European Security Order Has Passed the Era of “Permanent Neutrality”

Guest article by Henri Vanhanen. March 2, 2017.

Henri VanhanenkAn institutional approach on a new European security architecture oversimplifies a complex problem and brings about untenable compromises that only Russia stands to gain from. Dealing with current challenges in the security environment requires both a long term strategic vision and a thorough understanding of the core causes of disagreements and conflict, writes Henri Vanhanen. Henri is an author for the Finnish Foreign Policy publication The Ulkopolitist and has written expert articles on Finnish Foreign and Security policy, international relations and analyses of the security environment. Currently Henri is finishing his master’s degree in contemporary history. He is also a student in the Versatile Expertise in Russian and Eastern European Studies (ExpREES) programme coordinated by the Aleksanteri Institute and has studied American history in the University of California Berkeley. Henri has worked for the US State Department and US Department of Defense as an intern. Henri’s writings represent his personal views.

On February 26th, Brookings Institution senior fellow Michael O’Hanlon wrote an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal titled ’An Alternative to NATO Expansion That Won’t Antagonize Russia’ where he discussed the possibilities of the Trump administration to improve current Russian-American relations. O’Hanlon introduced an idea of a new European security architecture based on a ‘permanent neutrality’ status of certain North and East European states, namely Finland and Sweden; Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus; Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan; Cyprus and Serbia, and possibly some Balkan states.

Finland, Sweden and NATO. Source: Georgia-Caucasus Strategic Studies Institute.

Finland, Sweden and NATO. Source: Georgia-Caucasus Strategic Studies Institute.

In O’Hanlon’s setting the core concept would be permanent neutrality in terms of formal memberships in treaty-based mutual defense organizations. In return Russia and NATO would commit to uphold the security of Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova and other states in the region. At the same time these states could maintain the right to choose their form of government, political leadership, diplomatic relations and economic associations.

While O’Hanlon believes that it is time for Western nations to start seeking for options to solve the on-going European security dilemma, his proposal is not a sustainable one. O’Hanlon’s solution is a reflection of revised great power politics which supports the idea of great powers with legitimate spheres of influence. However, in a closer analysis, it can be concluded that O’Hanlon’s solution is and would be toxic for the current European security order.

First, the idea that some European states would commit to not joining a mutual defense organization would mean rejecting the very OSCE principles of sovereignty that the Ukraine crisis is fundamentally about. Even if states had the right to choose other forms of cooperation we would still be talking about a limited sovereignty, all in the name of great power politics. O’Hanlon’s solution would basically dismantle this modern European security order.

Secondly, after the illegal annexation of Crimea, utilization of power politics in Eastern Ukraine and waging of aggressive cyber and information warfare, I find it very difficult for the states in O’Hanlon’s list to consider Russia a reliable partner. Trading sovereignty for a ‘permanent neutrality’ guaranteed by Russia just doesn’t sound very convincing considering Russia’s violations of the principles of OSCE (i.e. the Helsinki Final Act and the Budapest Memorandum).

Thirdly, should the West agree on such a security architecture, the solution would not be based on the convergence of values but rather on a modern balance of power. Russian foreign policy is driven by its historical great power identity and the idea of its exceptionalism in the world order. In resource terms, the end of the Cold War also ended Russia’s traditional greatpowerness (великодержавность) which it has then been seeking to return during the rise of Mr. Putin. In the Munich Security conference last February Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov introduced the term “post-West world order” which speaks for itself. The view that a ‘permanent neutrality’ of certain states would end the tensions is simply wrong. It should be remembered that Russian power politics triggered the current European security crisis in the first place. In this respect NATO actions cannot be equated with those of Russia and thus a ‘NATO only’ ‘permanent neutrality’ alters the reasons behind the crisis. In reality, NATO actions in the post-Cold War era have not given Russia tenable reasons to consider the alliance threat. The problem was never about NATO enlargement, but rather Russia’s determination to expand its sphere of influence through power politics and Mr. Putin not feeling satisfied when this goal was met by resistance in the West. It is rather naive to think that the problems in the Russia-West relations could be solved by mere institutional arrangements since the nature of the problems are not institutional, but rather lie in the dynamics of relations.

Fourthly, the idea that Crimea should simply be “put aside”, as O’Hanlon frames it, is advantageous to Russia. This is something that many in the West are getting wrong; is the responsibility for détente and playing by the rules merely a responsibility of the West? This would indicate that the West is ready to compromise détente by all means necessary. In reality, “putting Crimea aside” is basically giving Russia what it wants in return for a peace of mind in the West for the time being. To Putin, such a compromise would indicate weakness. The Russo-Georgian War of 2008 taught Putin that when not challenged, power politics pay off. Instead of bringing an end to problems, “putting Crimea aside” would freeze the tensions just so they could surface later. Considering this, it is hard to see what the West or Mr. Trump would have to gain from a grand European security deal struck on Russian terms.

