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Defence Forces respond to Newsweek: “Reservist letter not connected to prevailing security situation”

US news magazine Newsweek published an article Friday afternoon featuring the headline “Finnish military preparing 900,000 reservists for ‘crisis situation’”. The communications staff of the Finnish Defence Forces rushed set the record straight on Saturday, saying that the campaign to send a letter out to all of Finland’s reservists was two years in the making, and therefore has nothing to do with the security situation in the country at present.

Kuvakaappaus -sivustolta. Image: Newsweek

The Finnish Defence Forces have responded to an article (siirryt toiseen palveluun) appearing in the US news magazine Newsweek Friday May 1 about the wide-ranging campaign currently being enacted to contact thousands of Finland’s reservists. The Newsweek report claimed that the Finnish military is preparing its almost one million reservists for a crisis, linking the move to, among other things, last week’s underwater sighting of an unidentified vessel off the Finnish coast.

Chief Communications Officer for the Defence Forces Mika Kalliomaa says he finds it very understandable that a link could be made between the new reservist letter campaign and the security policy situation.

“This is most certainly not the case, however. We have tried to emphasize this in our communications. The reservist letter is associated with our intention to develop communications with our reservists, and not the prevailing security situation,” he says.

“Several factual errors”

Kalliomaa says the Newsweek article also contained several factual errors, such as the number of professional soldiers working in the Finnish military. The magazine declares there are 16,000 people serving in the Finnish army as full-time professionals, when the actual number of peacetime military personnel is closer to 12,300, with half of the positions held by soldiers and the other comprised of civilian positions.

“Our system is based on a conscription army. In other words, a peacetime configuration maintains our readiness, and should the situation require, a field army would then acquire more operatives, as well as personnel with key competencies,” Kalliomaa explains.

Newsweek notes that in the event of mobilisation, Finland could call on its former conscripts to fight; bringing its military might during wartime up to 230,000.

Newsweek also put the cart before the horse in its reporting of the Finnish parliamentary elections, saying that the Centre Party and the Finns Party had both already been elected to government, when in fact coalition negotiations are underway and the parties to be included in the Centre Party-led cabinet will not be announced until May 6 or 7. 

Edits made later

The Newsweek article was edited at around 4 pm Finnish time on Saturday to include the response from the Finnish defence ministry and comments made last year by Finnish President Sauli Niinistö. The edited version also contains new comments from the political editor of Sweden's Hudiksvalls Tidning newspaper Patrik Oksanen.

Comments from Jon Hellevig, a source in the original article, were removed after previous offensive remarks from Hellevig were brought to the magazine’s attention. The edit also corrected the status of the coalition government in the update.

The news agency AFP out of Paris also reported some inaccuracies in its coverage of Finland's reservist letters today, claiming that all of Finland's reservists had been contacted by email. In reality, the letters were all sent via the postal system beginning  May 1, with the last of the letters expected to arrive by the end of the month.

Some 900,000 letters will be sent in all, each containing information about the recipient's role in the reserves. The campaign is also designed to test the accuracy of the contact data contained in Finland's conscript register.

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