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Ukraine war sparks debate about Finland’s “Achilles’ heel”.

#Ukraine #war #sparks #debate #Finlands #Achilles #heel

Located between Sweden and Finland, the autonomous Aland Islands are a scenic archipelago that was once part of Russia and has been demilitarized since 1856.

But the region’s unique status has been the subject of intense debate since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine prompted neighboring Finland to bid for NATO membership in May.

According to international treaties signed after the Crimean War, no troops or fortifications may be stationed on the strategically important Baltic Sea islands.

“This is the Achilles’ heel of Finnish defence,” Alpo Rusi, a professor and former adviser to the president, told AFP.

Home to around 30,000 mostly Swedish-speaking Finns, the area is characterized by rocky islands, lush green forests, ancient stone churches and wooden architecture – all under the watchful eye of a Russian consulate.

“We always thought, ‘Who wants to attack us if we don’t have anything worth taking?'” Ulf Grussner, 81, told AFP.

“But that changed with Putin’s war against Ukraine,” said the pensioner, one of many here who want Aland to remain demilitarized.

In June, a poll showed that 58 percent of Finns would support a military presence on Aland, which celebrated the 100th anniversary of its autonomy on Thursday.

“There are concerns whether Finland would be able to respond quickly enough militarily in the event of a sudden incursion into Aland,” Rusi said.

Armies fought for control of the archipelago in both world wars.

“Why should we trust the idea … that troops would not rush to control Aland as soon as possible,” said Charly Salonius-Pasternak, a researcher at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs.

– Aland rejects troops –

The Alanders, on the other hand, want to preserve their special status and have so far firmly rejected the idea of ​​ending demilitarization.

“Why should we change it? I think it is a stabilizing factor in the Baltic Sea region that we are demilitarized,” Veronica Thornroos, 59, prime minister of the Åland government, told AFP.

Also, if the archipelago were attacked, Finland would defend it “very quickly,” she said.

The Finnish government has said it has no intention of touching on Aland’s special status.

Meanwhile, Sia Spiliopoulou Akermark, director of the Aland Peace Institute, noted that the “Aland regime” of autonomy, cultural guarantees and demilitarization is a “complex knot” that should be viewed as a whole.

– Russian presence –

Like the rest of Finland, Aland was part of the Russian Empire from 1809 to 1917.

At that time, the archipelago was considered an important outpost in the defense of Saint Petersburg and control of the Baltic Sea.

Finland gained independence from Russia in 1917 and was granted sovereignty over Aland in 1921, despite protests from the Swedish-speaking majority of the islands.

The Nordic country fought two bloody wars against the Soviet Union during World War II.

As part of their peace agreement, the demilitarization of Aland was to be overseen by a Soviet consulate in the archipelago’s capital, Mariehamn.

The consulate still exists today, although it is now run by Russia.

A group of locals gather every day in front of the high metal fence protecting the consulate to protest Russia’s war in Ukraine.

“You have no business here. Russia is always a threat,” one of the protesters, Mosse Wallen, 71, told AFP.

– Putin’s property –

Russia also owns a coastal property north of Mariehamn in Saltvik, acquired in the 1947 Peace Accords.

“You gave my mother three days to move out,” says Ulf Grussner, whose idyllic childhood home is now fenced off by the consulate.

Grussner’s father was a German geologist, and the peace treaty stipulated that all German possessions in Finland were to be ceded to the Soviets.

In 2009, ownership of part of the property was transferred to the Russian Presidency.

In Finland, concerns about Russian real estate deals have been growing across the country in recent years.

Grussner feared that Russia might use his family’s possessions and demilitarization as a “pretext” to increase its presence in the region.

“It’s far-fetched, but then again it’s not impossible,” he said.

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#Ukraine #war #sparks #debate #Finlands #Achilles #heel

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