Fifthly, O’Hanlon’s perception of the role of Finland and Sweden is skewed. Finland and Sweden joined the European Union (EU) in 1995 and have ever since steadily integrated themselves into all significant European cooperation and security organizations except NATO. The support and implementation of EU sanctions on Russia by Finland and Sweden the conformity of the countries’ defense capabilities with NATO and the United States can hardly be considered suitable grounds for a ‘permanent neutrality’. O’Hanlon’s interpretation of the positions of Finland and Sweden generally downplays the role of the EU as a security provider.

O’Hanlon’s institutional approach on European security signals a lack of long-term strategic vision in dealing with complex problems. In a world of increasing interdependency and in the modern European security order a ‘permanent neutrality’ solution is something of the past. It is best left there, lest we bring back the old balance of power. In order to resolve current challenges, we need to change our perspective regarding their nature. In the case of Europe it means understanding the core causes of disagreements.

//Henri Vanhanen
Contributing Editor, The Ulkopolitist

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. Please follow Henri on Twitter. The articles he has written for The Ulkopolitist (in Finnish) are here.

Suggested reads

An Absurd Signal: Pokémon Confirms Russia’s War Footing

Yesterday, on June 18, The Finnish Broadcasting Corporation Yle reported that the hit game Pokémon GO had received harsh criticism in Russia, with statements against the game given by members of the Russian parliament, the State Duma. The game is portrayed as threatening Russian spiritual values and internal security. The Russian internet media Meduza also reports the same:

Several Russian officials, in fact, have stated plainly that the mobile game about capturing, battling, and training virtual creatures, called Pokémon, bear traces of Western intelligence agencies and the Devil himself. Meduza presents five quotes by Russian officials about this nefarious global diversion.

’The Devil has arrived through this mechanism’ The Russian authorities weigh in on Pokémon Go. Five quotes.” Source: Meduza.

Putin To Ban Pokemon GO From Russia Due To Links To CIA. Source: Illustration: Baxter Dmitry.

A Western way to view this would be to sneer and laugh out loud. Especially Finns, being the home of Supercell’s games and Rovio’s Angry Birds, will probably just shake their heads. The Russian crazy fuss about Pokémon GO is hard to fathom. I’d be more than happy to join this crowd and laugh about it.

The hysteria is however symptomatic to a society suffering from securitization blown out of proportion. The Russian government is working hard to update their policies, strategies and doctrines, especially when it comes to threat assessments and definition. When the executive, i.e. the president and the government of the Russian Federation, mentions a danger or threat , the legislative, i.e. the Duma, almost immediately starts to churn out statutes to neutralize the dangers and threats by the writ of law.

This latest reaction from the Duma is a clear sign of the very direct connection between the government and the Duma. While it is highly doubtful that Pokémon GO would (or even could) be banned, the tones and choices of words commenting the game and the dangers it entails, speak volumes about a state where the leadersip and representatives view the world and society through a lens of security concepts and threat perceptions laid out in policy, strategies and doctrines.

The Russian Military Doctrine, updated in December 2014, describes the security environment as follows:

There is a tendency towards shifting the military risks and military threats to the information space and the internal sphere of the Russian Federation. At the same time, despite the fact that unleashing of a large-scale war against the Russian Federation becomes less probable, in a number of areas the military risks encountered by the Russian Federation are increasing.

Russian Military Doctrine 2014, 11. Source: The Embassy of Russia in UK. ”The Embassy of Russia in UK

From this, an internal military risk is identified:

The main internal military risks are […] subversive information activities against the population, especially young citizens of the State, aimed at undermining historical, spiritual and patriotic traditions related to the defense of the Motherland;

Russian Military Doctrine 2014, 13 c. Source: As above.

It should be noted that this risk has already been reduced by putting in place legislation that protects patriotic and spiritual traditions and history, and also charges authorities with the mission of patriotic fostering of young citizens. The wording of the risk above is very similar to the commentaries regarding Pokémon GO.

In interviews, the first deputy chairman of the Federal Council’s Committee on Defense, Franz Klintsevich, State Duma deputy Vadim Dengin, and State Duma deputy Evgeny Fedorov, inter alios, raise their concerns on Pokémon GO regarding:

  • mental deprivation,
  • destabilization of the security situation in Russia,
  • foreign intelligence gathering,
  • orchestration of [color] revolutions and
  • disrespect to the places and sentiments related to the defence of the Motherland or religious worship, and
  • the impact on the functioning of the state (effects on bureacracy).

