Russia's attitudes towards Finland have improved and a large majority of the Russian population thinks today of Finland in positive terms. This is the main conclusion of a survey commissioned by the Finnish Foreign Ministry and conducted by Levada Market Research examining the perceptions that Russian people have of Finland.
According to the results of the study, almost three out of four (71%) Russians have a positive or a very positive attitude towards Finland. And the proportion of those who have a negative attitude towards Finland declined from 10% in 2017 to 5% in 2019.
In spite of this, the survey also shows that in the mentality of the Russians -just like in the Finns- some elements of the past that prevent full trust between neighbors remain in force.
The Winter War
Half of Russians (50%) are very or somewhat familiar with the events of the Winter War, and 24% say they have heard something about it. A quarter of respondents (26%) say they know nothing about the war. 70% of residents of Saint Petersburg are very or somewhat familiar with the Winter War.
Russians regard the defence interests of the Soviet Union and the security of Leningrad (35%) as well as the threat posed by Finland and its hostile attitude towards the Soviet Union (29%) as the main reasons for the Soviet invasion during the Winter War. By contrast, 13% of respondents say the Winter War was caused by Stalin's policy of conquest.
A large percentage of Russians (40%) consider the Winter War unjustified, while 34% consider it justified.
A view of Vyborg (Viipuri) in 1941, during the Continuation War. Photo: SA-kuva/Finnish Wartime Photograph Archive.
NATO, a source of distrust
Today, almost half of Russians (45%) describe Finland as an impartial (neutral) state. However, the proximity to NATO is the main source of distrust. Some 12% of respondents consider NATO to be a close cooperation partner for Finland, and one in ten describe Finland as a militarily non-aligned state. However, 7% of respondents believe that Finland is a member of NATO.
Respondents described the relations between Finland and Russia as normal and peaceful, good and neighbourly, and amicable (69%). The relations were described as cool or tense by 14% of respondents.
Russians mention Finland's accession to NATO (29%) and tightening of the EU's sanctions policy against Russia (23%) as potential actions that could significantly undermine the relations between both countries. One in three Russians (32%) are unable to specify any actions that could significantly undermine the bilateral relations.
The first things that come to Russians’ mind when they think about Finland are nature (18%), sauna (14%), tourism (14%) and high standard of living (14%). And the Finnish persons who most often come to Russians’ mind are Ville Haapasalo, the Kaurismäki brothers, Mika Häkkinen, Kimi Räikkönen, Tove Jansson and Mannerheim.
Negative features: reservedness and nationalism
Russians also have positive perceptions of Finnish society. The most common answers to the question ‘In your opinion, what are the characteristics of Finnish society’ are high standard of living (29%), freedom (21%), welfare state (18%), and democracy (18%).
By contrast, the most frequently mentioned negative features are reservedness (10%), nationalism (8%) and lack of principles, cynicism (4%).
Attitudes towards Finland are most positive among young people (18–24-year-old: 78%) and residents of large cities. As many as 86% of people living in Moscow and 95% of people living in Saint Petersburg have a positive or a very positive attitude towards Finland.
n Finland, Russians are most interested in nature (40%), tourism and shopping (21%), and culture and arts (17%). Over the past two years, the interest in Finnish nature and Finnish people’s relationship with nature has increased by 11 percentage points. More than half of the respondents living in Saint Petersburg (54%) expressed their interest in Finnish nature.
15% of Russians say they would be interested in moving to Finland if they were offered such an opportunity. On the other hand, 83% are not interested in moving to Finland.
Saint Petersburg, Russia. Photo: Georg Adler.
Problems of Russian families in Finland
8% of respondents say they have read or heard a lot about the problems experienced by families with a Russian background in Finland, and 25% say they have heard or read something about them but do not remember any details. 62% of Russians have not heard or read anything about the cases – the proportion of respondents who said so has increased by seven percentage points since the previous survey (2017: 55%).
Half of respondents (49%) say that they trust the Russian media, according to which the Finnish authorities discriminate against the Russian-speaking party in the cases. Almost one in three (29%) say that it is difficult to obtain objective information about the cases, while 16% say that they do not trust the way the Russian media report on them (in 2017: 22%).
Best known Finnish brands
The best-known Finnish company or brand in Russia is Nokia, which was mentioned by 63 per cent of respondents. Other Finnish companies or brands well known to Russians include Viola cheese spread (26%), Tikkurila (25%), Valio (23%), Nokian Tyres (12%), Stockmann (11%) and Fazer (8%).
Residents of Saint Petersburg are most familiar with Nokia (73%), Valio (69%) and Prisma (55%). Finnish-looking Russian products or brands were not brought up in the responses.
Typical features of Finnish products mentioned by respondents were high quality (61%), reliability and longevity (27%), modern design (20%), and good price-quality ratio (20%).
Tourism and Internet
Russians receive information about Finland and Finnish people most often from television programmes (41%), internet (32%), school education and textbooks (23%), and social media (11%). Over the past two years, the importance of the internet and the social media as a source of information has increased by 19 percentage points (in 2017 it was 24% and in 2019 it was 43%).
Tourism is the most common way (39%) for residents of St Petersburg to obtain information about Finland. The proportion of Russians who say they know nothing about Finland has decreased by six percentage points over the past two years (it was 13% in 2017 and 6% in 2019).
The survey was commissioned by the Finnish Embassy in Moscow and the Finnish Consulate General in Saint Petersburg and conducted last summer by Levada Market Research, who interviewed a total of 1,600 people from different parts of the Russian Federation.