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Russia Strengthens Forces in Finland's Backyard

Russia is reinforcing its military capability in Finland's backyard. Policy towards Russia is high on the agenda of President Tarja Halonen's second term in office.

Experts point to recent energy disputes with neighbours as a Russian attempt to rebuild its sphere of influence. Jan Leijonhielm, Strategic Researcher at the Swedish Defence Research Agency in Stockhom says a more autocratic Moscow under the reigns of its security organisation wants to regain its political strength.

"Russia lost its buffer zone following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact," Leijonhielm adds. "A new security zone is being created- first in the former south and the militant Islamic areas. Now signs of this taking place close to Finland are also evident."

Those signs are the northern fleet operating from the Kuola Peninsular, which will soon receive new nuclear submarines. The space war centre is being transferred from Baikonur to Plesets just a couple of hundred kilometres from Finland. To the north of St. Petersburg, a new missile early warning system will replace that formerly in Latvia.

Russia is expanding its Baltic navy. Trials of new submarines start in the Gulf of Finland once the ice thaws. Their number could jump to nine from the current three vessels. In addition a new corvette frigate and a couple of other vessels are in the pipeline.

All this is food for thought when Tarja Halonen starts her second term as President tomorrow. She has to shape a policy to deal with these new challenges from the east without the compromises of the past.


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