As daylight lessens in the Northern Hemisphere and temperatures drop, staying warm, making coffee and connecting to the Internet are going to be high priorities for Finns. Finland is reputedly the world's largest consumer of coffee. And, in 2010, Finland made a commitment making broadband a legal right. In short, being Finnish in the 21st century requires a constant supply of energy.

Currently, Finns derive approximately 30 percent of their electricity from nuclear energy. There are currently four nuclear reactors operating in Finland today, and a decision by the Finnish parliament to build a new, Russian-financed reactor unhinged the coalition government. Finland's preliminary decision to work with Rusatom Overseas, the international arm of Russia's nuclear corporation, has those within the Finnish government as well as those looking in asking: Is Finland’s nuclear energy policy fickle?


Finland's environmental party, the Green League, announced its withdrawal from the government coalition, citing irreconcilable differences of opinion; the staunchly anti-nuclear Green League has redoubled its efforts to deter more nuclear reactors using Russia's military intervention into Ukraine as fodder. Earlier this month, NATO members met in Wales at an annual meeting that was clearly dominated by concerns over Russia's military annexation of Crimea and continued destabilization of Ukraine. While Finland's policy of military nonalignment precludes it from being a member of the NATO, it has engaged in practical cooperation with the intergovernmental military alliance in particular areas and publicly condemned Russia's actions in Ukraine.

As part of the European Union, Finland has agreed to make its climate and energy policies more "competitive, secure and sustainable." The EU countries have set ambitious targets to reduce carbon emissions by 40 percent by 2030 from 1990 levels, and by up to 95 precent by 2050, and the energy provided by zero-emissions nuclear plants are a critical part of the European energy mix. Yet, while the EU has in general allowed subsidies for renewable energy sources like wind and solar, there is no established subsidy program for nuclear power. And, as Europe vacillates between promoting mostly renewable sources of energy and making concerted efforts to not show preferential treatment to one energy source over another in an era of heightened energy security, we must pause and address three major considerations.

First, just as Ukraine shares a common border with many European countries, so too does Russia. Second, post-Soviet détente has been opportunistic and selective on both sides of the Atlantic. And third, Russia's vast energy reserves and its geographic location make it a logical partner for energy cooperation. European plans for diversification of sources and suppliers makes good sense and are necessary to ensure the continent's energy security. Translating new plans into action must move away from the past disconnect between hitting climate targets and implementing resilient energy security frameworks. Linking the two issues together is both mutually beneficial and reinforcing for achieving sustainable results. So while Europeans move away from a sole supplier model, it would behoove them to also rethink the kind of future commercial and political relationship they should establish. Some argue that should Europeans opt to swap Russian gas for Russian nuclear, the benefits yielded by an energy security plan would be nullified. However, rethinking should not equal rejecting or renouncing engagement with Russian energy producers and operators, but more on par with revising or reassessing how this engagement will look in the future. Achieving reform in the Russian energy industry and developing mutually beneficial relationships on commercial terms ought to be a goal; completely rejecting Russia as a viable energy partner would be shortsighted. While Russian financing of large-scale and long-term projects, such as nuclear, will likely be impacted in the short term by sovereign debt downgrades, if recent history is anything to go by, this will not last long — and Europe will be trading with Russia again.

Finland's commercial engagement with Rusatom Overseas is a valuable opportunity to highlight the longer-term geo-commercial relationship that Europe, the U.S. and Russia need to have — one that is based on cooperation, not conflict. Currently, Russia is just as dependent on revenues from Europe as Europe is dependent on its gas exports. To create a sustainably growing economy, Russia will need good relationships with both the East and the West. While this is not the strategy that President Vladimir Putin currently employs, the transatlantic partners need to think past Putin's reign and toward creating a strategic and stable relationship with Russia. If the Finnish deal is to be seen as a positive test case for future Russian relations, there must be a balance between condemnation free from retribution and competition and transparency criteria.

So, is Finland's nuclear energy policy fickle? The short answer is "no." Finland is taking the long view on a long-term project that should outlive this latest conflict.

Carstei is an energy and economic policy consultant and former acting director of the Energy and Environment Program at the Atlantic Council. Hersh is a Washington-based risk analyst and a fellow at the Truman National Security Project. Views expressed are their own.