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Officers' Union: Dual Finnish-Russian citizens not suitable for certain military positions

A statement from the Officers' Union has proved controversial, as it explicitly singles out dual Finnish-Russian citizens, when the draft legislation it was asked to comment on only referred to dual citizens in general.

Image: Vesa Moilanen / Lehtikuva

New legislation being prepared by Finland's defence and interior ministries on the suitability of dual citizens for officer and professional military positions is making the rounds. One of the organisations asked to comment on the draft is the Finnish Officer's Union, a professional organisation for the officers of the Finnish Defence Forces and Border Guard.

The Officer's Union released a statement on April 27 that says it does not condone dual citizens of Russia and Finland being selected for high-ranking positions in the Finnish military in cases in which the dual citizenship could "present a danger to national security".

The statement has gained attention because of its specific mention of dual citizens of Russia and Finland, as earlier comments and the drafts of the legislation themselves referred more obliquely to dual citizens in general.

High-profile discrimination charge

The Finnish Broadcasting Company Yle reported in January 2017 that it had come across confidential information that the Finnish Defence Forces was already prohibiting dual Finnish-Russian citizens from serving in certain positions.

Minister of Defence Jussi Niinistö at first publicly rejected Yle's finding and accused the public broadcaster of spreading fake news. A few hours later, however, he said he would be planning a legislative initiative to prevent people with dual nationalities from taking up professional military positions.

The case of discrimination that Yle was referring to was eventually examined by the Finnish military, but in October 2017, Finland's Deputy Prosecutor General decided not to charge the officer in question.

Finnish citizenship only

The Ministry of Defence's draft of the proposed legislation was completed a few weeks ago. In a March 5 press release (siirryt toiseen palveluun), the ministry explains that the draft would amend section 37 of the Act on the Defence Forces so that appointments to military posts in the Defence Forces would be available to persons with Finnish citizenship only, and section 16 of the Act on the National Defence University so officer posts would be restricted to persons with Finnish citizenship only .

Both provisions would contain transitional instructions and the possibility to grant an exemption from the citizenship requirement if deemed necessary.

Finland's Ministry of the Interior, on the other hand, is reportedly considering two different options. Instead of an all-out ban, it has proposed a so-called reciprocity principle, whereby Finland could accept a dual citizen for professional military positions if the country the person holds the second citizenship in would also accept this person for a similar position in their own military.

Legal experts critical

The Finnish Security Intelligence Service and the National Police Board have also submitted opinions on the drafts of the ministries' legal reforms and indicated their support. Both of these influential bodies agree in their statements that dual citizens being named to professional military positions should be prevented.

Senior legal supervisors and the Finland's Non-Discrimination Ombudsman are critical of the proposals. In their statements, they ask the ministries to better justify why Finland would need to pass legislation that would clearly discriminate against dual citizens.

Finland's Defence Minister Jussi Niinistö and Interior Minister Kai Mykkänen will soon receive a summary of the comments from the expert bodies invited to review the drafts. Over the next few weeks, they will then decide on which version of the draft will be sent forward for consideration by the Finnish Parliament.