Hannu Himanen served as the Ambassador of Finland to Russia in 2012–2016. He remembers how his meetings with opposition leaders were interrupted and filmed.
Hannu Himanen, Finland’s former ambassador to Russia, sees worrying features in Russia’s recent actions towards Finland. Himannan, who is now retired, served in Moscow as Finland’s ambassador to Russia in 2012–2016.
On Wednesday, it was reported that Russia had already frozen the bank accounts of Finnish embassies in April. Representative offices currently work with cash.
Himanan says the closure of the embassies’ accounts is a cause for concern, firstly, because Russia violates the Vienna Convention of 1961, which sets out the management of diplomatic relations. According to the Vienna Convention, the host country must facilitate the operation of diplomatic missions in various ways.
Second, freezing the accounts raises questions about what Russia is aiming for and what it stands to gain from its actions. According to Himanan, the question is what Russia can gain from a war against Ukraine.
– It continues the same line along which Russia went to war defensively.
Read more: Foreign Office investigating Russia’s claims about Finland’s activities
Himanan does not describe the freezing of accounts as retaliation, but according to him, it is a sign that Russia is still defiant of the West and ready to challenge.
However, he sees a connection between the freezing of the accounts and Finland’s NATO membership.
– Of course, Finland was quite a suitable destination, among other things because we have just joined NATO. Although it’s not necessarily easy to make a direct connection, I think it’s not far-fetched to think that it has something to do with Finland’s NATO membership.
– It can be either the main motive of the action or at least a partial motive. In other words, a reminder that Russia has various ways of making Finland’s operations difficult and causing a range of annoyances.
Russia expert Hannah Smith also assessed for IS that Russia’s actions are linked to Finland’s NATO membership. Smith regards the situation as completely extraordinary.
– Unheard. This never happened.
Himain says there should be a reaction to freezing accounts. He believes that the issue will be discussed among EU countries.
– If individual countries respond, it will be after internal discussion and coordination.
Finland is not the only country whose diplomats are harassed by Russia. On Thursday, it was reported that at least the bank card of the Danish Embassy in Moscow has been frozen since last summer.
Unheard. This never happened.
Read more: Russia expert on freezing of Finnish accounts: “Unheard of, it’s never happened”
Russia has claimed that the closure of the accounts was in response to difficulties the Russian embassy was facing in its banking operations. Finland has denied that the banking operations of the Russian embassy were disrupted.
– This argument is not valid at all, and the Russians know it.
Russian money traffic in Western countries has been under surveillance since the spring of 2022. Western countries have imposed a number of sanctions on Russian actors, but they do not apply to diplomatic activities.
– In other words, it is not a reciprocal action.
It continues the line along which Russia has fought defensively.
Himanan says that by making it difficult for diplomats, Russia touches a taboo subject.
– It is considered important and useful that in all circumstances the operational conditions of diplomatic missions are taken care of.
Read more: Russia freezes bank accounts of Finnish embassies – Haavisto: a note on the matter
Himanan reminds that the norm of diplomatic immunity is older than the Vienna Convention from 1961.
– Since the Renaissance, the integrity of diplomatic missions, couriers and missions has generally been respected. It has become a strong international norm. Now that Russia is breaking the rule, the question is whether it is prepared to break it more forcefully.
With the Vienna Convention, the host country undertakes, among other things, to protect embassies and diplomats and to protect message traffic. Himain does not consider the situation dangerous for the employees of the embassies.
– I won’t go that far. There can be bullying towards the employees.
The environment in which they work is certainly very boring.
IS said on Wednesday that Finland’s diplomatic mission and diplomats had been subjected to various forms of harassment in the past. Ex-ambassador Himanan recalls that he too was filmed in Russia in different situations.
– For example, during some trips, when I met with human rights activists and opposition leaders. This has happened several times, the meetings were apparently interrupted and filmed.