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Former ambassador to Moscow urges Finland to close Russia's Åland consulate

Russia established a consulate on the demilitarised Åland islands in 1940 following the end of the Winter War and the signing of the Moscow Peace Treaty.

Photo shows the Russian consulate building in Mariehamn, the capital of the Åland Islands.
The Russian consulate in Mariehamn, the capital of the Åland Islands. Image: Silja Viitala / Yle
Yle News

Finland should close the Russian consulate in Mariehamn, the capital of the Åland Islands, former ambassador to Moscow Hannu Himanen has stated.

"I think that Russia has actually given Finland this opportunity, and we should now consider it," Himanen said.

His comments come as diplomatic tensions between the two neighbouring countries continue to rise, with Russia freezing the bank accounts of a Finnish embassy and consulate office and announcing plans to suspend operations at its own consulate in the Finnish border city of Lappeenranta.

Moscow has also closed Finnish consulate offices in the cities of Murmansk and Petrozavodsk.

The former head of Finland's mission in the Russian capital said that Finland should act on the consulate in Mariehamn precisely because Russia has announced the closure of its other offices in Finland.

In general, embassies and consulate offices are established between countries in a reciprocal, or symmetrical, way. However, the Russian consulate in Mariehamn is an exception, as Finland has no counterpart office in Russia.

Hannu Himanen.
Hannu Himanen served as Finland's ambassador to Russia from May 2012 to August 2016. Image: Lauri Karo / Yle

The Russian consulate was established on the demilitarised Åland islands in 1940 following the end of the Winter War and the signing of the Moscow Peace Treaty, under which the Soviet Union foisted certain conditions on Finland.

"The consulate in Mariehamn is a unilateral advantage that Finland was forced to accept in 1940," Himanen said.

Despite the collapse of the Soviet Union, the consulate has remained in Mariehamn.

"If we want to correct this anomaly of 1940, now would be a very good opportunity," Himanen noted, adding that reciprocity — like-for-like actions — has historically been an important principle in Finnish-Russian relations.

"Finland could say that the foundations of the 1940 treaty have disappeared and that the Russian consulate has no legitimate role in Mariehamn," the former ambassador said.

A citizens' initiative calling for the Russian consulate in Mariehamn to be closed was launched in April, and has so far collected over 34,000 of the 50,000 signatures needed to be debated by MPs in Parliament.

Another ex-ambassador urges patience

While Himanen believes the time is right for Finland to close the consulate in Mariehamn, another former Finnish ambassador to Moscow, René Nyberg, has called for Finland to be patient.

"If we were to withdraw from the treaty now, it would be seen as a political move and a demonstration. I don't think the President and the government are ready for that," Nyberg said.

Referring to the 1940 treaty as "Molotov's burden" — after Vyacheslav Molotov, the Soviet foreign minister at the time and one of the agreement's signatories — Nyberg added that he believes the treaty will one day be terminated, but that the time is not now.

Russia closing the consulate offices in Murmansk and Petrozavodsk would not be an equivalent justification for closing Russia's consulate in Mariehamn, Nyberg noted.

"I'm very much of the traditional view that you shouldn't necessarily do something that doesn't make sense," Nyberg said.

Himanen: No need to close other offices

The Finnish consulate general in St Petersburg is the direct counterpart of the Russian consulate general in Turku, Himanen said, adding that he believes it is important that the offices remain operating.

"There is no reason to interfere with its status," Himanen said, as in his view Finland has good reason to maintain a diplomatic and consular presence in Russia despite the difficult times.

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