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Finnish military rejects request for Russian tall ship visit to Åland

The head of the Finnish military says it will not allow the Kruzenshtern - a Russian-flagged, four-masted military training vessel - to dock at Mariehamn, in the demilitarised island province of Åland, according to daily Hufvudstadsbladet. A security expert told the paper that it was likely that the actual purpose of the Russian request was to test its western neighbour's reaction.

The Russian-flagged, four-masted military training vessel Kruzenshtern. File photo. Image: Valery Vasilevskiy

Russian officials had requested permission from the Finnish military for the 91-year-old warship Kruzenshtern to dock in Mariehamn on September 18-20. However the request was turned down by the Finnish Defence Forces, according to an article published Monday in Hufvudstadsbladet.

The paper wrote that Finland's Defence Command did not comment further on the motivations for its negative decision. The visit would have coincided with Zapad 2017, the joint Russian-Belarus joint strategic military exercises, which are scheduled to be held September 14-20 in various regions of those two countries.

International security and strategy expert Tomas Ries told the paper that the actual reason behind the request is likely that Russia was testing Finland's reaction. Ries is Senior Lecturer at the Swedish National Defence College in Stockholm.

Security expert: "No coincidence"

Ries said that he thinks it was no coincidence the Kruzenshtern visit would have taken place at the same time as the Zapad 2017 exercises.

"It is no coincidence. This was carefully calculated and thought through. It is like Russia wanted to test Finland, in order to try to push the boundaries of what Finland would find acceptable. My assessment is that [in their decision] the Defence Command made it clear that this is something that Finland will not go along with," Ries told the paper (siirryt toiseen palveluun).

The historic Russian sailing ship has visited Finland in the past; the last time was earlier this summer during the Tall Ships' Races in Turku and Kotka. Some local Åland leaders had hoped that a Kruzenshtern visit would improve the capital city Mariehamn's chances of hosting the next Tall Ships' Race in 2021.

The Kruzenshtern is owned by the Russian state-owned marine academy in Kaliningrad which trains cadets in the fishing industry and research. There are some 164 cadets currently aboard the ship.

The ship was originally built and flagged in Germany and made its first launch in 1926. Twenty years later Germany surrendered the ship to the Soviet Union as part of World War II reparations.