Baltic Sea – a unique region for security cooperation

Timo Soini,
Minister for Foreign Affairs of Finland

The security situation in our region changed after Russia illegally annexed Crimea in 2014. The situation radiated to the entire Europe. As a response to Russia’s increased military activity in the region, Nato enhanced its presence in the Baltic Sea area. Nato’s interest was to guarantee the security of its allies. From Finland’s point of view, Nato has a stabilizing influence in the region.

Security of the Baltic Sea region is one of my priorities as Foreign Minister. For this reason, I have also appointed Ms Christina Gestrin as Special Representative for Baltic Sea Cooperation. Her focus is on environmental cooperation.

Both in our own vicinity as well as globally, Finland promotes democracy, a rules based international order and dialogue as the key elements to enhance international peace and stability. Our strong national defence is an important contribution to the stability in the Baltic Sea region. A credible national border security system is an integral part of national security.

Finland maintains and develops her defence capacities through international cooperation.  We take part in joint exercises, cooperation arrangements and partnerships as well as through attending international crisis management operations. Improving preparedness and readiness is the key. Besides EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy, cooperation among the Nordic countries has been strengthened. Sweden is our closest neighbor. Our cooperation covers almost all aspects of human life, including security policy. Transatlantic relations and cooperation with the United States remains vital. These are activities to foster security in the Baltic Sea region.

Finland has a close partnership with Nato. It entails political dialogue, participation in NATO exercises and NATO led crisis management operations as well as cyber-defence cooperation. The enhancement of security in the Baltic Sea region is at core of this partnership.

As we have seen, hybrid threats are here to stay. Hybrid resilience depends very much on the skills and capacities of the entire society. This requires better regional cooperation and better preparedness. National actions and international cooperation must go hand in hand. The European Centre of Excellence to Counter Hybrid Threats (CoE) founded in 2017 in Helsinki is an example of the ongoing work against new type of threats. I have also appointed Ambassador for countering hybrid threats in the Foreign Ministry.

Finland has a long border with Russia. We maintain selective dialogue with Russia on international issues, on the Baltic Sea and on Arctic and climate issues. Contacts with the Russian civil society at these trying times need to continue. An isolated Russia would not serve anyone’s interests. However, Russia’s compliance with international law and its other international obligations, including the full implementation of the Minsk Agreements, is a precondition for the improvement of the relations between Russia and the EU.

In the light of the overall global security and political situation, it is not likely that the situation in the Baltic Sea Region will remarkably improve in the near future. It is, however, necessary to work towards that goal. We have to defend the core principles of European security and international law and take better care of our security, both individually and collectively. EU must provide better security for its citizens.

One of the unique features of the Baltic Sea is its brackish water. The water has more salt than freshwater, but not as much as seawater. Security situation in the Baltic Sea region is also a mixture. Many different security interests, in different layers. The proportions in the mixture vary from time to time, just like the salinity of the seawater. From time to time, the saline pulses from the North Sea refresh the Baltic Sea with oxygen. In the same manner, dialogue is needed to ease political tensions in the Baltic Sea region. Promoting dialogue in the Baltic Sea region is one of my “eco-needs” in this fragile environment that I have worked for – and will continue to work for.

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