Survey of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs: Majority of Russians have a positive attitude towards Finland

Survey of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs: Majority of Russians have a positive attitude towards Finland

In summer 2019, the Finnish Embassy in Moscow and the Finnish Consulate General in St Petersburg commissioned a survey examining what kind of perceptions Russian people have of Finland. The survey was conducted by Levada Market Research, and it was responded by a total of 1,600 people from different parts of Russia. This was the second time that the survey was carried out – the first one was conducted in summer 2017. This year, residents of St Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast responded to a separate survey. 

Porvoo archipelago in sunset.
Photo: Visit Finland

Russians’ attitudes towards Finland have improved

According to the survey, almost three out of four (71%) Russians have a positive or a very positive attitude towards Finland. Compared to the previous survey, the proportion of those who have a positive attitude towards Finland has increased by three percentage points (2017: 68%). In numbers, the increase is about 3.5 million adult citizens. The proportion of those who have a negative attitude towards Finland has declined from ten to five per cent, which in numbers means around six million people less than in 2017.

Attitudes towards Finland are most positive among young people (18–24-year-olds: 78%) and residents of large cities. As many as 86 per cent of people living in Moscow and 95 per cent of people living in St Petersburg have a positive or a very positive attitude towards Finland.

Relations are described as good, nature is the most interesting thing in Finland

Respondents described the relations between Finland and Russia as normal and peaceful, good and neighbourly, and amicable (69%). The relations were described as cool or tense by 14 per cent of respondents. Russians mention Finland's accession to NATO (29%) and tightening of the EU's sanctions policy against Russia (23%) as potential actions that could significantly undermine the relations between Finland and Russia. One in three Russians (32%) are unable to specify any actions that could significantly undermine the relations between the countries.

The first things that come to Russians’ mind when they think about Finland are nature (18%), sauna (14%), tourism (14%) and high standard of living (14%). The majority of associations that Russians attach to Finland are positive. The Finnish persons who most often come to Russians’ mind are Ville Haapasalo, the Kaurismäki brothers, Mika Häkkinen, Kimi Räikkönen, Tove Jansson and Mannerheim.

Russians also have positive perceptions of Finnish society. The most common answers to the question ‘In your opinion, what are the characteristics of Finnish society’ are high standard of living (29%), freedom (21%), welfare state (18%), and democracy (18%). The most frequently mentioned negative features are reservedness (10%), nationalism (8%) and lack of principles, cynicism (4%).

In Finland, Russians are most interested in nature (40%), tourism and shopping (21%), and culture and arts (17%). Over the past two years, the interest in Finnish nature and Finnish people’s relationship with nature has increased by 11 percentage points. More than half of the respondents living in St Petersburg (54%) expressed their interest in Finnish nature.

Fifteen per cent of Russians say they would be interested in moving to Finland if they were offered such an opportunity. On the other hand, 83 per cent are not interested in moving to Finland.

Reputation of Finnish companies in Russia is good – Nokia is best known

The best-known Finnish company or brand in Russia is Nokia, which was mentioned by 63 per cent of respondents. Other Finnish companies or brands well known to Russians include Viola cheese spread (26%), Tikkurila (25%), Valio (23%), Nokian Tyres (12%), Stockmann (11%) and Fazer (8%). Residents of St Petersburg are most familiar with Nokia (73%), Valio (69%) and Prisma (55%). Finnish-looking Russian products or brands were not brought up in the responses. 

Typical features of Finnish products mentioned by respondents were high quality (61%), reliability and longevity (27%), modern design (20%), and good price-quality ratio (20%).

Importance of internet as a source of information has increased considerably

Russians receive information about Finland and Finnish people most often from television programmes (41%), internet (32%), school education and textbooks (23%), and social media (11%). Over the past two years, the importance of the internet and the social media as a source of information has increased by 19 percentage points (2017: 24% / 2019: 43%). Tourism is the most common way (39%) for residents of St Petersburg to obtain information about Finland. The proportion of Russians who say they know nothing about Finland has decreased by six percentage points over the past two years (2017: 13% / 2019: 6%).

Almost half of Russians describe Finland as an impartial, neutral state

Almost half of Russians (45%) describe Finland as an impartial (neutral) state. Twelve per cent of respondents consider NATO to be a close cooperation partner for Finland, and one in ten describe Finland as a militarily non-aligned state. Seven per cent of respondents believe that Finland is a member of NATO.

Half of Russians (50%) are very or somewhat familiar with the events of the Winter War, and 24 per cent say they have heard something about it. A quarter of respondents (26%) say they know nothing about the war. Seventy per cent of residents of St Petersburg are very or somewhat familiar with the Winter War. 

Russians regard the defence interests of the Soviet Union and the security of Leningrad (35%) as well as the threat posed by Finland and its hostile attitude towards the Soviet Union (29%) as the main reasons for the Soviet invasion during the Winter War. Thirteen per cent of respondents say that the Winter War was caused by Stalin's policy of conquest. 

Forty per cent of Russians consider the Winter War unjustified, while 34 per cent consider it justified. Over the past two years, the proportion of Russians who consider the Winter War unjustified has increased by 11 percentage points (2017: 29%). As many as 78 per cent of respondents say that the wars waged between Finland and the Soviet Union have no impact on their attitudes towards today's Finland. Two years ago, 65 per cent responded this way. 

One in three Russians have heard of cases relating to families with Russian background living in Finland
Eight per cent of respondents say that they have read or heard a lot about the problems experienced by families with a Russian background in Finland, and 25 per cent say they have heard or read something about them but do not remember any details. 62 per cent of Russians have not heard or read anything about the cases – the proportion of respondents who said so has increased by seven percentage points since the previous survey (2017: 55%). 

Half of respondents (49%) say that they trust the Russian media, according to which the Finnish authorities discriminate against the Russian-speaking party in the cases. Almost one in three (29%) say that it is difficult to obtain objective information about the cases, while 16 per cent say that they do not trust the way the Russian media report on them (in 2017: 22%).

Background of the survey

The interviews of the nationwide survey took place at the turn of June and July, and 1,600 Russians from different parts of Russia responded. In St Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast, the interviews were conducted at the turn of July and August. Both surveys were carried out by the research company Levada Market Research. The margin of error is 3.4%. 

Inquiries: 

Results of the entire country:
Taneli Dobrowolski, Press Officer at the Embassy of Finland in Moscow, tel. +7 910 411 2022

Results of St Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast:
Jussi Palmén, Press Officer at the Consulate General of Finland in St Petersburg, tel. +7 931 350 5805

The Foreign Ministry’s email addresses are in the format firstname.lastname@formin.fi.