Port security is in the spotlight in Finland, as recent fraud allegations against a Russian-owned company positioned along a strategic naval route near the port of Turku are under investigation. The company, Airiston Helmi, made no profits over the past decade, and the Finnish government determined in 2016 that it had “little in common with a real business and could even be a cover for Russian secret services.”
The implications for international port security are far reaching, as the sea accounts for 80 percent of the world’s trade.
“Russia could launch a missile strike against most seaports and airports immediately at the beginning of any potential conflict to cripple or neutralize our ability to rapidly reinforce,” former U.S. Army Europe Commander Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges told FP. “EFP [NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence] battlegroups and host nation forces are there to deter and fight, but their concept is based on rapid reinforcement, so the ports of Northern and Western Europe are essential and must be protected.”
The 2016 Finnish government report found that Russian nationals have been consistently buying strategic assets near critical infrastructure and military bases since the early 2000s. Between 2007 and 2014, Airiston Helmi, for instance, paid 10 million euros for properties at key gateways on islands around the Finnish port of Turku.
“They have even set themselves up near schools where Finnish reservists would gather in case of mobilization,” the report says. “Now the Finnish parliament is debating new legislation that will make it more difficult to buy properties near such strategic assets.”
“Ports and railyards have long been targets in warfare, but today an adversary no longer has to go for the hard kill and bomb them,” Mark Hagerott, chancellor of the North Dakota University system, told FP. “You can simply hack a port’s IT system. And many ports are privately owned. How can a port operator stand up to a country?”
3.7 million tons of goods enter into the Finnish port of Turku each month. But a lack of security is making it a vulnerable target. https://t.co/DycjEH7a8a
— Foreign Policy (@ForeignPolicy) November 8, 2018