Northern Lights: Elections in Finland, understanding Russia’s “hybrid warfare,” and an arctic oil race

It’s the home stretch of what has been a largely uneventful presidential election here in Finland. Polls currently show incumbent President Sauli Niinistö running away with the election at 63 percent ahead of Sunday’s vote. Given the wide margin, most other candidates are using the election as a dress rehearsal for future contests, none more so than Laura Huhtasaari, the candidate from the right-wing, anti-immigration Finns Party. Her blonde hair and populist politics have earned her the moniker of “Finland’s Marine Le Pen,” but in reality, she’s a bigger mix of other anti-establishment politicians, including, you guessed it, Donald Trump.

I went to some rallies with Laura and interviewed her for an article that just published for POLITICO Europe. You can read the piece here. (https://www.politico.eu/article/laura-huhtasaari-president-election-finland-marine-le-pen/)

Welcome to my first-ever newsletter. (Subscribe here!) I’m still working out all the kinks and refining some details, so please don’t be shy with your feedback or tips for things to include. The goal is to turn this into a mix of my own reporting and analysis, but also to make it a vehicle for people to stay up to date on what’s happening in this part of the world. Send an email or tweet me @ReidStan with suggestions. Also, please add or share this with anyone you think might be interested. And if you’re not interested, then please unsubscribe, delete this email, and douse your keyboard in bleach to eliminate any record of it.

My latest reporting

Last week, I wrote a piece for Foreign Policy about a new joint EU-NATO center that opened up in Helsinki to fight “hybrid war.” Amid rising concern across Europe and the United States about Russian cyberattacks and disinformation campaigns, the center was founded to find new ways to defend against a new generation of war, but it’s struggling to meet the expectations that have been placed upon it. You can read more here (http://foreignpolicy.com/2018/01/18/inside-a-european-center-to-combat-russias-hybrid-warfare/)

What I’m reading

1) Norway’s energy minister said that Oslo must prepare for an oil race with Russia in the arctic. The arctic is the fastest warming area of the world and climate change is opening new areas for drilling. So far, the arctic has been a place for cooperation and the peaceful settlement of disputes, but a standoff over who owns the drilling rights to a major oil field could really put that to the test. Read more here: (https://www.reuters.com/article/norway-oil-russia/norway-must-prepare-for-arctic-oil-race-with-russia-minister-idUSL8N1PC2FG

2) The NATO Stratcom center in Riga, Latvia put out a new report yesterday looking at Russian information operations in the Baltic countries, plus Finland and Sweden. It’s by no means a complete look at everything, but it’s a useful snapshot and update on what’s taking place in the region. Read more here: (https://www.stratcomcoe.org/russias-footprint-nordic-baltic-information-environment-0)

3) Despite being on the other side of the world, it’s hard to take my eyes off what’s going on in Washington. It seems like there’s a new bombshell every week, but I woke up this morning to a New York Times story that Trump had called for firing Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller in the summer before being reined back at the last minute. Read more here: (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/25/us/politics/trump-mueller-special-counsel-russia.html?smid=tw-nytimes&smtyp=cur )

Stray observations

– Finland’s presidential elections have been super boring. In some ways, it’s very refreshing to watch an election that is policy-focused and where candidates don’t threaten to put their opponents in jail, but it’s also very uncompetitive. In part, that’s because people seem to simply like the current president, but he’s also received some deferential treatment from the press and has managed to squirm out of taking a solid position on some issues and voters don’t seem to care. Not exactly the ideal of a bustling democracy in action, but I think I’ve also become too acclimatized to the slugfest that is American politics.


– I saw this guy when I was at a rally for Laura Huhtasaari. I think this guy would fit in at a rally pretty much anywhere in the Western world. Everything, even grassroots populism, is going global.

That’s all for now! I’m planning to turn this into a more regular thing. Looking forward to your feedback!

Best,
Reid

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