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Russia launches 'genocide' probe into Karelian WW2 camps

Russia says that Finland may have persecuted civilians on grounds of ethnicity.

Archive picture from the Continuation War. Image: E. Meriluoto / SA-kuva

Russia has launched an investigation into Finnish actions in Karelia during the Second World War, suggesting that Finland might have perpetrated genocide in the prison camps it operated in the territory as a result of poor working and living conditions.

The Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation announced on Monday it would look at Finland’s actions during the Continuation War, the 1941-44 conflict in which Finland was a co-beligerant with Nazi Germany.

The probe will be based on declassified documents from the FSB, Russia’s domestic intelligence agency.

The committee said that it would be investigating "genocide of the civilian population of the Karelian-Finnish Soviet Republic on racial grounds" under article 357 of the Russian penal code.

During the Continuation War Finland operated several prison camps in Karelia.

The press release from the committee states that living conditions, food supply and working conditions did not meet the conditions required for sustaining life, and as a result thousands of people died in the 'concentration camps', including children.

Ilta-Sanomat, which reported the investigation first in Finland (siirryt toiseen palveluun), said that many of the documents were published last autumn.

Jussi Nuorteva, the director of Finland’s National Archives, told the paper then (siirryt toiseen palveluun) that Finland did segregate based on ethnicity in the camps, but the wartime authorities’ actions could not be regarded as ethnic cleansing.

Nothing new here

Antti Laine, an academic specialising in the occupation of eastern Karelia, says it is not surprising or new that Russia is investigating what it calls a ‘genocide’.

"It’s an age-old story, which bubbles up in a similar way from one year to the next," said Laine. "It is about the Soviet Union’s fight against fascism, in which Finland was the fascist enemy."

Laine says many of the tropes blaming others are pushed in modern Russia because that is one way to boost President Vladimir Putin’s regime.

"This is part of a process that is linked to the strengthening of powers in conjunction with the recent constitutional changes. It goes with Putin’s move to seek another term in office. In general it is linked to the current political situation in Russia: there is a rewriting of history going on right now."

At the start of the millennium it was still possible to conduct critical historical research in Russia.

"During the Boris Yeltsin era historical research was open and there was cooperation with Finnish researchers too," said Laine. "Now the starting point is that the red army didn’t do anything wrong in the Great Patriotic War. That is a sacrosanct in modern Russia."