The best short list of notable comments on the game can be found with Meduza.

Sadly, this post doesn’t represent anti-Russian war rhetoric, but is rather an observation of an authoritarian Russian policy that violates human rights and curbs democracy at every opportunity presented. The observation relies on Russian military doctrine, Russian policy and strategy documents and statements, and the laws passed by the legislative branch.

The Russian siloviki leadership has put the state and people on  war footing. The signals are quite clear and overt, but often so absurd that we refuse to believe what we see and hear. Think about it: Pokémon GO as a confirmation that the Russian regime lives in a world of omnipresent menacing military threats and is ready to protect Russia from these threats even when they are completely irrational?!

Pokémon GO?! Russia NO!


The views expressed here are the author’s opinions, which do not necessarily reflect the views of the Finnish Defence Forces or any other government authority.

Without Allies or When Russia Alone Liberated Europe

Modern Russian symbolgy of the Great Patriotic War (Великая Отечественная война).

Modern Russian symbolgy of the Great Patriotic War (Великая Отечественная война).


On May 9th Russia celebrated the 71st anniversary of victory over the Nazis in the Great Patriotic War. The Victory Day parade equipment lacked the white hubcaps and red stars of days past. Prominent were green battle dress uniforms and the trademark St. George orange-black stripes adorned with stars. Since 2014, the parade has featured units in combat gear, marching on foot wearing helmets with (silly-looking) goggles atop and riding matte green GAZ Tigr armored jeeps.

The Victory Day parade is becoming a spectacle for linking the new narrative of the Great Patriotic War with contemporary Russian national identity and integrating it to a new Russian patriotism. The parades also serve the Supreme Commander, the President of the Russian Federation, allowing him to cement new policy by declaring pravda. This falls well within the tasks and jurisdiction of the president as his annual Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly is regarded as guidance related to the internal and foreign policy of the State. Some of the provisions of the Russian Military Doctrine, National Security Strategy and the Foreign Policy Concept are specified in the Presidential Addresses. Therefore it is important to regard these speeches as more than just attempts to bolster spirit, national unity and panem et circenses. The speeches should be put in a context of policy and listened to very carefully. What is said is equally important as what is being left out, especially compared to earlier Victory Day speeches, since this gives insight to changes is Russian thinking and policy.

Since 2011, the Victory Day speeches have focused on the battle against fascism and Nazism by the Soviet people, the Red Army and the great sacrifices of the Soviet people to liberate Europe in World War II. There is a stark contrast between the speeches of 2010 and 2014; the latter lacks any mention of Allies. In 2010 military units from the CIS countries and the Allies Great Britain, the United States, France and Poland marched alongside Russian troops with the German chancellor Angela Merkel sitting beside Putin.

Below are word clouds of the Victory Day speeches along with key excerpts from the speeches illustrating a clear shift towards a more isolated Russian position.

2009 – Cooperative Russia Seeking a Common New World Order

Russian President Vladimir Putin (C), Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev (R) and acting Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov (L) watch the Victory Parade on Moscow's Red Square. Photo: REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (C), Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev (R) and acting Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov (L) watch the Victory Parade on Moscow’s Red Square. Photo: REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin.

In exactly one year we will celebrate the 65th anniversary of the Great Victory. The Commonwealth of Independent States and other nations will celebrate this Day of Liberation with us. The victory over Nazism is a great example and a great lesson for all peoples.

Word cloud of the 2009 VD speech.

Word cloud of the 2009 VD speech.

Now more than ever it is obvious that a safer world is only possible if the rules of international law are strictly adhered to. That is why our country has suggested a new European Security Treaty. This security must be based on strict arms control and sensible levels of military preparedness, the broadest possible cooperation between states and an absolute commitment to the peaceful settlement of conflicts. We will resolutely do everything in our power to live up to these principles.

2010 – Russia With Allies

Soldiers of the 170th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, along with British and French troops, marched in Sunday's Victory Day parade, commemorating the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945. Credit: Misha Japaridze/Associated Press.

Soldiers of the 170th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, along with British and French troops, marched in Sunday’s Victory Day parade, commemorating the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945. Credit: Misha Japaridze/Associated Press.

The victory in 1945 was not only a military but also a great moral victory. A common victory. All of the Soviet Union’s peoples fought for it, and our allies helped to bring it closer. And today troops from Russia, the CIS countries and our allies in the anti-Hitler coalition will march together triumphantly. March in a single formation as a proof of our common desire to defend peace and never to allow any revision of the outcomes of war, never to let any new tragedies happen.

