Saimaa canal as Russian gambit

Saimaa canal as Russian gambit

The parties agreed on a 50-year lease, and in 2013 they extended the lease until 2063.

As Finland accelerates its accession to NATO, Russia is sending clear signals that such steps marked the end of good neighborly relations with NATO. Paasikivi-Kekkonen line – Foreign policy of Finnish neutrality and friendship.

The preliminary representative of the changes is a statement by a Russian Duma official that Moscow may review the terms of the lease of the Saimaa Canal if Finland becomes a member of NATO.

“As Russia’s relations with any country deteriorate, the agreements reached during better relations and then sensible can be revised. That would be quite natural [to revise the lease of the Saimaa Canal]”, – Dmitry NovikovThe first vice-chairman of the International Duma Committee told the Russian newspaper Izvestia.

The Russian Ministry of Transport and the Rosmorrechflot Maritime Agency, which monitors the Saimaa Canal, did not comment on the assistant’s statement. Amendments to international agreements are at the level of the Ministry of Transport and Foreign Affairs.

The State Duma is responsible for ratifying land lease agreements, but not for terminating or revising them. However, the lower house of the Russian parliament has the power to submit this proposal to the government for review – and it can be quite tenacious.

Finland is already on the list of Russia’s “unfriendly” nations among other EU countries.

Revenge for bending to NATO

The statement of the Duma official came as the Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto stated on 26 April that launching joint Finnish-Swedish applications for NATO membership would be “useful”. But the lands did not have a fixed date for a possible application, he admitted. The leaders of Finland and Sweden will meet on 16-18 June. May in Stockholm.

In response to a question about the revision of the Saimaa Canal Agreement, the Russian Embassy in Helsinki told Izvestia that “if Finland joins this bloc, Russia must take the necessary measures to safeguard its interests.” The diplomats mentioned in the magazine did not specify what these measures might look like.

Speaker at the Russian Foreign Ministry Maria Zakharova stated earlier that the accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO would have negative consequences for peace in Northern Europe. However, he did not specify what these steps might involve.

The lease stipulates that Finland does not have the right to use the Russian part of the Saimaa Canal to navigate warships – neither under Finland nor under any other flag. This means that NATO – if Finland takes over and joins the alliance – will not be able to use the Saimaa canal for the legal passage of its warships to Finnish inland waters under the terms of the current agreement.

From this point of view, the channel does not pose a military threat to Russia upon Finland’s accession to NATO.

Like Nikolai MezhevichIn a discussion with Izvestia, the chairman of the Russian Baltic Research Association said that Finland’s accession to NATO would certainly change the rules of the game and mark the end of the current “special level relations” between Finland and Russia.

Until recently, relations between the two countries were considered strategically important, Mezhevich claims.

A special level between relationships Vladimir Putin and the Finnish authorities date back to a time when Putin chaired the Leningrad (St. Petersburg) Foreign Relations Committee from 1991 to 1992 and was directly involved in discussions with Finnish trade delegations.

Economic consequences

Historian at the University of Helsinki Jyrki Paaskoski told the Helsinki Times that the Saimaa canal agreement is bilateral, so without negotiations with Finland, Russia cannot change the terms alone.

– The agreement was signed for 50 years and entered into force in 2010. According to the lease agreement, the notice period is 12 months. I think it is possible that Russia may terminate the agreement, but that is not in its favor, the expert pointed out.

In his opinion, the Finnish forest industry will switch to road and rail transport if the agreement expires. Imports from Russia are already subject to sanctions, Paaskoski continues, so the consequences of the termination of the agreements are not serious.

The main goods transported along the Saimaa canal are logs, wood, cargo, fertilizers and paper.

In November 2021, Russia decided to stop exporting raw wood through the canal. This measure was later discussed at the highest level during President Niinistö’s visit to Russia last October.

Prime Minister Sanna Marin deplored Moscow’s decision. However, he clarified that it had nothing to do with the negotiations between the leaders of Finland and NATO by the end of the autumn.

Russia is Finland’s third largest trading partner after Germany and Sweden. Statistics Finland estimates the value of Finland’s exports of goods and services to Russia in 2021 to be EUR 4.4 billion. Russia accounted for 5% of Finnish exports.

