted by throwing incendiary devices against the Soviet tanks which they baptized “Molotov cocktails”, in reference to the Soviet Minister of Foreign Affairs at the time.
Bunkers and self-sufficiency
Even today, the population is preparing for the worst, while measuring the low probability of an invasion: the Russian forces, already well occupied in Ukraine, would have no interest in opening another front. “Many people buy food for sixante-twelve, and in the city, we checked our bomb shelters. We are prepared for possible hybrid attacks,” explains Kimmo Jarva, who claims to be able to bring the entire population of Lappeenranta to safety.
Finland, on its way to food self-sufficiency, has bunkers at some 54,000 sites that can house 4.4 million people. The capital, Helsinki, alone has more than 5,500 such locations.