08:59 GMT +322 November 2019
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    The river Ounaskoski in the Finnish Arctic town of Rovaniemi

    Pacifists Rebel Against NATO Exercises in Arctic Finland

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    The Finnish pacifist organization Rauhanpuolustajat ("Peace Defenders") is organizing a demonstration in the Lapland city of Rovaniemi in northernmost Finland to protest the major Arctic Challenge 2017 air drills, featuring all Nordic countries and NATO member states.

    The Finnish peace activists drew attention to the fact that the major air force maneuvers both increase military tensions in the Arctic region and violate the deer breeding period. To protest the exercise, the Rauhanpuolustajat intend to rally on the day of the exercise at Lordi Square in Rovaniemi, as well as the Arctic city's airport, as well as hold a seminar titled "Arctic Peace Challenge" at the University of Lapland, the Finnish daily Hufvudstadsbladet reported.

    According to Rauhanpuolustajat, the maneuvers can only intensify the Arctic arms race, prompting Russia to bolster its presence in its northernmost Murmansk Region.

    "Our neighbor will probably react to this new policy by strengthening its military capabilities near the border. We are hereby promoting the acceleration of the arms race in our vicinity instead of offering ways of avoiding it," Rauhanpuolustajat chairman Teemu Matinpuro told Finnish national broadcaster Yle.

    ​Teemu Matinpuro also suggested that NATO not only did not add to Finland's security, but rather escalated the outer threats.

    "In my opinion, Finnish non-alignment is the best guarantee of not being involved in conflicts between major powers. The military threat to Finland alone is improbable," Teemu Matinpuro said in a statement.

    "It has already become a common practice to conduct NATO-led military exercises both on the ground and in the air in Finland, despite the fact that Finland is not even a member of the alliance. In addition, an overwhelming majority of Finns do not want to join NATO," another statement on Rauhanpuolustajat's website read.

    According to the latest poll, 51 percent of Finns were against NATO membership, whereas 21 percent supported the idea of joining the alliance, the rest being undecided.

    In his interview with Yle, Rauhanpuolustajat chairman Teemu Matinpuro claimed it to be unreasonable to suggest that criticism of NATO would be in Russia's favor and illogical to shift the debate to the "Russian" accusations. Matinpuro denied any Russian bias by specifically stressing that his organization had explicitly condemned Crimea's re-unification with Russia as illegal.

    At the height of the Cold War, the Rauhanpuolustajat were accused of acting at the behest of the Soviet Union. The organization was known for its staunch criticism of the US and NATO member countries. Today, the Rauhanpuolustajat oppose Finland's accession to NATO and is facing perennial criticism for being "pro-Russian."

    Rovaniemi is among the cities expected to host the Arctic Challenge 2017 exercise, which will be held from May 22 to June 2. In addition to the Nordic host nations Finland, Norway and Sweden, the Netherlands, Belgium, Great Britain, Canada, France, Germany and Switzerland are expected to participate. All in all, over a hundred aircraft will be involved.

    Rovaniemi is situated near the Arctic Circle and has a population of over 60,000. During WW2, 90 percent of the city was destroyed. Today, Rovaniemi is a popular tourist destination, as well as the official home of Santa Claus.

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