Finland was militarily but also politically now prepared to join Nato. Today over 90% of the people support the membership. The formal joining of Nato took place on 4th of April 2023. Therefore, the Vilnus Nato summit is a historic milestone for Finland. The Finnish leaders have confirmed that membership will strengthen security and Finland’s international status. The Baltic Sea will be inside the transatlantic military alliance after Sweden has successfully finished its membership process.

Why, then, the Nordic non-aligned countries waited their Nato applications until Russia had launched its brutal invasion in Ukraine? Regarding Finland, a long shadow of Finlandization played a role because no real lustration was made after the Cold War. The Finnish leaders also hoped that the EU would gradually become a military alliance and would diminish the role of Nato accordingly. The third explanation was the assumption that Russia should and could be integrated to the European structures. As a result, a threat perception regarding Russia remained unrealistic or distorted by purpose.

On May 3rd, 2023, during his surprise visit to Helsinki, Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky expressed his admiration to the Finns who had destroyed Joseph Stalin’s occupation strategy on the battlefields. History seldom provides clear analogies, and the wars are different but there is one example which has common features with Putin’s war in Ukraine and it is the winter war, or rather Stalin’s war in Finland 30.11.1939-13.3.1940.” The winter war was a crime of Stalin against the people of Finland”, as President Boris Yeltsin stated in 1994.

In Sweden there was a slogan:” Finland’s sak är vår” (Finland’s destiny is ours). Almost 8000 Swedish voluntary fighters made the promise concrete. Further the war created international sympathy. The New York Times held the war on the front page almost a week. Despite these important facts of support, another fact was that Finland was left practically alone to fight against the attacking red army. In Ukraine the West is helping until the enemy is defeated to the extent that it would be ready to end the war. In Finland the government had to stop the war although the red army had not occupied but small pieces of its territory.

Stalin’s goal was to occupy the whole of Finland in two weeks and replace a democratically elected A.K. Cajander government with the (Soviet) communist Kuusinen government Stalin had “appointed” in the name of the working class of Finland a few days before the attack. As a part of that plan, the head of the secret police, V. Berija established a first Gulag for 25 000 Finnish POWs already on December 2, 1939. O.W. Kuusinen, a puppet prime minister, was a Finnish emigrant communist who escaped his home country after a failed coup d’etat by the radicalized social democrats in May-June 1918.

Sun Tzu, the great Chinese theorist of war, said that you must build your opponent “a golden bridge” so that “he can find a way to retreat”. During the last days of the winter war the Finnish prime minister Risto Ryti flew to Moscow. He managed to build a golden bridge to Stalin by signing a devastating peace treaty to end the war on March 13, 1940. The winter war ended without a decisive victory of the Soviet Union but without a decisive defeat of Finland either. Both sides lost heavily in terms of soldiers and infrastructures. However, Finland as a small country had to cede 11% of its territory but accepting these losses was able to build the golden bridges both to Stalin and for itself.

In Ukraine, the question is whether any peace treaty is possible to honor Ukraine before we are witnessing the breakout of a full-scale war between Russia and Nato or something reminding of the third world war? “Could world war make a comeback”, as a British historian Niall Ferguson has questioned. Is there any realistic possibility to end the war in Ukraine to avoid Ferguson’s fears to come true in the course of 2023?

The West is convinced but divided in details that the only viable peace plan for Ukraine is put forward by Zelensky. French President Emmanuel Macron has been the most explicit in pushing Ukraine to seek direct negotiations with the Kremlin. However, there is no consensus in the EU regarding the terms and timing of the peace talks. President Zelensky has insisted that he could accept peace negotiations if Joe Biden and Xi Jinping would attend the negotiation table.

Professor Stephen Kotkin, a prominent scholar of the Soviet history, has reasoned that Putin’s strategy could be described as “I can’t, have it? Nobody can have it!”. The Russian president is a fan of Ice-hockey and has made it clear that he will play the “game” in Ukraine to the end of the rink. In case he is not toppled by the Russians themselves, he is able to continue the war of attrition years to come.

