HELSINKI — A military command-level direct line of communication has been established between Finland and Russia as part of a new confidence-building measure between the neighbors.
The activation of the 24/7 hotline facility happens against a backdrop of concern by Nordic governments over a more unpredictable Russia and the regional expansion of its military infrastructure and capacities.
The new hotline facility is intended to deal with “unexpected, emergency and crisis situations,” including information on troop buildups, exercises and near-border incidents of mutual interest.
The hotline will not be used for airspace violations and intrusions by Russian or Finnish military aircraft, as an existing reporting and resolution process already exists to deal with these events.
Russia has established a similar 24/7, military command-level direct-communication line with Sweden. In the case of both the Finnish and Swedish hotlines, the working language with Russia’s military command is English.
The hotline between Helsinki and Moscow is intended for primary use by national defense ministers and military commanders, or officials delegated by defense ministers or chiefs of defense.
The primary objective of the hotline facility will be to guarantee rapid information exchange when and where needed, said Finnish Defence Minister Jussi Niinistö.
“The direct communication line is vitally important to ensure that there are no misunderstandings. It also shows the goodwill that exists between the Finnish and Russian defense administrations,” Niinistö said.
A decision to install the hotline emerged after a May meeting in Moscow between Jukka Juusti, the Finnish Ministry of Defence’s permanent secretary, and Lt. Gen. Alexander Fomin, Russia’s deputy defense minister.
In establishing a direct line, Russia has purposely singled out Finland and Sweden, the Nordic region’s two unaligned states.
The initiative is linked to Moscow’s desire to strengthen relations with Sweden and Finland in hopes it can persuade both countries to remain neutral and out of NATO.
Although there is little evidence of a strong populist push in either Sweden or Finland to join NATO, both states having been actively deepening military cooperation with the Western alliance through their membership of the Partnership for Peace program.
Russia’s warning to Helsinki is fueled by Moscow’s fear of having large-scale NATO forces along its approximately 840-mile border with Finland.
A new poll by the Helsinki-based research organization Taloustutkimus found that popular Finnish interest in joining NATO is on the wane, while a larger percentage of Finns regard terrorism as a real and present threat.
The poll showed that 22 percent of Finns are positive to NATO membership. This is a 3 percent drop on a similar poll conducted in 2016.
The Taloustutkimus survey was commissioned by the Advisory Board For Defence Information, a parliamentary committee that focuses on security policy.