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Yle in Russia: Muscovites mostly indifferent about Finland's Nato application

While many avoided talking to Yle, most of the ones who did said decisions about joining Nato were up to Finland and Sweden.

File photo of Moscow street scene. Image: Maxim Shipenkov / EPA

Days before Finland's and Sweden's respective applications to Nato last week, the Kremlin's tone about their joining the military alliance changed considerably — from general threats to a more relaxed attitude of indifference.

About a week ago, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Finland's and Sweden's accession into Nato will most likely make "not much difference." Last Monday, the country's president Vladimir Putin also moved away from his previous stance on the perceived dangers associated with Finland's membership of Nato.

This attitude was also noted on the streets of Moscow. Yle asked Muscovites what they thought about the Nordic countries' Nato accession plans.

"I trust the words of the president that Finland's and Sweden's accession to Nato will not be of strategic importance, but rather a political formality," Aleksandr told Yle.

Aleksandr Image: Grigori Vorobjov / Yle

The young man was wearing a "Z" symbol badge, indicating his support of the ongoing "special operation" in Ukraine — or more accurately, Russia's invasion of the country.

Aleksandr was one of few people in Moscow who were willing to take a position about the topic of their close neighbours to the west, as most whisked past and managed to dodge Yle's reporting team.

While statistically-reliable conclusions from an informal person-on-the-street survey cannot be drawn, the topic of Finland's and Sweden's Nato membership did raise emotions among the inhabitants of Russia's capital city.

The country's leaders have told the public that the countries' joining the military alliance will not change much. The country's state-run news media have suggested that Nordic countries were virtually Nato allies already before applying for full membership.

"They respect our culture, people"

Aleksandr said that his attitude toward Finns and Swedes had not changed since they applied.

"They do not decide everything, and in principle the Finns and Swedes are quite warm towards us. They respect our culture and people. I have nothing against Swedes and Finns, and hope I won't," Aleksandr said.

An older gentleman, Mihail, told Yle that it was Finland's and Sweden's right to join Nato, as they are independent countries.

Mihail Image: Grigori Vorobjov / Yle

"All countries have the right to decide whether or not to join. We must not interfere," Mihail said. However, he did have some concerns.

"Of course, it is undesirable for us because Finland and Sweden are right next to us — our neighbours," he said.

Mihail said that the Nordic countries were scared about "recent events" and frightened of Russia.

When asked whether Russia should fear Finland and Sweden, Mihail said it was not an easy question to answer.

"I don't think there's a reason to be afraid but the question is difficult. I cannot answer unequivocally," he said.

Meanwhile, a young man by the name of Kirill echoed Mihail's and Aleksandr's sentiments.

"It must be the right thing for them to do. Let them decide, we should not criticise it," Kirill said.

Meanwhile, pensioner Svetlana Arkadjevna said she was taught in school that people's opinions about the government should not be discussed.

Svetlana Image: Grigori Vorobjov / Yle

"I don't think we should get involved in politics," she said, adding that citizens should support the position of the government. This is also the case with Sweden and Finland's Nato issue," she said.

"Our government has said it is against it. I support them," Arkadjevna said, adding that she understands that Turkey is also displeased about Finland and Sweden's Nato aspirations.

Arkadjevna also noted that she thinks Finland's motivations in joining the military alliance is based on history.

"The Finns think that we took Karelia from them in the past. It's an obsession for them," she said.