Regular Foreign Ministry survey: more than half of Russians positive towards Finland

More than half of Russians still have a positive attitude towards Finland, according to a country image survey carried out by the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs. However, the proportion of Russians who are positive towards Finland has dropped compared to previous years. Finland and Finnishness are associated with nature, quality and a high standard of living. The best-known Finns in Russia are Ville Haapasalo, Mika Häkkinen and Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim.

The Ministry for Foreign Affairs has carried out country image surveys in Russia since 2017. They are conducted at least every two years, and the previous survey took place in 2021. This year’s survey is the fourth of its kind. The survey asked Russians about their impressions of Finland, their views on the relations between Finland and Russia and about how well Finland is known in Russia. An independent research institute, the Levada Center, carried out the survey.

In 2022, 51% of adult Russians had a positive attitude towards Finland, 27% were unable to give their opinion, and 22% had a negative attitude towards our country. In 2021, 68% of Russians had a positive attitude towards Finland and only 5% a negative attitude.

However, the results vary across regions. In Moscow, 76% of respondents had a positive attitude towards Finland in 2022, compared to 79% in 2021. The proximity to the Finnish border has traditionally meant that people in Northwest Russia (including Saint Petersburg, Vyborg, Petrozavodsk and Murmansk) have a more positive attitude towards the neighbouring country than the Russian people in general. In 2022, 71% of respondents in Northwest Russia felt positive about Finland, compared to 89% in 2021. Correspondingly, 15% of respondents in the region had a negative attitude towards Finland in 2022, compared to 2% in 2021. In addition, there was a slight increase in the share of respondents in Northwest Russia who were unable to give their opinion (14% in 2022 compared to 10% in 2021).

Cooling off detected in relations between Finland and Russia

Nationwide, 46% of Russians considered the relations between Finland and Russia as chilly or strained, compared to as little as 16% in 2021. The relations were described as hostile by 4.6% of respondents, compared to 0% in 2021. The relations were described as friendly or peaceful by 35% of respondents, compared to 65% in 2021. 

In Northwest Russia, 37% of respondents described the relations as friendly and peaceful, while 58% considered the relations as chilly or strained, compared to 11% in 2021. The relations were described as hostile by 5% of respondents in Northwest Russia. 

Nationwide, a majority of the respondents, 54%, thought that Finland’s possible NATO membership is the biggest threat to relations between Finland and Russia. However, only 63% of the respondents knew of Finland’s intention to join NATO. In 2021, 32% of respondents in Northwest Russia thought that sanctions were the greatest threat to relations between Finland and Russia. This year, they thought Finland’s NATO membership was the biggest threat (49%). 

The Foreign Ministry’s country image surveys in Russia have traditionally asked about Russians’ perceptions of the Winter War. In 2022, 51% of respondents said they know the history of the war fairly well or in broad outlines, which is in line with the results of previous years. However, the share of respondents who believe the war was caused by Finland’s threat to the Soviet Union has grown by seven percentage points on 2021 and is now 34%. In the opinion of 39% of respondents the war was caused by the Soviet Union’s need to push the border further away from Leningrad, while 9% thought the cause was Stalin’s policy of conquest.

A noticeable change was the increase in the share of respondents who think the Winter War was justified. Nationwide, 50% of the respondents who said they know the history of the war thought the war justified, compared to 35% in 2021. However, 70% of respondents still believe that the Winter War has no effect on their perception of Finland, compared to 81% in 2021.

The respondents in Northwest Russia were also asked about their views on long-term relations between Finland and Russia. Fifteen per cent of respondents believed in friendly relations, 19% in good and neighbourly relations, 32% in moderate relations, 19% in average relations, 11% in strained relations and 3% in hostile relations.

Finland is associated with nature and high standard of living but is unknown to some

There have been smaller changes in the respondents’ general perceptions of Finland compared to previous years. Finland continues to be associated with nature, the Nordic countries, a high standard of living, freedom and democracy, among others. As in 2021, 22% of respondents across Russia said that they have no particular perception of Finland. This can be partly attributed to the survey’s geographical scope. Only 8% of respondents in Northwest Russia had no perception of Finland.