The West - except the former Warsaw Pact and Baltic states -was reluctant to recognize Putin’s aggressive goals despite several warning signals since 2000. The Russian state-owned companies were able to buy several key figures of the Western political and economic elite even after the annexation of Crimea which limited the West’s ability to organize an efficient strategy of containment. Former German chancellor Gerhard Schröder (social democrat) and several other former Western political leaders promoted the Russian geopolitical goals as business consultants and network builders for the Russian state-owned companies.

So far all peace negotiations have been limited to humanitarian issues, grain exports, and the security of the Zaporizhian nuclear site. You can win on the battlefield and lose the peace. In case no strategy plans on broad basis are prepared by the West, major mistakes may happen. Is China a serious mediator or a cynical player who is benefitting from the war ‘s economic gifts?
It is imperative that Ukraine’s Western allies plan not only to strengthen the defense of Ukraine with heavy arms but to plan a post-war European security arrangement including integration of the war-ridden country to the EU and Nato.

President Joe Biden and the European allies have decided that there will be no direct engagement between Nato forces and Russian forces. Nato has been worried about the escalation of the war and has limited its role basically to coordination of the military aid, not participating in the fighting on the battlefield. Some of the members of Nato, are building a coalition of the willing countries to provide fighters on the ground, tanks, and efficient drones and missiles which make,” The matter of Ukraine is ours” is exceedingly more ours.

Time has come to find a roadmap to peace in Ukraine despite of the results of the end game of the war like it was the case during the world war II in Tehran, Yalta and Potsdam between the big Three. First, the West needs to form unity with Ukraine to agree on strong and intensive military -technical support for a military counter-offensive to push Russia either out of Ukraine or at least to the extent that it would make peace possible for both sides. Second, the West needs to agree on the acceptable peace terms with Ukraine and to present them with words” take-or-leave-it” to Russia with or without Putin, and to agree i.e., on the post-war security arrangements, economic compensations, and the role of the International Criminal Court.

Two decisions complicate any direct peace talks. First, a law was adopted by the Russian State Duma in 2020 which precludes any consideration of territorial concessions by establishing criminal responsibility for calls or actual attempts to yield parts of Russian territory. Second, President Zelensky signed a decree dismissing the possibility of talks with Putin in October 2022. As it stands today, peace talks between Ukraine and Russia seem outside of the realm of the possible for both sides. The only prospect to end the war is a major defeat for one of the sides. Whether both sides then choose to pursue serious peace talks will depend on several other developments and not only on the battlefields.

And what will happen after the war? From the day one it has been a military conflict between Russia and the West too. The mediation for a peace deal should incorporate “the big four” – the United States, China, Turkey, and the EU together with Ukraine- to agree on the basic terms and a reasonable timetable to end the war. An alternative could be UN-led peace process which could further complicate the process however. You can win the war but loose the peace. As two eminent scholars, Charles W. Kegley and Greg Raymond in their book ¨How Nations Make Peace” concluded: “The victors make peace poorly." In the same spirit, former secretary of state, Colin Powell reflected on the Iraq war, and drew the conclusion:” The end game -- it was bad.” These failures should not be repeated in Ukraine.

In the longer-term an authoritarian China will benefit geopolitically from the decline of Russia. Therefore, the world system will seek a new equilibrium based on several power centers during the coming decades. The evolving European security structure will be part of the world peace order. After the war in Ukraine the West has not too much time to create a strategy of containment which would set up modus vivendi between the West and the East for decades to come. The Nordic countries are finally deeply integrated with the Baltic Sea states as all of them are finally members of Nato. This is a historic turning point for the countries in the region.

- The author, dr. Alpo Rusi, is former Finnish diplomat and was i. e. foreign policy adviser of the Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari. His book After the Cold War-Europe’s New Political Architecture (1991) envisioned geopolitical changes after the collapse of the Soviet Union. He is currently visiting professor at Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas.