Ukrainian Crisis Rekindles Russia Fears In Finland

Military commanders in Finland want to beef up capabilities on the country’s eastern border with Russia amid the backdrop of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.

Finnish soldiers,
Finnish soldiers,
Pavel Tarasenko, Mikhail Korostikov, Ivan Safranov and Galina Dydina

HELSINKI â€" Back in April, Finland joined its Nordic neighbors in strengthening military cooperation to counter any potential Russian threat, saying in a joint statement that "the Russian army is challenging us at our borders."

Finland still has no intentions to join NATO, but since the start of the Ukrainian crisis, it has increased its cooperation with the western military alliance and launched rapid reforms of its military.

In comments widely reported by the media, Finnish Defense Minister Jussi Niinistö said Finland wants to place rapid reaction forces by the Russian border because of events in eastern Ukraine. However a Finnish source has told Kommersant that the move is more focused on reorganizing its existing forces, as the need to reduce reaction times to crises is one facing different armies around the world. Proof of this was shown by the decision in February by NATO defense ministers to double the Alliance’s response force to 30,000.

“There will be no new troops," says the same source. "The focus is to increase the readiness of reservists in case of emergency. It is part of plans for the reforms of the military forces.”

One Russian military source even viewed the statements by the Finnish military as an "attempt to curry favor with NATO." Still, there is no denying that the rhetoric coming from both Helsinki and Moscow is strong.

Fyodor Lukyanov, who heads head of Russia's Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, believes the events in Ukraine have rekindled Finland’s longstanding fears of Russia. “In Finland, the fear of Russia is part of its world view. It stems from the Winter War of 1939. The Finnish military command probably does not seriously believe that the Russians will invade, but they prefer to take measures in advance."

There are two goals: firstly, to show the electorate that they are not asleep at the wheel; the second is to nip in the bud any talk of NATO membership. “The country’s leaders know how important Russia is to Finland, but the population is nervous and needs to be reassured.”

Bad neighbor policy?

In any case, the Russian leadership considers the Finnish position a harmful one. Moscow’s ire was raised earlier this month when Finland said it would deny entry into the country to Russian State Duma chairman, Sergey Naryshkin for an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) meeting, because he is included on the European Union’s sanctions list.

“Recently we have seen hostile actions by the Finns,” declared Sergey Zhigarev, first deputy head of the Duma defense committee, adding that Finland's creation of rapid reaction units “does not add to European security.”

Andrey Klimov, vice chairman of Russia’s international affairs committee said that since the end of World War II, Finnish leaders have understood the value of neighborliness. "They have guaranteed the security and prosperity of their country without wasting money on defense," he said. "It helps explain the Finnish economic miracle. Now they are ruining what has made their country prosperous for the last 60 years.”

Klimov said that Finland's strengthening its defenses against Russia is akin “to defending themselves against the Martians. It is a complete waste of Finnish taxpayers’ money.” He said that there should be a Russian response and Moscow should consider banning Finnish timber exports.

Zhigarev concurred, saying that “Finland should focus on developing its own economy, which over the last 25 years has been intertwined with Russia’s, and not engage in aggressive populism.”

Klimov hinted that any hostile policy toward Russia is bound to provoke a response â€" even if not necessarily a military one. “Many of our citizens have become more careful over where they go on holiday and where they do business," he said. "Latvia, whose government’s rhetoric to Moscow could be termed as less than friendly, has already had to come to terms with this reality.”

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Preparing a COVID-19 vaccine booster in Huzhou, China.

Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Ciao!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where Brazil's senate backs "crimes against humanity" charges against Jair Bolsonaro, the UN has a grim new climate report and Dune gets a sequel. Meanwhile, German daily Die Welt explores "Xi Jinping Thought," which is now being made part of Chinese schools' curriculum.



• Senators back Bolsonaro criminal charges: A Brazilian Senate panel has backed a report that supports charging President Jair Bolsonaro with crimes against humanity, for his alleged responsibility in the country's 600,000-plus COVID-19 deaths.

• Gas crisis in Moldova following Russian retaliation: Moldova, one of Europe's poorest countries, has for the first time challenged Russia's Gazprom following a price increase and failed contract negotiations, purchasing instead from Poland. In response, Russia has threatened to halt sales to the Eastern European country, which has previously acquired all of its gas from Gazprom.

• New UN climate report finds planned emission cuts fall short: The Emissions Gap Report 2021 concludes that country pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions aren't large enough to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5 °C degrees this century. The UN Environment Program predicts a 2.7 °C increase, with significant environmental impacts, but there is still hope that longer term net-zero goals will curtail some temperature rise.