Word cloud of the 2010 VD speech.

Word cloud of the 2010 VD speech.

The lessons of World War II call us to solidarity. The world is still fragile, and we should remember that wars do not start in a flash. The evil gains its strength if we shrink back or try to ignore it.

2011 – The New Arms of the Double-headed Eagle

Military parade celebrating the 66th anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War. Photo: RIA Novosti

Military parade celebrating the 66th anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War. Photo: RIA Novosti

New generations are working now to reinforce the bonds of friendship, cooperation and fraternity with the peoples with whom we celebrate this Victory together. I sincerely congratulate veterans from all countries, for Victory Day was and is our common celebration.

Word cloud of the 2011 VD speech.

Word cloud of the 2011 VD speech.

Russia’s armed forces give our country and its people reliable protection. Our officers and soldiers are always at the ready, today too, even as their comrades march across Red Square. Many of those here today have been decorated for courage and bravery.
The country’s authorities will continue to do everything to ensure that our servicemen are well provided for and that the armed forces keep modernising, receiving the latest modern arms and equipment, some of which we will see at the parade today.

2012 – Mutual Suspicion and Ideological Disputes Prevented the West from Recognizing the Threat of Nazism, the Narrative of the Efforts of the Soviet People in Defeating the Axis Powers Begins

At the military parade on Red Square to celebrate the 67th anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War. Photo:

At the military parade on Red Square to celebrate the 67th anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War. Photo:

We must be open in recognising that the Nazis’ aggressive plans did not meet with timely collective resistance and that the divisions between countries and their mutual suspicion and ideological disputes prevented them from being able to stop World War II.

Humanity paid a terrible cost for this, but in the end, the inevitable happened and responsibility and the collective determination to vanquish this evil finally triumphed. Countries rose in common coalition against the Nazi enemy. Today, we pay tribute to the countries that made an enormous contribution to defeating our common ruthless enemy.

Word cloud of the 2012 VD speech.

Word cloud of the 2012 VD speech.

Russia is consistent in its policy of strengthening security in the world. We have a great moral right in taking this principled and firm stand, because it was our country that bore the brunt of the Nazi attack, met it with heroic resistance, traversed immense hardships, determined the war’s outcome, routed the enemy and liberated the world’s peoples. This victory provides a strong foundation for our young generations too, who must know and remember that they are the successors of victors, of true soldiers of freedom.

Veterans, you stood shoulder to shoulder throughout this war, united as brothers, enduring hardships, deprivation and torment such as seem more than man can bear. But you did not give in to the enemy and became those who truly made victory with your own hands. You took strength in Russia’s glorious military traditions and in the true values that shone so brightly during those times of great trial, and you prove once more that victory is won not only through strength of arms, but through strength of will, unity and faith.

2013 – The Red Army and the Soviet People Become the Sole Liberators of Europe and Vanquishers of Fascism, a Multinaltional Inclusive Russian Nationalism Is Coined

Military parade celebrating the 68th anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War. Photo:

Military parade celebrating the 68th anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War. Photo:

The might behind this righteous unity is love for Russia, our home, our relatives and our family. These values bring us together today. Our entire nation fought valiantly to defend them.

We will always remember that it was Russia and the Soviet Union that disrupted the inhuman, bloody, arrogant plans of the Nazis and did not allow them to take over the world.

Our soldiers fought for freedom and independence, and in defending their homeland without sparing themselves, they liberated Europe and triumphed in a victory that will remain in history forever.

Word cloud of the 2013 VD speech.

Word cloud of the 2013 VD speech.

The victory in May 1945 is the sound of a great bell that celebrates life without war, a sacred symbol of loyalty to our Motherland which lives in each of us, a symbol of unity of the multinational people of Russia and their boundless devotion to their roots and history.

2014 – World War II Is the Great Patriotic War, Fought by the Red Army and the Soviet People Alone, Safeguarding the Glorius History of Russia Becomes a Mission

Parade of Victory in the Great Patriotic War. Photo: RIA Novosti

Parade of Victory in the Great Patriotic War. Photo: RIA Novosti

The victory was carved out on the frontline and in the rear, in the partisan units and underground. It was brought nearer by the courage of defenders of the beseiged Leningrad and bravery of defenders of Sevastopol, the valor of thousands of soldiers who stood firm defending their positions.

The outcome of the entire World War II was determined in the brutal battles of Moscow and Stalingrad, Kursk and Dnieper.

The Soviet people’s unbending will, fearlessness and firmness saved Europe from slavery.

Word cloud of the 2014 VD speech.

Word cloud of the 2014 VD speech.

