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Putin wants to be seen as ‘unifier of Russia’, says Finland’s former PM, Alexander Stubb

At ThePrint's Off the Cuff, Stubb also spoke to Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta about India's 'centrality' in world affairs amidst the ongoing war in Ukraine and Finland joining NATO.

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New Delhi: “The WTO, IMF, World Bank, NATO & EU were created in a world that doesn’t exist anymore,” former Prime Minister of Finland, Alexander Stubb, said Saturday, adding that the focus for a post-cold-war order must be on dealing with multi-polarity and ensuring equitable redistribution of power among nations.

In a free-wheeling conversation with ThePrint’s Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta during a virtual ‘Off The Cuff’ session, Stubb also spoke about Putin’s ambitions, India’s central position in world affairs amidst the war in Ukraine, and the possibility of Finland joining NATO.

“We are in the middle of a war. It is very difficult to draw any parallels. You could say this war is similar to the winter war that Finland fought with the Soviet Union from 1939-40,” said Stubb, while explaining the pitfalls of analysts over-rationalising the past while assessing the present.


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‘Rational, analytical, shrewd’

Analysing Putin’s motives behind the war and what could be a possible end goal, Stubb critiqued the inaccurate psychoanalysis by western observers and commentators who have called him “irrational”.

“He is a very rational, analytical, shrewd, and cold actor. Always very well prepared. Just because he doesn’t seem rational to the west, it does not mean he is irrational,” said the former prime minister.

Explaining the three overarching goals behind Putin’s onslaught in Ukraine, Stubb added, “He wants to create a Russia that is based on three things — one language, one religion, and one leader. He will do anything in his power to achieve that. He wants to be seen as the unifier of Russia”.

‘Winning hearts and minds of India’

Commenting on the flurry of visits from high-ranking foreign dignitaries to India during the Russia-Ukraine war, including Japan’s Prime Minister, the foreign secretary of the UK, and foreign ministers of both China and Russia, Stubb said, “this is very much about winning the hearts and minds of India. To prepare for the future”.

In essence, Stubb observed that the world, in unison, is telling India that it is “important”. China, Europe, the UK and the rest of the world are reiterating this centrality to India during a crisis of significant global repercussions, he said.

‘Going to join NATO’

Assessing Ukraine’s resistance, Stubb said, “Militarily, who would have thought that they would be able to hold back Russia”.

Praising Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s leadership, Stubb said that “In terms of communication and information, hands down, the world champion is Zelenskyy”.

“Who is the pariah of the world at the moment—Vladimir Putin. Who is the hero of the world—Zelenskyy,” pointed out Stubb.

He added, however, that information asymmetries, the authenticity of the source providing information, communication blackouts, and skewed social media narratives have also added to these binaries being created.

Answering a question posed by a Print subscriber on whether Ukraine’s demand for security guarantees was a template Finland could follow, instead of joining NATO, Stubb said, “We are going to go into NATO — don’t worry”.

Stubb noted that Finns are agile and quick to respond to pivotal shifts in history and this war is no different.

“In 1809, Finland became an autonomous part of Russia and moved out from Sweden and maximised autonomy. After the Bolshevik revolution in 1917, Finland immediately declared independence. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Finland joined the European Union. With Putin being the aggressor, Finland will join NATO. The application is a matter of weeks away,” said a confident Stubb.


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