• COVID update: As part of its long-awaited reopening, Australia will officially allow its citizens to travel abroad without a government waiver for the first time in more than 18 months. Bulgaria, meanwhile, hits record daily high COVID-19 cases as the Eastern European's hotel and restaurant association is planning protests over the implementation of the vaccination "green pass." In the U.S., a panel of government medical advisors backed the use of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for five to 11-year-olds.

• U.S. appeals decision to block Julian Assange extradition: The United States said it was "extremely disappointed" in a UK judge's ruling that Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, would be a suicide risk of he traveled across the Atlantic. In the U.S., he faces 18 charges related to the 2010 release of 500,000 secret files related to U.S. military activity.

• Deposed Sudan prime minister released: Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok has been released from custody, though remains under heavy guard after Sudan's military coup. Protests against the coup have continued in the capital Khartoum, as Hamdok has called for the release of other detained governmental officials.

Dune Part 2 confirmed: The world will get to see Timothée Chalamet ride a sandworm: The second installment of the sci-fi epic and global box office hit has officially been greenlit, set to hit the screens in 2023.


Front page of the National Post's October 27 front page

Canadian daily National Post reports on the nomination of Steven Guilbeault, a former Greenpeace activist, as the country's new Environment minister. He had been arrested in 2001 for scaling Toronto's CN Tower to unfurl a banner for Greenpeace, which he left in 2008.


Chinese students now required to learn to think like Xi Jinping

"Xi Jinping Thought" ideas on socialism have been spreading across the country since 2017. But now, Beijing is going one step further by making them part of the curriculum, from the elementary level all the way up to university, reports Maximilian Kalkhof in German daily Die Welt.

🇨🇳 It's important to strengthen the "determination to listen to and follow the party." Also, teaching materials should "cultivate patriotic feelings." So say the new guidelines issued by the Chinese Ministry of Education. The goal is to help Chinese students develop more "Marxist beliefs," and for that, the government wants its national curriculum to include "Xi Jinping Thought," the ideas, namely, of China's current leader. Behind this word jam is a plan to consolidate the power of the nation, the party and Xi himself.

📚 Starting in September, the country's 300 million students have had to study the doctrine, from elementary school into university. And in some cities, even that doesn't seem to be enough. Shanghai announced that its students from third to fifth grade would only take final exams in mathematics and Chinese, de facto deleting English as an examination subject. Beijing, in the meantime, announced that it would ban the use of unauthorized foreign textbooks in elementary and middle schools.

⚠️ But how does a country that enchants its youth with socialist ideology and personality cults rise to become a world power? Isn't giving up English as a global language the quickest way into isolation? The educational reform comes at a time when Beijing is brutally disciplining many areas of public life, from tech giants to the entertainment industry. It has made it difficult for Chinese technology companies to go public abroad, and some media have reported that a blanket ban on IPOs in the United States is on the cards in the next few years.

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"I'm a footballer and I'm gay."

— Australian soccer player Josh Cavallo said in a video accompanying a tweet in which he revealed his homosexuality, becoming the first top-flight male professional player in the world to do so. The 21-year-old said he was tired of living "this double life" and hoped his decision to come out would help other "players living in silence."


Why this Sudan coup d'état is different

Three days since the military coup was set in motion in Sudan, the situation on the ground continues to be fluid. Reuters reports this morning that workers at the state petroleum company Sudapet are joining a nationwide civil disobedience movement called by trade unions in response to the generals' overthrow of the government. Doctors have also announced a strike.

Generals in suits At the same time, the military appears firmly in control, with deposed Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok allowed to return home today after being held by the coup leaders. How did we get here? That's the question that David E. Kiwuwa, a professor of international relations at the University of Nottingham, takes on in The Conversation:

"Since the revolution that deposed Omar el-Bashir in 2019, the military have fancied themselves as generals in suits. They have continued to wield enough power to almost run a parallel government in tension with the prime minister. This was evident when the military continued to have the say on security and foreign affairs.

Economy as alibi For their part, civilian officials concentrated on rejuvenating the economy and mobilizing international support for the transitional council. This didn't stop the military from accusing the civilian leadership of failing to resuscitate the country's ailing economy.

True, the economy has continued to struggle from high inflation, low industrial output and dwindling foreign direct investment. As in all economies, conditions have been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19. Sudan's weakened economy is, however, not sufficient reason for the military intervention. Clearly this is merely an excuse."

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471 million euros

Rome's Casino di Villa Boncompagni Ludovisi, better known as Villa Aurora, will be put up for auction in January for 471 million euros ($547 million). The over-the-top price tag is thanks to the villa having the only known ceiling painting by Renaissance master Caravaggio.

✍️ Newsletter by Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Who wants to start the bidding on the Caravaggio villa? Otherwise, let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world!!

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