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Finland and Sweden step up military aid to Ukraine ahead of winter

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By David Mac Dougall
FILE: Finnish soldier during winter weather training, March 2022
FILE: Finnish soldier during winter weather training, March 2022   -   Copyright  Satu Hujanen / Finnish Army

The first snow of the year has already come to parts of Ukraine. 

It turns the thick, wet mud of autumn -- churned by boots, tracks and tyres -- into a freezing quagmire that seeps inevitably through clothing, and into the bones of soldiers ill-equipped to face the changing seasons. 

In Finland and Sweden, the militaries know a thing or two about extreme cold weather combat, and how to battle the elements. And with an eye on the weather, the two Nordic nations have announced their biggest packages of military aid for Ukraine to date. 

"It is important that we keep supporting Ukraine and providing it with the means to end the war," said Antti Kaikkonen, Finland's minister of defence. 

"Ukraine is fighting and defending its independence and freedom, it's right to help assist Ukraine in this situation. That's why Finland and most European countries help," he told Euronews in an interview. 

The tenth -- and latest -- Finnish defence package is valued at €55.6 million, bringing the combined value of all defence material earmarked for Ukraine to €160.4m since the start of the war. 

The Finns are notoriously tight-lipped about what exactly they've been providing -- "it is for security and op-sec reasons," said Kaikkonen -- but the minister does explain a bit more about the process involved. 

"We get a list from Ukraine, and we consult them when we are building these packages. Of course, at the same time, we tell them we have this and this which we could donate. And through discussions, we are able to make the packages," he said. 

While some countries have been more open about what weapons systems they've given to Ukraine, the Finns see no need to flag to the Russians what they're supplying. 

"It is the Finnish way to keep quiet," said Kaikkonen. 

"We have two principles in our aid: we give stuff that Ukraine needs, and we give things that are possible to give without weakening our own defences."

He lets out just one small, but important clue: "We have taken into account that winter is coming." 

Finnish Ministry of Defence
FILE: Finnish Minister of Defence Antti Kaikkonen meets troops on field exercises, undatedFinnish Ministry of Defence

So what winter equipment might Finland be providing to Ukraine?

The Finnish government and military might not exactly be an open book when it comes to information about what they're providing to Ukraine, but there are some obvious and informed conclusions to be drawn. 

Open-source intelligence analyst and military historian Emil Kastehelmi says Finland is probably sending basic winter gear, but nothing too expensive "because of course Finland still has its own geopolitical threats that happen to be the same that Ukraine has". 

"What I've understood from different sources is that both Ukraine and Russia are having shortages of proper winter gear like warm under-clothes and winter camouflage suits, and Finnish camouflage suits are really good ones. We might be sending those, and sleeping bags too." 

Another important piece of equipment is tents with stoves that can be heated in winter: soldiers can get warm, and also hang up their wet clothing to dry off while they sleep. 

"At the moment in Ukraine there is already snow in the northern parts, and there is a mixture of snow and mud and slush all around. If a soldier fights a day or two in those conditions, some of his gear will get wet and he must get dried to fight effectively for weeks or months." 

Kastehelmi says a tent with a stove, or warm dry socks, thermal underwear and camouflage uniforms might sound like simple pieces of equipment, but it's "highly possible" that neither Ukraine nor Russia has the means to supply all of their troops with basic gear like this. 

Finnish Army
FILE: Finnish soldiers on a winter training exercise, March 2022Finnish Army

Finnish crowd-sourced winter gear heading for Ukraine

The official government-level military aid from Finland is not the only aid flowing from north to south, with a number of groups working to fill gaps in equipment supplies. 

One of those organisations is Your Finnish Friends, which has been processing requests mainly for defensive equipment such as ballistic helmets and body armour plates requested by Finnish volunteer fighters in Ukraine, but also sending any surplus to the Ukrainian army. 

"Heat cameras are for example in high demand right now, with dark winter nights. Fighters ask as well for Savotta backpacks, Peltor earmuffs and earmuff helmet attachments," said Kasper Kannosto, president of the charity, who also studies peace, meditation and conflict research at Åbo Akademi in southwest Finland. 

"For winter use, we have bought special wool socks, neck-warmers, military winter jackets and pants, winter sleeping bags, wrist warmers, and winter gloves for operational use," he told Euronews.

"We prefer the material merino wool. It keeps you warm and doesn't irritate you as much as other materials." 

Finnish Ministry of Defence
FILE: Finnish troops conduct winter training exercisesFinnish Ministry of Defence

Sweden's latest aid package for Ukraine

A short hop across the Gulf of Bothnia from Finland and Sweden has also recently announced its biggest military aid package for Ukraine, a sign from the new government that they want to increase support. 

“We are now sending a record support package to Ukraine, with both humanitarian and military support. The defence of Ukraine’s freedom is the most crucial foreign policy task of our time,” said Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson.

The Swedes are a little bit more forthcoming than the Finns about what they're supplying, and the new package includes an advanced weapons system and ammunition for air defence, light all-terrain vehicles, personal equipment including winter gear and body armour, tents and camouflage netting.

The new aid package is worth SEK 3 billion -- roughly €273.4 million -- which is a billion krona more than all the previous military aid packages combined. 

"The Swedish package is interesting on a European political level because it is a signal that we are not forgetting about Ukraine, our support is getting bigger and bigger, and that is pressure on countries who might be tempted to do less," explained Oscar Jonsson, an international security expert in Stockholm. 

"I think this is Sweden saying come on guys don't give up on Ukraine," he told Euronews. 

While Sweden had previously provided more low-key military assistance to Ukraine, like anti-tank weapons, the new round of equipment including anti-aircraft systems offers the Ukrainians a major increase in capabilities. 

There is also support for the winter including winter uniforms and tents but the Swedes don't have a lot of those in stock at the moment, having run down their supplies over the course of decades, and now rapidly trying to restock.

"In many cases, we are giving money to Ukraine and telling them to buy the equipment themselves, because we don't have a huge amount of supplies because we dismantled those large stores," explained Jonsson. 

"I think what we are giving is good quality, but not big numbers."