May. 22, 2015 at 7:00 pm #1508
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Tiina Takala/Finnish Defence MinistryFinland has put almost a million army reservists on notice in case of hostilities.
Finland has sent letters to nearly a million military reservists, setting out their roles “in the event of war” in reaction to rising tension with neighbouring Russia.
The letters have been dispatched to 900,000 former conscripts in the armed forces, including Finns living abroad.
The first were sent earlier this month, with the final batch distributed in the past few days.
Finland is not a member of NATO and the country shares a 1,335-kiolometre border with Russia — the longest of any European nation apart from Ukraine.
In the aftermath of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the invasion of eastern Ukraine, Finland could be vulnerable to any further aggression.
The letter tells the reservists which regiment or unit they should report to in the event of hostilities. “Attached you will find your personal details as well as your role in the event of war,” it reads.
One Finnish reservist, who received the letter, said: “The timing was not random. It is clearly due to a more aggressive stance by the Russians. I’ve been in the reserves for 15 years and this is the first time I’ve received something like this. They send out letters like this very rarely.”
Finland’s army has 16,000 soldiers, but it could expand to 285,000 if reserves were called up.
The government has denied that the letters are connected to the tension with Russia or the crisis in Ukraine, saying that plans for the mass mail-out began two years ago.
“The reservist letter is associated with our intention to develop communications with our reservists, and not the prevailing security situation,” said Mika Kalliomaa, a spokesman for the Finnish Defence Forces. The aim was to check that the armed forces had the right contact details for all reservists, he added. But experts said that, even if the initiative predated Russia’s seizure of Crimea, the letter was clearly prompted by worries about the Kremlin’s intentions.
“If Russia had headed down the path towards being a liberal democracy, there would not have been the pressure to do this,” said Charly Salonius-Pasternak, a senior research fellow at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs.
“In the current reality, it makes sense. The Finnish Defence Forces want to make sure that if they need to blow the whistle, they can rely on 230,000 reserves.”
The Finnish Defence Forces want to make sure that if they need to blow the whistle, they can rely on 230,000 reserves
Salonius-Pasternak added: “That is linked to the increasing instability in the region. Russia has shown that it can transport large numbers of troops across vast distances very quickly. I have never had so many people coming up to me asking if they should be worried about the security situation.”
The Soviet Union invaded Finland in 1939 and seized more than 10 per cent of the country’s territory. During the Cold War, Finland was officially neutral, but remained under the influence of its larger neighbour.
In recent months, Russian warplanes have frequently probed Finnish air defences. In April, the Finnish navy resorted to depth-charging a suspected submarine that was detected near Helsinki. Finland has also strengthened its ties with NATO and promised more military co-operation with Nordic neighbours.
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