1664753963 Putin faces bubbly dissent in Russia nervous neutrals Finnish FM

Putin faces ‘bubbly’ dissent in Russia, ‘nervous’ neutrals: Finnish FM

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in a game of survival as his forces suffer further defeats on Ukraine’s battlefields, the Finnish foreign minister said, while Kiev’s western partners seek to step up their support in response to Moscow’s annexation of occupied territories.

Speaking to Newsweek on the sidelines of the Helsinki Security Forum in the Finnish capital on Sunday, Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said the Russian dictator faced both dissent within Russia and insecurity among neutral nations hit by looming food and nuclear crises, as well as with the “deception” of the Kremlin ” referendums on occupied Ukrainian lands.

“Many countries that may not have been so concerned about the Russian attack on Ukraine are very concerned about this method, that you can start changing borders by voting,” Haavisto said, reflecting on recent talks with counterparts at the General’s United Nations Assembly in September.

He added: “If you look at the map you can see a lot of minorities, you can see a lot of borders that could be challenged with similar methods. Using this type of method internationally would create a huge mess. I think many countries cannot accept that borders are changing. Referendums are correct.

“The referenda are forcing countries to react, or at least not to recognize the new borders. I don’t think there will be many countries that can recognize the new borders through these kinds of bogus referenda.”

At a meeting of the 15-member UN Security Council over the weekend, Russia used its veto to block a draft resolution condemning its annexations of Ukraine’s four regions. China and India abstained rather than vote against the US-sponsored resolution, as did Gabon and Brazil. The remaining 10 nations all voted in favour.

The threat to nuclear power plants in Ukraine, repeated threats to use nuclear weapons and the war’s impact on global food supplies are unsettling other major nations that have so far failed to take sides against the invasion of Ukraine, Haavisto said.

On Saturday, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov suggested Russia use tactical nuclear weapons in response to Ukraine’s recapture of the key city of Lyman. “These kinds of statements make countries more and more nervous,” Haavisto said.

Putin’s “partial mobilization” is now in full swing. The Kremlin hopes that sending hundreds of thousands of fresh troops to the front lines can halt Ukraine’s advance next winter.

Haavisto said Ukraine’s resounding victories in Kharkiv Oblast are one of two “major setbacks” for Russia since February, the first being the defeat north of Kyiv. But the foreign minister warned that a quick deal was unlikely.

Finnish FM and Putin

Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto is seen at the Helsinki Security Forum in the Finnish capital October 2, 2022. Pictured, Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks with separatist leaders during the signing ceremony on the annexation of four Ukrainian regions at the Grand Kremlin Palace September February 30, 2022 in Moscow. STAFF/Finnish Institute for International Affairs/GETTY

“We always said in Finland that we should be prepared for a long war,” Haavisto said.

“Russia, as we now see with this mobilization of soldiers, has the ability to mobilize more people to the front lines. Of course they are not fully trained, they may not be fully equipped, but the ability to carry out this mobilization shows that only Russia can continue and prolong the war.”

The mobilization order caused around 200,000 Russians to flee the country. Thousands of people were arrested during protests in major Russian cities, including Moscow and St. Petersburg – and some were reportedly subsequently jailed.

The unrest was the most significant since the beginning of the war. Internal dissent, Haavisto said, could shape the endgame of the war.

“Russia can change,” he said. “I’m looking very closely at the different voices of the opposition… there are people who are brave and speaking out publicly,” added the foreign minister, citing the work of jailed activist Alexei Navalny and music star Alla Pugacheva’s recent public dissent.

Vladimir Putin speaks at the annexation ceremony in Moscow

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a ceremony marking the annexation of four Ukrainian regions at the Grand Kremlin Palace September 30, 2022 in Moscow, Russia. Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said the annexations had unsettled neutral nations. Contributor/Getty Images

“It shows that it’s bubbling underwater,” Haavisto said. “How fast and so on, it’s very difficult to say. It is very difficult to see the timeline of change. We have seen the mothers of the military movements and others in Afghanistan and Chechnya; it takes a long time … but it shows that the debate is also taking place within their society, not just outside it.”

Meanwhile, Putin and his inner circle are engaged in a “survival game,” Haavisto said. “Putin has all the cards on the table at the moment.”

“It is obvious that Russia is always changing, as we have seen over the past 100 years. There is always a break and something new emerges. The tragedy, of course, is that we don’t know if things are going better, or worse, or more of the same.”

“We are neighbors and we need to be prepared for any possible changes.

Newsweek has reached out to the Russian Foreign Ministry for comment.