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Pro-Russian convoy set to pass through Helsinki region this weekend

The demonstration coincides with Victory Day, a symbolic holiday of Russian patriotism.

The police say that everyone has the right to demonstrate in Finland and that the police will not prevent demonstrations, whatever the subject. Image: Juuso Stoor / Yle

A convoy of roughly 20 vehicles will take part in a pro-Russian demonstration planned for the Helsinki metropolitan area this weekend.

The event is planned for Sunday 8 May, one day before Victory Day, which commemorates the Soviet Union's victory over Nazi Germany and Victory in Europe Day, 9 May.

According to the police, the event is organised by Rufi, an organisation separate from the Finland-Russia Association. The convoy is expected to leave from Hyvinkää on Sunday morning and travel through the Helsinki metropolitan area before ending in Vantaa.

"The exact route is still in the planning stage, it is still being negotiated with the organiser. The organiser's initial estimate is that the procession will consist of 20 cars," said Inspector Juha Juurinen of the Eastern Uusimaa police.

He added that Sunday is a quiet traffic day, so the procession should not significantly impact traffic conditions. The convoy will last at least a couple of hours, potentially more, depending on the length of the loop.

Preparations made for counter protests

Police will also have to prepare for counter protests along the convoy's route.

"Of course, things like this need to be considered in a situation like this. Anything is possible these days," Juurinen said, adding that everyone has the right to demonstrate in Finland and that this should be respected, even if they disagree with the demonstrators.

"After all, people have recently been sitting here for quite a long time on Mannerheimintie, and even that has not been banned. It's especially rare that we would ban a demonstration," Juurinen stated.

The association has a fairly small following on social media— about 300 followers on Facebook and 30 on Twitter. Rufi presents itself as a legitimate organisation promoting friendship between Finland and Russia. Yle could not reach a representative of the association to answer questions about the event.

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Russia-Finland Society opposes

The long-established Finland-Russia Society also commented on the planned event, saying it is concerned about the situation. Niina Sinkko, the general secretary for the society, stated that now is not the time to celebrate holidays in support of Russian war propaganda and its narrative.

Sinkko claimed that Russia can use similar celebrations to its advantage in its own storytelling.

"The situation is very sensitive and, understandably, causes strong emotional reactions, it has been predicted that in Russia the celebrations will be war-centred," Sinkko said, adding that this event could also result in more hate speech and harassment.

"Bringing pro-Russian views to the forefront may cause hate speech against Russian speakers living in Finland, many of whom are deeply opposed to Russia's military action," Sinkko added.

Hybrid threat?

Demonstrations usually tend to influence societal decision-making and debate, according to Martti Lehto, Professor of Cyber Security at the University of Jyväskylä.

The ongoing Nato debate may be one reason, adding extra motivation for the event.

"Such a group will probably want to express their opinion on the current situation. If the group has an agenda and a positive view of Russia, this is how it will be carried out," Lehto told Yle.

He does not see this specific event as a direct result of hybrid warfare, but there may be an ulterior motive behind it. In this case, an escalation of the situation is possible.

"It is possible that this involves some physical activity organised by the same group. In this way, the Russian headlines will be that there was a peaceful demonstration for peace and friendship, and we were subjected to such and such actions," Lehto pointed out.

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