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Finlandization for Ukraine: Realistic or Utopian?

Ukraine's Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk (L) is welcomed by NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels (REUTERS/Laurent Dubrule).

Henry Kissinger argues in a Washington Post op-ed today that Finlandization would be a good solution for Ukraine. The country would be free to choose its own domestic political system, and be free to associate itself with Western Europe economically and politically. It would refrain from NATO membership.

Kissinger’s approach is far more sensible than many of the others that people propose, from the hard-liners who want to threaten Russia with military force to the various “magic bullet” solutions that assume the West can gain leverage over Russia through economic sanctions or reducing gas supplies.

Have no doubt: Finlandization would be a great solution for Ukraine. Who wouldn’t want to be a Finland? It’s one of the three or four most prosperous, modern, and globally integrated countries in the world today. It’s Western in every respect. It’s an EU member. It is not in NATO. But it’s proudly independent.

Unfortunately, Ukraine is not and cannot be a Finland. It’s far too weak, poor, unstable, and corrupt. Finland’s per capita GDP is over $47,000. Ukraine’s is less than $4,000. Finland is the third least corrupt country in the world; Ukraine is 144th (out of 177). (Ukraine’s score on the Corruption Perception Index was more than three standard deviations below Finland’s.)

Finlandization is a utopian goal for Ukraine. It might be a good goal to strive for, but only if the West and the Ukrainians approach it realistically. Finlandization is not something the Russians would just give to Ukraine. The Ukrainians — not the West — would have to earn it. That would be a lengthy, painful process. Russia can and undoubtedly will punish Ukraine for a long time to come. We can’t protect Ukraine from most of what Putin can do. We don’t have the money, the will, or the patience. It’s a big mistake if we pretend we can. We'll lose face, and the Ukrainian people will suffer for nothing.

Finland had to be united and strong in its approach. It had to be determined enough to resist not only Soviet pressure but also efforts by some Western policymakers who, far from the front lines of the Cold War, disparaged the Finnish stance and coined the term “Finlandization” as a synonym for weak-kneed capitulationism.

Finally, we should remember that part of the price of Finland’s own Finlandization was to cede a big chunk of its western Karelia province to the Soviet Union.

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