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Finnish Defense Bosses' Threats of 'Russian Influence' Dismissed as 'Trolling'

© AP Photo / Lehtikuva/Heikki SaukkomaaFinnish President Sauli Niinisto speaks to media in Helsinki, Finland on Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014
Finnish President Sauli Niinisto speaks to media in Helsinki, Finland on Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014 - Sputnik International
Finland appears to have joined the perennial debate about "Russian involvement" in elections that is raging on in the US and spreading to Europe. While defense experts are prepared for any scheme including assassinations, many Finns, including President Sauli Niinistö believe such a scenario is highly unlikely, to say the least.

The Finnish Defense Ministry's Security Committee has terrified their compatriots with its analysis of Russia's possible meddling in the upcoming presidential election. According to the committee, methods likely to be used include the dissemination of fake news on social media, taking advantage of Finnish influential persons, the discrediting of politicians, sowing mistrust in the election results and even terrorist attacks and assassinations, the Helsingin Sanomat daily reported.

This statement drew poignant criticism from journalists and politicians alike. Timo Haapela from the Ilta-Sanomat daily reminded everyone of the fact that incumbent President Sauli Niinistö's victory is almost a done deal, as he polled an overwhelming 76 percent earlier this month.

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As the committee's report identified one of the main threats on Russia's part as "pushing for a Kremlin-supported candidate," Niinistö's popularity may thus be interpreted as Moscow's design, Haapela remarked caustically.

"If Russia seeks to sow discord and create divisions, than the Security Committee is doing this admirably," Timo Haapala wrote.

President Niinistö himself, who ironically came under severe criticism from neighbor Sweden last year for maintaining "too close" political ties with his Russian counterpart, lashed out against the report, dismissing it as "trolling." Niinistö said he was particularly shocked by the alleged possibilities of contract killings against Finnish politicians.

"Opinions expressed by a group of anti-trolling experts are a good example of trolling," Niinistö said as quoted by Finnish national broadcaster Yle. "Then there was this statement about hired murderers. You don't just throw such accusations around," he added.

The Kaleva daily joined the chorus of criticism in an editorial.

"What's especially annoying in these talks about indoctrination is that Finns are often portrayed as an easy-to-dupe nation. It seems that the experts also think along these lines," Kaleva's editorial said.

July 1, 2016. President Vladimir Putin (right) and President of the Republic of Finland Sauli Niinisto before a joint news conference following their meeting in Naantali. - Sputnik International
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Neither did Markku Kangaspuro, a professor of Russian studies and research director at the Alexander Institute at the University of Helsinki, take the implications of Russia's meddling seriously. According to him, Finnish society is stable and is marked by consensus on most important policy guidelines, which has left virtually no space for havoc-wreaking foreign interference. He also noted that Finland's media flow is dominated by a few large media houses, which makes it particularly challenging to spread "alternative" interpretations.

"I believe a major information campaign on social media for or against any particular candidate contradicts, above all, Russia's own interests. It's hard to imagine that Russia would behave so unprofessionally in Finland," he told Yle.

Lastly, Kangaspuro contended that few people living in Russia speak Finnish flawlessly enough to produce credible propaganda.

According to Max Arhippainen, though, communications director at the Defense Ministry and member of the Council for Information Impact, one of Russia's main goals was to kindle criticism of the European Union with the aim of weakening it.

​Presidential elections are scheduled to be held in Finland on January 28, 2018, with a second round on February 11 if necessary. The 69-year-old Niinistö, an independent candidate, who previously represented the National Coalition Party, maintains an overwhelming lead over Pekka Haavisto of the Green Party.

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