April 1st, 2023 | DEVON KASH

Why Ukraine And Not Finland?

Russia doesn't care so much about another pro-Western country on its border.
The conflict between Russia and Ukraine has been ongoing since 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea and began supporting separatist rebels in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine. The conflict has claimed thousands of lives and displaced millions of people, making it one of the bloodiest conflicts in Europe since World War II. Despite international pressure, Russia has continued to support the rebels and has launched a full-scale invasion. But why is Russia so interested in Ukraine and not Finland?
Geopolitics helps to explain why certain regions or countries are more strategically important than others and why certain conflicts or alliances emerge.

Why Ukraine?

One of the key reasons why Russia is interested in Ukraine is its geographic location. Ukraine shares a 2,000 kilometre border with Russia, making it a critical buffer zone for Russia's security. Russia sees Ukraine as a vital buffer between itself and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which it regards as a security threat. Since the end of the Cold War, NATO has expanded eastward, with several former Soviet states, including Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, joining the alliance. For Russia, this is seen as a direct threat to its security, as it is worried about the possibility of NATO forces being stationed on its western border.
Another reason why Russia is interested in Ukraine is its energy infrastructure. Ukraine is a key transit country for Russian gas exports to Europe, which is a major source of revenue for Russia. According to the European Union, "Russia supplies around a third of the EU's gas needs, and around 40% of that gas transits through Ukraine." Russia has been concerned about the possibility of Ukraine interrupting the flow of gas to Europe, which would hurt Russia's economy and its reputation as a long-term and reliable energy supplier. Since Russia's invasion, country's like Germany have remained dependent on Russian energy.
In addition to these strategic considerations, there are also cultural and historical ties between Russia and Ukraine. Ukraine has a significant Russian-speaking population, particularly in the eastern regions, and many Ukrainians identify as Russian or have family ties to Russia. The annexation of Crimea in 2014 was seen by many Russians as an attempt to reclaim territory that was historically part of Russia. For Russia, Ukraine is seen as a culturally and historically linked country and there is a sense of obligation to protect the rights and interests of Russian-speaking Ukrainians.

Why Not Finland?

Russia does have some interests in Finland and Norway, but these interests are not as significant or complex as its interests in Ukraine. Finland and Norway are located further from Russia's western border than Ukraine, which makes them less strategically important for Russia's security. According to the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, "Russia's strategic interests in the Nordic-Baltic region are not to be found in Finland, but rather in the Baltic States, which are closer to Russia's border and have significant Russian-speaking minorities."
Unlike Ukraine, which is an 11-hour drive from Russia's power centre in Moscow, Finland maintains a far distance from Russia's capital and allows a large, scarcely populated buffer zone to exist between Moscow and any NATO military installations.
Both Finland and Norway have good relations with the European Union and the United States, which makes it less likely that Russia would try to disrupt those relationships. In fact, Finland has maintained a policy of neutrality since the end of World War II, allowing it to maintain good relations with both Russia and the West. Norway, on the other hand, has been a member of NATO since 1949 and has close ties with the United States, which makes it a less attractive target for Russia.
Another factor that makes Finland and Norway less important to Russia is the lack of historical and cultural ties between them. Unlike Ukraine, which has a shared history and culture with Russia, Finland and Norway have distinct cultural and linguistic identities. While there are Russian-speaking minorities in both countries, they are not as significant or politically active as the Russian-speaking population in eastern Ukraine.
Finland and Norway have significant energy infrastructure, but it is not critical to Russia's economy or strategic ambitions. While Russia does export some gas and oil to both countries, the volume of exports is relatively small compared to what is exported to Europe through Ukraine. Russia also exports grains and other products to parts of Africa. As such, Russia does not have the same level of economic leverage over Finland and Norway as it does over Ukraine.
Ukraine has acted as a strong geopolitical interest for both Russia and the United States.
The United States has also played a role in the political turmoil in Ukraine. In 2014, the U.S. government supported the overthrow of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who had close ties to Russia. The U.S. government provided financial and logistical support to the protesters who toppled Yanukovych and U.S. officials were heavily involved in negotiations to form the new government. According to leaked recordings of phone calls between U.S. officials, the U.S. government also worked to influence the selection of key ministers in the new government. These actions by the U.S. government have been criticized by Russia as interference in Ukraine's internal affairs.
As a means to limit Russia's access to Europe and Africa, the United States has taken great interest in controlling Ukraine.
Russia's strategic ambitions in Ukraine can be understood through the scope of geopolitics, which emphasizes the importance of geography, power and international relations. Ukraine's location, energy infrastructure and cultural ties with Russia make it a critical buffer zone for Russia's security and a key transit country for its energy exports. While Russia does have some interests in Finland and Norway, these interests are not as significant or complex as its interests in Ukraine. Finland and Norway are located further from Russia's western border, have good relations with the West, as well as a lack significant historical and cultural ties with Russia. Therefore, they are less important to Russia's strategic calculations.

Five Point Summary

  1. Ukraine is a critical buffer zone for Russia's security and its location and energy infrastructure make it a key transit country for Russian gas exports to Europe and goods to Africa.
  2. Ukraine has historical and cultural ties with Russia and a significant Russian-speaking minority, which Russia sees as part of its sphere of influence.
  3. The United States has supported pro-Western political movements in Ukraine, including the 2014 overthrow of Ukrainian President Yanukovych, which Russia sees as interference in Russo-Ukrainian relations.
  4. The U.S. has backed Ukraine in its conflict with Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, which has further strained relations between the two countries.
  5. The prospect of Ukraine joining NATO, which the U.S. has supported, is seen by Russia as a direct threat to its national security.
APRIL 2023