HS: Money from across the border

HS: Money from across the border

A long (2,500-word) feature in the Sunday supplement of the Helsingin Sanomat aims to shed some light on what property is owned by Russians in Finland. The main points are:

  • Russian investment makes up only a small proportion (€860m or 1.3%) of overall foreign investment into Finland
  • Russian-owned companies employ a relatively small number of people (the hundred biggest employed 3,500 people in 2008)
  • Finland is an attractive location for the location of high-tech industries (nanotechnology, for example)
  • Russian oligarchs have been making large capital investments in Finnish companies and buying some industrial facilities (for example, nickel)
  • A separate, shorter article is entitled “Lake Saimaa is the Russians’ local Riviera”. We read that “On Lake Saimaa one can try to spot money-rich Russians. Owners of property in Finland include directors of Gazprom and Rosneft.”

What I, personally, found most frustrating was the article’s unclear stance. On the one hand, it appears to be purely informative, simply telling readers what is owned by Russians in Finland. On the other, a thread of suspicion seems to run through it, in my opinion. It refers to the newspaper’s own interview with Aleksei Navalny last year in which he warned the Finns not to take stolen money from Russian state companies. Throughout the article, very little reference is made to any positive effects of Russian ownership or investment in Finland. And even when an attempt is made to tackle the negatives head on, for instance in a subsection called “What threats are associated with Russian businesses?”, the language is broad and watered down: “All international companies find it easy to minimise their tax returns. When the books show zero profit or loss, there is no tax liability. … Many firms have large capital loans, which could speak of, among other things, of money laundering. … Russian state companies would surely be interested in collecting such Finnish gems as the electric network company Fingrid, Porvoo oil refinery or Gasum gas company, which they now own a quarter of.” As in so much of this piece, over-generalising and excessive use of the conditional detract from the total impact.

This feature does a good job of giving an overall picture of foreign direct investment from Russia into Finland at the highest level – large capital investors, purchases of industrial facilities, key shareholders, and so on. What it fails to do, in my opinion unfortunately so, is to challenge the average Finnish reader’s default suspicion of Russia and the Russians. To be sure, oligarchs and big Russian biznesmeny are not all angels and questions should be asked about how a lot of them became rich. But when Finland’s most-read newspaper prints such a piece in such a tone and without challenging its readership in any way, it makes me wonder whether the journalists are merely satisfied to massage their readership’s long-held fears and prejudices for the sake of a good story.

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