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“Talk about friendship between Finland and the Soviet Union was liturgy”

Former Russian Ambassador to Finland Juri Derbjabin. Photo from Helsingin Sanomat/Oksana Juško

Helsingin Sanomat with sensational interview with Yuri Deryabin, former Soviet diplomat and first Russian ambassador to Finland.

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Mr Deryabin, now 80 years old and frail, has bluntly stated that all talk about friendship between Finland and the Soviet Union was liturgy. This is per se nothing new because most Finns regarded the political newspeak of the Finnish-Soviet relations as liturgy since the end of the Continuation War. But this interview in Helsingin Sanomat is apparently the first time such an outspoken comment has been made by a former Soviet diplomat.

Deryabin served three times in Finland starting from 1968. He is undoubtedly one of the best experts on Finnish affairs that the Soviet/Russian Foreign Ministry has had at its disposal over the years. He was widely known in Finland to be the pseudonym “Komissarov” who wrote articles and books reflecting the Kremlin’s views aimed at shaping perceptions of the Finnish public with a certain bias.

The Finnish neutrality was something Deryabin resisted. “It was one of the tricky issues in the Finnish-Soviet relations. We did not want to recognize the Finnish neutrality, incl. myself. “ Discussions on drafting communiqués of bilateral visits tended to be tough as the Soviet counterparts wanted to water down and rephrase text e.g. “…Finland pursues a policy of neutrality” into “…Finland seeks to pursue…”

Deryabin says that in practice the Soviet Union recognized the Finnish neutrality at the Conference for Security and Co-operation in Europe that was held in 1975 in Helsinki. He attributes this fact to President Kekkonen. But even later “Komissarov” kept on explaining why Finland was not neutral.

Deryabin appreciates Kekkonen very much saying i.e. that Kekkonen used to play skillfully with Leonid Brezhnev’s vanity. On the issue of Kekkonen’s first re-election in 1962 Deryabin states that the so-called “Note crisis” of 31st October 1961 (a Soviet diplomatic note demanding military consultations as provided by the Treaty of Friendship, Co-operation and Mutual Assistance of 1948 due to the heightened international tension in Northern Europe caused by NATO and West Germany) was not ordered by Kekkonen for showing his uniqueness in coming to terms with the Soviet leaders. The real problem was Mr Olavi Honka, former Chancellor of Justice, running for the presidency with the support of the Social Democrats in disfavour with Moscow and of the right-wing Coalition Party.

Deryabin who took part in drafting the note reveals that the main goal of the note was to interfere in Finland’s internal affairs and to break up the Honka league. According to Deryabin Kekkonen was aware of the note being prepared and when it was due to be delivered. Kekkonen traveled to Novosibirsk to meet the then Soviet leader Khrushchev and dissipated his concerns and doubts in a one-to-one meeting - with no other Finns present.

According to Deryabin the note was probably devised by Mr Vladimir Vladimirov, Minister-Counsellor and KGB General and his colleagues at the Soviet embassy in Helsinki. Vladimirov reported on Finnish relations to the Soviet leadership and the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and had direct access to the top leadership bypassing the Soviet Foreign Ministry. It is obvious that Deryabin still bears a grudge on Vladimirov not least because of the reports of the latter in support of Mr Ahti Karjalainen, a politician of the Centre Party, as a candidate for Kekkonen’s successor in 1981. Deryabin says that he wrote with his ambassador a report stating that Karjalainen was over the hill and that Mauno Koivisto, the then Finnish Prime Minister, was the best candidate for the next president. Traces of Soviet influence on Finnish presidential elections have not been discernible since.