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Former Russian minister: Yeltsin considered selling ceded Karelia territory to Finland in 1991

Andrey Fedorov told the daily Helsinki Sanomat that Finnish decision-makers were never told of the plan.

Presidentti Mauno Koivisto tapaamassa Venäjän presidentti Boris Jeltsiniä Moskovassa 5. maaliskuuta 1993.
The Russian and Finnish presidents in Moscow on 5 November 1993. Image: Kimmo Mantylä / Lehtikuva

Leadership of the Russian Federation seriously considered selling the Republic of Karelia back to Finland in 1991, according to an interview with former Russian deputy foreign minister Andrey Fedorov in the Finnish daily Helsingin Sanomat. The territory in question, located beyond the eastern border of Finland, was ceded to the Soviet Union during WWII.

In opposition to his earlier statements on the matter, however, Fedorov now told the paper that the Finnish government was never informed that such an option was even on the table.

In July of 1991, it had been 18 months since the fall of the Berlin Wall. The Soviet Union had crumbled and newly appointed President Boris Yeltsin struggled to hold the Russian Federation together.

His fledgling government compiled a list of territories with nationalist factions that could potentially rise up and demand autonomy or create border disputes. The Republic of Karelia was included due to what was perceived as rising insurgency in the area, Fedorov told the paper.

Later that same year, the state coffers of the former USSR were running low. At this juncture, Yeltsin and his team went to so far as to calculate a 15-billion-dollar asking price for the ceded territory, Fedorov said, with the aim to possibly offer it to Finland.

Adjusted for inflation, the modern-day equivalent of the price that was settled on by the Russian authorities is 22.5 billion euros.

Contradictory statements

This is not the first time Fedorov has gone public with his claims. The former deputy minister of foreign affairs first spoke of old Russian designs to sell Karelia in August 2007.

At that time, he claimed that then-Finnish President Mauno Koivisto and Foreign Minister Paavo Väyrynen were aware of unofficial discussions on the matter, but now he told the paper that the deal was never revealed to anyone outside of Russia.

"The discussions in the Russian government were held behind closed doors," he told the paper in 2019.

Väyrynen has also said he has no recollection of ever discussing the matter with Russian officials.

Fedorov said the Russian Federation decided later, in 1994, that the so-called "Karelian question" was officially closed.

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