As for the Russian market, Finland was only in the foreign trade turnover of 2021 in 1521.

A report published by the Ministry of Finance on 13 April predicts the negative impact of the crisis in Ukraine on the Finnish economy – 1.5 per cent growth is forecast this year, which is less than previously estimated.

“Sanctions will virtually halt Finland’s foreign trade with Russia, which will cut Finland’s economic growth this year,” the ministry said.

The economic benefits of the Saimaa canal are best seen in the results of a study conducted by the Finnish Waterways in 2019. It showed that transporting goods from Joensoo to Düsseldorf by ship via the Saimaa canal is 2 times cheaper and 3 times faster than using alternatives. such as trucks, ferries and trains through Karelia.

From the Tsar to Khrushchev

The Saimaa Canal was first opened in 1856 and was the largest building ever completed in the then Grand Duchess of Finland.

Until the Second World War, the Saimaa Canal and the surrounding areas were the property of Finland. But in 1944, the Soviet Union conquered the southern part of the canal, making the country’s second largest city Vyborg or Vyborg. And the traffic on the canal stopped abruptly.

Finland was not part of the Soviet bloc, but Moscow saw it as an attacker from the mid-1930s, and the Soviet Union had a huge intelligence tax on the country, with the number of KGB personnel second in the United States. Even Nazi Germany will host less then.

Moscow forced Finland to join the Soviet security system with an agreement on friendship, co-operation and mutual assistance signed in 1948, which ensured that Helsinki would not play in the looming Cold War.

The Soviet Union saw the 1962 Saimaa Treaty as a guarantee of Finland’s neutrality in the looming conflict with the West and also as support for President Urho Kekkonen, who was elected for a second term.

The international climate was grim at the time as the Caribbean crisis was developing between the Soviet Union and the United States. Only a year had passed since the erection of the Berlin Wall in August 1961, culminating in an open confrontation between the great powers in divided Germany.

Relations between Helsinki and Moscow cooled sharply in 1961 – the Soviet Union demanded that Finland negotiate on security issues in the Baltic Sea and disband Karl-August Fagerholm’s pro-Western government, which wanted to end the friendship agreement with the Soviet Union. and that is why Moscow considers it an instigator of war.

Moscow blocked its ongoing negotiations on the Saimaa canal and mutual trade for its “national security interests.” In the end, President Kekkonen had to dissolve Parliament. This movement reassured Khrushchev, and in one fell swoop opened the negotiating path in Saimaa.

After the reconstruction of the canal and its opening in 1968, Finland’s gross domestic product grew by 9.6% in 1969 compared with the previous year.

One of Nikita Khrushchev’s first steps in regulating relations with Helsinki was the decision to close the Porkkala Udd naval base, leased by the Soviet Union in 1955, and to withdraw Soviet troops from the area.

“I thought that keeping a knife as a military base under my throat was not the best way to win the trust of Finns,” Khrushchev writes in his diaries from that time.

The Saimaa canal cannot be considered analogous to the “knife” under the throat of the Finnish economy, as possible losses from the termination of the agreement do not put the country’s existence at stake.

By Timo SoikkanenProfessor of Political History at the University of Turku, “The economic consequences of violating the lease of the Saimaa Canal are not so serious. The cultural and historical significance of this waterway is much more important.

Looking for alternatives

At the same time as Russia raises Ante and hints at the renewal of the Saimaa agreement, Finland is already looking for alternative routes for the transfer of goods from the Saimaa lakes.

There are two options – dig a new route through the Kymijoki or Mäntyharju.

The distance from Saimaa to the sea along these routes is about 200 km and includes 13 locks. This is four times longer than the Saimaa canal, which is only 43 km long.

The current Kymijoki canal runs along the coast of the Gulf of Finland between Kotka and Hamina along Lake Pyhäjärvi.

The construction of the Saimaa Canal in the 1840s and 1850s cost Russia 3 million rubles, which exceeded the Grand Duchy of Finland’s annual gross domestic product. Moving from the current corridor to Kymijoki or Mäntyharju may not be as economically attractive, but if Russia continues its plans to terminate the lease, Finland will have to weigh up the need for such water options.

Elnar Baynazarov

Source: The Nordic Page

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