Finland’s PM calls on Australia to confront Putin’s ‘dark agenda’
In the first visit to Australia by a serving Finnish Prime Minister, Sanna Marin’s speech at the Lowy Institute in Sydney earlier this month called for greater cooperation among progressive democracies and the strengthening of bilateral ties between Finland and Australia amidst an increasingly volatile global security environment. Condemning Putin’s aggression in Ukraine as “brutal” in an interview with the ABC, Marin urged western nations to enact sanctions against Putin and pushed for democracies to work together to expand Europe’s defence capacity. As the threat of war on the continent lingers, Marin’s calls for action against Putin represent an important change in Europe’s power centre from the old guard of France, Germany and Italy, to a new centre in the Baltics and Eastern Europe.
Central to Marin’s address at the Lowy Institute was the need for greater European Strategic Autonomy to reduce reliance on Russian energy and technology. With Russian state-controlled company Gazprom supplying approximately a third of all gas consumed in Europe prior to the Ukraine war, Europe’s dependence on cooperation with Russia is a strategic weakness that has rendered the continent vulnerable to volatile supply chains, political interference, energy crises, food insecurity and cyber attacks.
Despite the eighth package of EU sanctions against Russia being approved in early October, consisting of travel bans and asset freezes and economic sanctions and diplomatic measures, Marin maintains that the sanctions are not severe enough to effectively thwart Russian abilities to continue aggression in Ukraine. A report released by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air confirms this, revealing that Russia earned EUR 158 billion in revenue from fossil fuel exports in the first six months of the war, with the EU importing 54% of this.
In stark dissonance to the old guard of France and Germany who have largely failed to denounce Putin, with President Emmanuel Macron even remarking that the West should avoid humiliating Russia in Ukraine and a survey conducted in October revealing that 40 percent of Germans believed NATO provoked Russia into invading Ukraine, Marin’s calls for Europe to adopt a hardline position against Putin must be reckoned with now more than ever.
Marin also stressed that the dangers of political naïveté and dependence on states with illiberal values is not a uniquely European consideration, but should also be accounted for by Australia and its Indo Pacific neighbours in the wake of China’s growing influence. In the same way that Europe depends on Russia for its energy and resources, Australia’s reliance on Chinese digital networks and critical technologies poses serious concerns for the Australian critical mineral industry and state sovereignty. According to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, Beijing controls up to 80% of the global rare earth market and up to 95% of other critical minerals like magnesium, arming the authoritarian state with a suite of coercive economic levers it can use against Australia. Here, the rise of digital protectionism and efforts to technologically ‘decouple’ from China are pivotal security considerations for Australia and Indo Pacific partners if the region wants to avoid a dependency akin to Europe’s reliance on Russian energy.
At the core of her speech, Marin emphasised the dire need to recognise that Putin’s aggression in Ukraine not only causes economic and diplomatic insecurity in Europe, but undermines international law and poses a grave threat to the very fabric of the liberal rules based order. Despite its status as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, Russia has breached the UN Charter with total impunity, violated international law and committed 51 161 registered war crimes. Furthermore, Putin’s rhetoric about the rising prospect of nuclear war undermines the nuclear non-proliferation regime that has been in place since the Cold War.
Worryingly, Beijing’s view of the war as a legitimate Russian security interest and its failure to condemn Russian aggression, as well as India’s lack of criticism towards Putin, present serious risks to democracy and human rights globally. Against this backdrop, we must turn our attention to the leadership of the Finnish Prime Minister if we wish to preserve international norms of territorial integrity and state sovereignty and send a cautionary signal to authoritarian nations tempted by the same dark agenda that Russia is.
Isabella Baker is a Dalyell scholar at the University of Sydney studying a Bachelor of Arts and Advanced Studies in Global and International Studies. She is interested in global affairs, national security and human rights with a particular focus on Australia’s relationship with China and the Indo-Pacific.