HELSINKI — Finland has further distanced itself from a standing Russian offer to develop a defense-industrial relationship following Defense Minister Carl Haglund's remarks that Russian fighter aircraft technologies are "untrustworthy."
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu presented the defense-industrial collaboration invite to Finland in mid-2013 in a clear attempt to soften the country's growing interest in moving towards NATO membership. Furthermore, the Kremlin suggested that Finland could join a Russian-led NATO-style defense grouping in the Baltic Sea area.
To sweeten its offer, Moscow also proposed attaching the attachment of a broad trade dimension to cooperation. Under this proposal, Russia would seek to become a major supplier of big ticket equipment and hardware items, such as fighter aircraft, air defense and surface-to-surface missile systems and as well as naval ships to Finland.
The offer by Russia resulted in the ministries of defense in both countries establishing working groups to identify potential areas for defense-industrial cooperation, including the possibility that primary Russian defense programs could be opened up to Finnish subcontractors.
However, the momentum towards formal bilateral talks stalled in February 2014 when Russia began to send troops and military equipment into Ukraine. This action triggered a sanctions war, that included military materials, between the US and EU against a consolidated United States and European Union (EU) against Russia.
The Finnish government's support for US/EU sanctions, along with Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb's openly pro-NATO membership position, has contributed to the cooling of political and defense relations with the Kremlin.
Defense minister Haglund said Finland needs to examine its trust in Russian military export offerings. Suspicions exist, he said, that certain equipment, including fighter aircraft, could contain embedded "back-door systems" that may cause planes to malfunction in a "crisis situation."
Russia's muscle-flexing of its military power in the region, demonstrated by the now regular intrusions by its fighter and intelligence gathering aircraft into Nordic and Baltic airspace, "seriously violates European air safety" at a time when Russia flouts international agreements, said Haglund said.
"Russia says one thing but does another. I do not trust Russia at all, and I could never be in favor of purchasing Russian military jets," said Haglund said at a news briefing.. (Helsinki-Lännen news briefing).
The Finnish government has established a working group, under former Air Force (FAF) chief retired Brig. Gen. Lauri Puranen (retired, brigadier general), to examine a range of aircraft types and purchase options in connection with the root and branch appraisal of the Air Force's FAF's fighter capacity needs going forward.
The Air Force's FAF's present fleet of F/A-18 Hornets, consisting of 55 single-seat F/A-18Cs and seven two-seat F-18Ds, are scheduled for retirement between 2025-2030.
The cooling in Finnish interest over Russian military export hardware and systems is also visible in the MoD's Ministry of Defense's (MoD) advancing $1.2 billion -Flotilla 2020- program to procure next-generation multi-purpose surface warships to replace the Finnish Navy's Hämeenmaa- and Pohjanmaa-class minelayers and Rauma-class missile ships.
No Russian shipyard, including the Finland-based and Russian state-owned Artech, has been invited to bid for going naval ship contracts. Located near Helsinki's west harbor, Artech is owned by United Shipbuilding Corporation (USC).
"There has been no talks with Russian shipyards regarding future shipbuilding orders," said Rear Adm.iral Juha Vauhkonen, the chief of staff at Navy Command.
The planned submarine-hunter surface ships, which are due to come into service with the Finnish Navy by 2025, are set to be equipped with helicopter decks and have both a torpedo firing and anti-aircraft strike capability.
That USC is included in the United States sanctions against Russian companies, hasn't helped the firm's company's case in being considered as a potential supplier of naval ships under the Flotilla 2020 program, said Jussi Niinistö, Parliamentary Defense Committee chairman.
"Under existing procurement rules, certain companies can be ignored on grounds of national security when it comes to defense acquisitions," said Niinistö said in an interview. (interview)
USC acquired 100 percent of Arctech's the shares in Arctech when it bought out the South Korean-owned STX Finland (Europe) Inc.'s 50 percent interest in the shipyard in December 2014.
The Kremlin's tetchy relationship with Finland hasn't been helped by the decision of the government's Cabinet Committee on Foreign and Security Policy to permit the Air Force to take part in joint air exercises with the US and Sweden.
The March 2015 air exercises, which will feature US F-16s, Swedish JAS Gripens and Finnish F/A-18 Hornets, are to be held in Finnish, Swedish and international airspace over the Baltic Sea. The US aircraft will fly out of the near-coast Ämari Air Base in northern Estonia.
Finland's decision to approve the joint air exercises with the US will not be very popular in Moscow, said Per Lindström, a Stockholm-based political analyst.
"This was not an autonomous decision by the Cabinet Committee on Foreign and Security Policy. Opinion was divided between president Sauli Niinistö and Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja, who fear the decision could further hurt relations with Russia," Lindström said. "On the other side were Prime Minister [Alexander] Stubb and Defense Minister Haglund who wholesomely backed Finland's participation."