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Finland: Russian propaganda questioning our validity risks destabilising country

Finnish government communications chief Markku Mantila said his officials had observed a barrage of state-sponsored media attacks ahead of the country's celebrations marking 100 years of independence from Russia

Adam Withnall
Thursday 20 October 2016 09:19 BST
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Head of the Finnish government's communication department Markku Mantila speaks at his office in Helsinki
Head of the Finnish government's communication department Markku Mantila speaks at his office in Helsinki

Finland’s government says it is becoming increasingly concerned about a campaign of destabilising propaganda attacks from its former overseer Russia.

Ministers told the Reuters news agency they were monitoring Kremlin-controlled media coverage that was designed to question the validity of Finland’s independence.

The EU member will celebrate 100 years since its declaration of independence from Russia in December next year, and government communications chief Markku Mantila said his officials had observed a barrage of state-sponsored media attacks.

He said: “We believe this aggressive influencing from Russia aims at creating distrust between leaders and citizens, and to have us make decisions harmful to ourselves. It also aims to make citizens suspicious about the European Union, and to warn Finland over not joining NATO.”

Finland says it has reasons to be alarmed at Russia’s apparent attempts to destabilise it. Russia has moved nuclear-capable missiles into Kaliningrad on the border with Poland and Lithuania.

Both Estonia and Finland accused Russian fighter jets of violating their airspace earlier this month.

And the country looked on with alarm as Russia waged a propaganda war before and during the annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Reports recently began emerging in the Russian media to suggest Lenin's Bolshevik administration had no right to accept Finland's independence.

In St Petersburg, a plaque commemorating a Finnish independence hero, the former military officer and president Carl Gustaf Mannerheim, has become a target for protesters calling him a murderer and Nazi collaborator.

“The plaque's been shot at, hit with an axe and doused in red paint several times,” Mantila told Reuters.

Finland says it has documented 20 occasions in the last few years where negative Russian media coverage has come from the Kremlin, and another 30 where reports were “very likely” to involve state-sponsored information operations.

And some have involved more subtle attempts to undermine confidence in the Finnish government, Mantila said.

Last month, Russian media reported on “cold-blooded” Finnish authorities taking custody of children from a Russian family living in Finland “due to their nationality”.

Finland denied the reports, while declining to comment on an individual case due to the legal procedure. However, the story has been replicated hundreds of times in Russia over the past few weeks.

A report by Kremlin-led NTV said “even the locals call Finland a land of ruthless and irrational child terror.”

“There is a systematic lying campaign going on... It is not a question of bad journalism, I believe it is controlled from the centre,” Mantila said.

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