We will take care of Russia and its glorious history and we will always put service to the Motherland at the very top — that is how it has always been in our country. And I am sure that is how it will be in the future! Glory to the people – victors!

2015 – The Enlightened Europe Failed in the 1930s, Post-Crimean Detente Is Sought and New Partners Are Honored as Contributing to the Great Patriotic War

President of Egypt Abdel Fattah el-Sisi (left) at the military parade to mark the 70th anniversary of Victory in the 1941–1945 Great Patriotic War. Photo:

President of Egypt Abdel Fattah el-Sisi (left) at the military parade to mark the 70th anniversary of Victory in the 1941–1945 Great Patriotic War. Photo:

Hitler’s reckless adventure became a tough lesson for the entire world community. At that time, in the 1930s, the enlightened Europe failed to see the deadly threat in the Nazi ideology.

The Soviet Union bore the brunt of the enemy’s attacks. The elite Nazi forces were brought to bear on it. All their military power was concentrated against it. And all major decisive battles of World War II, in terms of military power and equipment involved, had been waged there.

And it is no surprise that it was the Red Army that, by taking Berlin in a crushing attack, hit the final blow to Hitler’s Germany finishing the war.

Word cloud of the 2015 VD speech.

Word cloud of the 2015 VD speech.

We are grateful to the peoples of Great Britain, France and the United States of America for their contribution to the Victory. We are thankful to the anti-fascists of various countries who selflessly fought the enemy as guerrillas and members of the underground resistance, including in Germany itself.

We remember the historical meeting on the Elbe, and the trust and unity that became our common legacy and an example of unification of peoples – for the sake of peace and stability.

It is precisely these values that became the foundation of the post-war world order. The United Nations came into existence. And the system of the modern international law has emerged.

These institutions have proved in practice their effectiveness in resolving disputes and conflicts.

Besides the Russian servicemen, parade units of ten other states will march through the Red Square as well. These include soldiers from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Their forefathers fought shoulder to shoulder both at the front and in the rear.

These also include servicemen from China, which, just like the Soviet Union, lost many millions of people in this war. China was also the main front in the fight against militarism in Asia.

Indian soldiers fought courageously against the Nazis as well.

Serbian troops also offered strong and relentless resistance to the fascists.

Throughout the war our country received strong support from Mongolia.

2016 – The Great Patriotic War Rules the Speech, Forgotten Are the Allies, Russia is the Sole Liberator of the World’s Peoples, the Home Front and the Efforts in a Total War Are Retold

Military parade on Red Square. Photo:

Military parade on Red Square. Photo:

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the beginning of the Great Patriotic War: on June 22, 1945, the Nazis treacherously attacked the Soviet Union. The life of a huge country changed in an instant. And at this tragic turning point, there was but one choice, a superior choice to be made – saving the Fatherland became the top priority for the entire people.

A heroic and sacrificial road to Victory ensued. A host of the most challenging tasks had to be solved without hesitation. One of them was evacuating millions of citizens and industries to the east. All of this was to be done in the most difficult conditions of the enemy’s assault, in the heat of the war.

The veterans are proud of their grandsons and granddaughters – they have not let them down and will always be looking up to the Great Victory, to the deed of a heroic generation of victors!

Now it is hard to comprehend what extraordinary efforts it took to relocate and restore more than fifteen hundred plants. In several months, they started continuously supplying tanks, aircraft, ammunition and military equipment to the front. This greatest, unprecedented labour victory allowed our army to push the enemy back and smash an aggressor that harnessed the economic potential of almost all of Europe.

Word cloud of the 2016 VD speech.

Word cloud of the 2016 VD speech.

The deeds of home-front workers demonstrated the vital force of our people, its unity, victorious spirit and love for the Fatherland. Our fathers and grandfathers defeated a powerful and merciless enemy that many countries gave in to. It was the Soviet people that brought freedom to other peoples. It was our soldiers who paid back the Nazis and their allies in full for the millions of victims, for all the barbarities and atrocities on our land.


While the Victory Day parade or reception speeches do not enjoy a formal status such as the Presidential Addresses, they often very closely echo those statements and sometimes precede official policy changes as signals. Therefore it is very important that Russian presidential and other official speeches, statements and addresses in different forums are closely followed and analysed. While considered by some the obscure science of Kremlinology, it is good to bear in mind that Russian policy recognises Presidential Addresses as policy instruments. More efforts should be directed in strategic studies institutes and think tanks to follow up and analyse Russian official statements and their effects on different aspects of the Russian security apparatus.


The views expressed here are the author’s opinions, which do not necessarily reflect the views of the Finnish Defence Forces or any other government authority.