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Special Report: We Joined NATO to Protect Ourselves From ‘Aggressive’ Russia, Finland’s Foreign Minister Says


Elina Valtonen, Finland’s foreign minister, said that her country joined NATO this year because of “security concerns” stemming from Finland having the longest border in Europe with the “unpredictable and unfortunately very aggressive eastern neighbor, Russia,” Sept. 19, 2023. FINLAND FOREIGN MINISTRY

Elina Valtonen, Finland’s foreign affairs minister, told PassBlue that her country joined NATO this year for security reasons, given that Finland has the longest border with Russia in Europe — 830 miles north to south — and Russian troops have been attacking Ukraine in full force since February 2022. Yet NATO membership is complex and exhaustive. In an interview with Valtonen, held on the sidelines of the annual opening debate of 78th session of the General Assembly (UNGA), she also touched on how gender equality has strengthened Finland, a nation of 5.5 million, and the war in Sudan. 

The interview, done on Sept. 22, has been condensed and edited for clarity. — DAMILOLA BANJO 

PassBlue: Does Finland feel safer since it joined NATO in April, becoming the 31st national member?

Valtonen: The move for Finland was definitely motivated out of our own security concerns. It has to be said that we have always been very heavily invested in our defense because we have a very long border with the unpredictable and unfortunately very aggressive eastern neighbor, Russia. So we see ourselves as net contributors to NATO. At the end of the day, this is so we can stand up for our rights, human rights, democracy, rule of law and equality. 

PassBlue: The European Union has been a major funder of some military agencies operating outside the continent. For example, years ago, the EU backed the Rapid Support Forces, the paramilitary (now led by General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, or Hemedti) in Sudan to help the country stop migrant flows to Europe. The group is now accused of committing a range of human rights violations in its current war against the Sudanese armed forces, led by General Abdul Fattah al-Burhan. What do you think about this, given that Finland is a member of the EU? 

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Valtonen: All such cases need to be scrutinized very carefully. It also has to be said that these operations outside the European Union have boundaries, and there is a limit to which we can influence the rules and regulations behind the operations, if any. But it’s important to note that all of the European Union’s work is based on the rules that we have put together. 

PassBlue: What’s the single message you want people to take home from your speech at the preparatory Summit of the Future event, held on Sept. 21 during the UNGA78? 

Valtonen: That Finland is strongly committed to the rules-based world order and to the UN. We admire the work that this organization has done throughout the decades and, of course, look forward to reforming the organization so that it will serve the future generations like it has served us.

Damilola Banjo, reporting for PassBlue, interviews Foreign Minister Valtonen of Finland on the UN plaza, Sept. 22, 2023. SATU JARVELAINEN

PassBlue: The Summit of the Future prep meeting and the SDG Summit seemed to overlap at the UNGA78. What is the difference between the two? 

Valtonen: I don’t think it’s a problem that there’s overlap because clearly we are discussing themes, which are not only crucial for our well-being in the future, but also very much interlinked. So when it comes to the Sustainable Development Goals, there’s a fundamental part of our future and the future of the UN that are linked. So I think it’s good that we have these two summits.

PassBlue: What’s your ideal feminism for the future?

Valtonen: I think the future should bring equal human rights to everybody. Independent of heritage, gender, religion. The world has become a much better place in previous decades; the past 100 years have seen tremendous change for the better of humankind. But unfortunately, still today, there are women and girls who are being left behind, especially in crisis and wartime situations. Women and girls are the most vulnerable, who take the biggest hit. So keeping these values alive, in every speech, is very important. Finland is a small nation. Our people long ago realized that we can’t be strong if we don’t mobilize the entire society, including women in every part of the society, in economics and politics. 

PassBlue: What’s your message the world should take home after this year’s UNGA?

Valtonen: Optimism. I referred to the fact that the last century, even though there have been wars and horrendous things happening in this world, development has always been for the better of humankind. Let’s keep it that way. These days, we also realize how important it is to make room for the future. . . . So, if we find solutions together, we will have another tens of thousands of years, which will be even happier than today for everybody. 

We welcome your comments on this article.  What are your thoughts on Finland's feminist vision?

Damilola Banjo

Damilola Banjo is a reporter for PassBlue. She has a master’s of science degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and a B.A. in communications and language arts from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. She has worked as a producer for NPR’s WAFE station in Charlotte, N.C.; for the BBC as an investigative journalist; and as a staff investigative reporter for Sahara Reporters Media.

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Special Report: We Joined NATO to Protect Ourselves From ‘Aggressive’ Russia, Finland’s Foreign Minister Says
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Theodore Folke
Theodore Folke
9 months ago

To the editor:
The interviewer seems unaware that Finland, unlike any other country, has had two wars with Russia in the past century over territorial disputes, and although the Finns more than held their own, they have more reason than most to be concerned with Russian aggression,
Ted Folke

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