Northern Lights: Finland’s new (old) president, welcome to the hybrid world, and #FinnFamous

The result that everyone expected came on Sunday night and Finnish President Sauli Niinisto decisively won re-election with 62.7 percent of the vote. It was a largely uneventful re-election that was supposed to be centered around foreign policy, but instead largely consisted of candidates hitting domestic issues in preparation for parliamentary elections in 2019 because they knew that Niinisto was going to win.

You can read my piece from election night here for POLITICO Europe (https://www.politico.eu/article/niinisto-declares-victory-in-finnish-presidential-vote/). After his victory was declared, I asked Niinisto if he planned to use his huge mandate to take some bold action and shape Finnish foreign policy in his next term. His answer was that “Finnish people have been accepting of what I have done so far and I have no intention to make changes just to make changes.” So that is a resounding “no.” Given his re-election (and answers like that) it’s safe to say that Finnish NATO membership — the country’s perennial security question — is highly unlikely. Pending a big change like Sweden moving to join, it’s hard to imagine movement on NATO in Finland until the next generation of leaders come to power.

Welcome to newsletter number 2. Good morning/Good afternoon/Good evening depending on where you are in the world right now. Welcome to all the new people that have subscribed since I sent out the first newsletter last week. Normally I won’t be sending these out so frequently (the goal is once a week/ twice a month) but figured I’d send out a special one for the election.

Eager to hear from you all, so please don’t be shy with suggestions or feedback. Email me or get in touch via Twitter (@ReidStan). As always, please share this with anyone you think might be interested. And if someone has added you to this without your knowledge, welcome and enjoy the ride!

My latest reporting

In case you’ve missed anything I’ve done recently, here’s what I’ve been up to over the last month or so.

1) I went out on the campaign trail and interviewed Laura Huhtasaari, Finland’s leading right-wing populist. You can read my profile here: (https://www.politico.eu/article/laura-huhtasaari-president-election-finland-marine-le-pen/)

2) I looked at a new center that opened up in Helsinki designed to fight back against “hybrid warfare” and how it is struggling to meet the expectations that have been set out for it.  (http://foreignpolicy.com/2018/01/18/inside-a-european-center-to-combat-russias-hybrid-warfare/)

3) With America’s midterm elections approaching, I looked at how many of the same vulnerabilities that allowed Russia to meddle in the 2016 election are still there and little is being done to fix them: (https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2017/12/russia-disinformation-election-trump-putin-hack-cyber-europe/549260/)

What I’m reading

1) Some fun reading to start the week off right. This piece from the Wall Street Journal looks back at a forgotten chapter of history from a century ago when a contingent of U.S. troops found themselves fighting Bolsheviks during the communist revolution. (https://www.wsj.com/articles/when-u-s-troops-battled-bolsheviks-1516980334

2) From being a platform for foreign powers to meddle in other countries’ elections to bending news publishers over the barrel, Facebook has gotten a lot of (deserved) flak lately. But this piece does a good job of laying it on the table in an easy to read way. Check it out: (https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2018/01/facebook-doesnt-care/551684/)

3) This one is more of a dense read, but still worth your time. It’s written by Dmitri Trenin and it tries to pinpoint just what kind of changes the world order is going through right now. Trenin is worth reading because he often reflects the thinking of foreign policy power-circles in Moscow but is usually balanced and insightful. According to Trenin, we’re not gearing up for a Cold War 2.0, but rather a Hybrid War, which is maybe more dangerous. (http://carnegie.ru/2018/01/25/avoiding-u.s.-russia-military-escalation-during-hybrid-war-pub-75277)

Stray observations

– I got a lot of positive feedback from people for the story I did on Laura Huhtasaari, but especially from people who liked that every expert quoted in the story was a woman. As a journalist I reach out to the people that are most qualified, but you’d be surprised at how often female experts say no to interviews because they don’t feel they are authoritative enough to comment. Male experts have no problem giving you their take, even if they are less-qualified than their female counterparts.

– Finland gets lots of praise for its education system (and rightly so), but watching this election cycle made one thing clear that the Finnish system is lacking: public speaking skills. In debates and interviews many candidates looked like they’ve never spoken in public before and stammered with awkward body language in what seemed like unrehearsed speeches. I think this is partly generational, but it really struck me how watching candidates running to be a country’s head of state seemed awfully similar to bad first year university power-point presentations.

– I was a big hit with Finnish media who were eager to ask for my take as a foreigner covering the election. I did a segment with YLE radio, the state broadcaster, and also an interview. It’s in Finnish, but you can see it here. #FinnFamous (https://www.is.fi/presidentinvaalit2018/art-2000005543369.html)

– Here’s what you’re missing in Helsinki.

That’s all for now. Have a good week!

Best,
Reid

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