Finland boosts war readiness in face of Russian aggression

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Finland has successfully tested its ability to run a war economy and has begun storing military equipment outside its national borders as the Nordic country renowned for its high level of preparedness deals with an increasingly aggressive Russia.

Lieutenant General Mikko Heiskanen, deputy chief of staff for armaments and logistics in the Finnish defence forces, told the Financial Times that Finland had recently checked on more than 1,000 agreements it has with private companies to produce equipment or provide services for times of war.

“We need to be prepared for a long-term crisis . . . We have activated some of those, we have checked all of the agreements, we have tested procurement not just for ammunition but for other material. We are testing our strategic partners’ plans and readiness,” said Heiskanen, whose job title in Finnish translates as head of the war economy.

Finland, which has the longest border with Russia of any Nato or EU country, is well known for its decades of focus on a possible attack from its eastern neighbour, leading to a level of preparedness perhaps unequalled in the western world. Finland has fought many conflicts with Russia, most infamously the Winter War of 1939-40 in which the Nordic country inflicted hundreds of thousands of casualties on the invading Soviet army.

It has stockpiles of at least six months’ consumption of major fuels and grains, and enough air shelters for its entire population. Almost a third of its adult population are reservists, giving the country of just 5.6mn people one of the largest militaries in Europe and its joint largest amount of artillery.

“It’s in our DNA. Russia respects power. Power consists both of the will and the capacity. The will is in place. The people’s will to defend the country is probably the highest in the world. The capacity — the material — is at a credible level. It takes years to build up this capacity. You cannot do it in a year or two,” Heiskanen added.

He declined to go into specifics but said by way of example that a textile company could be ordered at short notice to produce bulletproof vests or other items to protect troops in battle.

Russia has moved in recent months to a war economy following its full-scale invasion of Ukraine two years ago, spending about 6-7 per cent of GDP to produce 4mn artillery shells a year, levels well above Finland’s or even western Europe’s.

Heiskanen said of Finland: “We are not in a war economy.” He noted that the Nordic country was only at step three out of nine on its escalation ladder and that although it had increased production of ammunition it was still not working factories 24 hours a day. “We were not in a bad state, and right now we are pretty confident,” he added.

Finnish President Alexander Stubb greets the Finnish army chief Pasi Välimäki during Nato exercises in Norway © Heiko Jungen/NTB/Scanpix/AP

The Finnish state owns parts of the production chain even at private companies so that it can call on them to start manufacturing material needed for war. It already started ramping up production for ammunition after Russia’s 2022 full-scale invasion of Ukraine and is now making about 10 times the shells it did just five years ago, according to Heiskanen.

Finland responded to the attack by Russia on Ukraine by joining Nato last year, ending decades of military non-alignment.

Despite being a new member, Finland is already being asked regularly for advice from other countries on how to improve their preparedness, which in many cases was run down in the years following the end of the cold war.

“Finland is the gold standard. They didn’t let their guard down in the 1990s and 2000s, and now most of us can only stand and admire what they have. Their ability to mobilise people and business in a crisis is genuinely impressive,” said a senior diplomat from a fellow Nato member state.

Heiskanen said that Nato membership needed to lead to a change in Finland’s mindset: “We are not alone any more. We can trust others. We don’t need to have all our eggs in one basket. We don’t need to own all the cows to produce the milk for us.”

He added that Finland has started to store military equipment in neighbouring Norway and would soon start in Sweden, another new Nato member, as well as look at countries further afield.

“We are planning that we would store equipment in other countries. It’s a security of supply issue, dispersing the stocks. We have partially started it already. We plan to do it especially with Sweden and Norway, but also with further-away countries. It’s equipment and ammunition and maybe spare parts,” he added.

Finland’s new president, Alexander Stubb, cast aside traditional Finnish humility last month when he told the Financial Times other European states should “become more Finnish”: “In other words, more prepared. You have to prepare for the worst in order to avoid it,” Stubb added.

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