Helsinki of the 1950s was the focal point of the Cold War. The US and the USSR had different ambitions for Finland. The US wanted a clearly pro-western government and the Soviets ultimate goal was annexation or installation of a puppet government. Shadow Lines tells the story of a secret intelligence team. Its mission – to preserve this small Nordic nation’s independence from both powers. This is a perfect background for a Finnish spy story.
In 1944, the Finns had leased Porkkala to the USSR for fifty years. The leased territory was strategically located at the narrowest point of the Gulf of Finland and less than an hour from Helsinki. The Soviets had moved quickly to build a huge military complex at Porkkala. It had two airbases and a seaport for its navy. In 1955, the Finns wanted the Soviets out. Finnish prime-minister, Urho Kekkonen, and the USSR’s First Secretary, Nikita Khrushchev , are deep into negotiations. Khrushchev on the left, Kekkonen on the write, circa 1956.
The KGB and the Russian military didn’t want negotiations to succeed. On the other hand, the US and CIA want to see Porkkala returned to Finland, they don’t want Kekkonen to be president. He is seen as too close to the USSR and he promotes “active neutrality”. The active neutrality policy allowed Finland to remain capitalist, democratic, and sovereign while existing in the shadow of the Soviet Union.
The Finnish Security Intelligence Service (“FIST”) takes on the KGB and the CIA to make sure that Finland gets what it wants without selling out to either party. Kekknonen succeeds striking a conditional deal with Khrushchev – conditional on him being elected president of Finland. Then FIST has to stymie a US plan to either “buy” the presidential election or assassinate Kekkonen.
Kekkonen has struck a deal for the return of Porkkala. Displaced Finnish Karelians want more. They want the return of the USSR-occupied Karelia, historically a province of Finland. However, part of it was lost to the Soviets in World War II. The Karelians are ready to do anything for the opportunity to fight for their “homeland”. To do so, they plan a “false flag operation” to draw the USSR into a war with Finland. But FIST cannot let this happen.
Today, Russia is flexing its military muscle to scare the Baltic states and threaten the Ukraine. All very scary and reminiscent of the Cold War era. Consider this recent excerpt from Monocle:
“A letter sent by Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov to the governments of Finland and its Nordic neighbours has triggered unpleasant memories in Helsinki. In it, Lavrov asks Finland for commitments “not to strengthen its security at the expense of the security of others”; in other words, not to join Nato. While Helsinki’s official reaction to the letter has been controlled – emphasising its vague nature, its other recipients and stressing the need for an EU-wide response – the Finnish media has been less circumspect. Many commentators have drawn parallels with the cold war, when Moscow would regularly pressure Helsinki into decisions through the use of epistolary intimidation. Thankfully, due to EU membership and economic prosperity, Finland is in a far stronger position than back then. But the resumption of Soviet-era tactics does not bode well for rising tensions in the region.”The Monocle Minute of February 3, 2022
Based loosely, on fact, Shadow Lines provides a glimpse into the threats of the Cold War. While it is fictional, it has educational value for those with no memory of the Cuban missile crisis or disarmament talks! Nuclear attack drills at schools! Or even an un-unified Germany.
Good actors, compelling story lines, action, suspense! Watch Shadow Lines – a Finnish Spy story!
We watched on Sundance Now! I am sorry about the lack of a great visual to introduce the following clip but if you click on it, you will be rewarded:
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