Russians considered nature (37%), culture and arts (19%), and tourism and shopping (19%) the most interesting things about Finland. However, only 7% of respondents in the whole of Russia felt that tourism is the first thing they associate with Finland, compared to 13% of respondents in Northwest Russia. In 2017, as many as 17% of respondents nationwide felt this way, but their share has decreased each year, partly due to limited travel opportunities during the pandemic.

In 2022, 14% of respondents considered the Finnish society as closed, which is 5% more than in 2021. Given the opportunity, 9% of Russian adults would be prepared to move to Finland, compared to 18% in the previous year.

The primary sources of information about Finland were television, school and the internet. In Northwest Russia close to the Finnish border, 31% of respondents had first-hand experience and 46% had second-hand experience of travelling or living in Finland. 

Russians still remember Ville Haapasalo and Nokia

The 2022 survey shows that the actor Ville Haapasalo is still the best-known Finn in Russia. About a fifth of respondents knew about him. Around 11% of respondents knew about Mika Häkkinen and Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim, respectively. The names are the same as in previous years. Outside the top three, a few per cent of respondents knew about Tove Jansson, Kimi Räikkönen, Jean Sibelius and Ville Valo, among others. This year, as in previous years, the names of current Finnish politicians or state leaders were not well known in Russia. Prime Minister Sanna Marin was named by 1.9% of respondents and President Sauli Niinistö by 1.3%. Nationwide, 60% of respondents could not name a single Finn. However, the corresponding share was only 33% in Northwest Russia and 36% in Moscow. 

In the 2022 survey, the respondents named the same Finnish brands and companies as in previous years. Nokia was named by 76% of respondents, the cream cheese brand Viola by 34%, Tikkurila by 32% and Valio by 26%. Other brands or companies named by the respondents included Nokian Tyres, Stockmann, Fazer, Honka and Reima. Knowledge of Finnish companies tends to be higher in Northwest Russia than elsewhere in Russia, according to the country image surveys.

The decisions of many Finnish companies to reduce their operations in Russia or withdraw altogether from the Russian market does not seem to have affected their recognition in Russia, at least not at the time of the survey. Finnish products were still considered of high quality by 55% of respondents, compared to 58% in 2021. 

Fewer than 18% of respondents nationwide reported having noticed that there are no longer Finnish products in Russian shops. However, the corresponding share was 32% in Moscow and 56% in Northwest Russia. In Northwest Russia, 56% of respondents believed that the withdrawal of Finnish brands from the Russian market is only temporary and that the brands will be back. 

Background

The nationwide survey was carried out from 21 to 27 July 2022. Altogether 1,617 adults were interviewed in 141 population centres in different parts of Russia. A corresponding survey was conducted in Northwest Russia in Finland’s neighbouring areas from 22 August to 7 September 2022. Altogether 1,823 adults were interviewed in Saint Petersburg (770), the Leningrad Oblast (247), the Republic of Karelia (403) and the Murmansk Oblast (403). As in previous years, the two surveys were carried out by the Levada Center, which is an independent Russian research institute. The margin of error is 3.4%.

Anyone assessing the survey results should bear in mind the period when data were collected and its possible effects on the results. The Levada Center estimates that Finland’s decision to apply for NATO membership and its coverage in the Russian media in late spring and early summer may be the greatest reason for the changes in Russian attitudes towards Finland. Another factor that may have influenced the attitudes is the public debate both in Finland and in Russia about the possibility of Finland restricting traffic across the border and limiting the number of visas granted to Russians, although at the time of the nationwide survey no such decisions had been made. In Northwest Russia, the interviews coincided with Finland’s decision on 1 September 2022 to restrict the number of slots available for people applying for a tourist visa.  

Inquiries:

  • Results for the whole of Russia:
  • Jussi Palmén, Cultural Attaché, Embassy of Finland in Moscow, tel. +7 929 900 4014
  • Results for Saint Petersburg and Northwest Russia:
  • Anna Kotaviita, Press and Cultural Attaché, Consulate General of Finland in Saint Petersburg, tel. +7 921 742 6733
  • Jere Rolig, communications assistant, Consulate General of Finland, Saint Petersburg, tel. +7 (921) 575 9369
  • The email addresses of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs are in the format [email protected]