Meggi is the name of the most famous cat in Finland. It was Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev’s gift to president Tarja Halonen a few years ago – a climax, of sorts, in Finno-Russian relations.
Meggi is doing well in Finland but the relationship with Russia has suffered since. Us Finns were ready to believe that Russia may after all be a stable and reliable neighbour but President Putin has just proved us wrong with Russia’s recent actions in Crimea.
Perhaps even more worrying is Putin’s former advisor’s interview published by Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet. He says that what Putin ultimately wants, is to regain all the countries that once belonged to the Russian empire. That list happens to include Finland.
But us Finns are not as concerned as you might imagine. During the decades since the Second World War, Finland has learned to deal with our eastern neighbour and its whims. We heard similar rhetoric in the 1990s when Russian politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky claimed that Russia should expand its borders to include Finland. We are also prepared for the worst – when doing my military service, it was clear from the beginning who the unnamed enemy was – even though “Russia” was never said.
It is hard to imagine what Finland would be like if it did not share an almost 1500km-long border with Russia. So much of our politics, our economy – the very definition of who we really are – has evolved around our massive neighbour.
From the Finnish point of view, the saddest thing in Russia’s recent behaviour is that there are no winners. A lot of trust has been lost and that takes a long time to rebuild. Dealing with Russia is sometimes like dealing with a noisy, unpredictable neighbour – unfortunately you can’t choose them and all the hassle is just frustrating.
Russia is pushing Finland further away. The latest polls show that support for Finland being allowed to join NATO has increased significantly among Finns.
Finnish NATO membership remains a complex question. But what is sure is that it will definitely be a lot longer before President Putin gets a Finnish spitz as a return gift for Meggi the cat.
Markus Hippi is a producer for Monocle 24.