The Russian administration of Boris Yeltsin sent unofficial signals to Finland at the end of 1991 about returning Karelia to Finland, Finnish provincial daily Kainuun Sanomat reported Wednesday.
In the autumn of 1991, the Russian government had said that it would hand the Kuril Islands, invaded by the Soviet Union in 1945, back to Japan. According to Kainuun Sanomat, the Finns interpreted this public statement as a signal that Karelia was up for sale.
That's an odd paragraph. The original Kainuun Sanomat article cites the statement on Kuril Islands by Gennady Burbulis as evidence of Russia's intentions, but doesn't claim that Finns interpreted it in specific in the described manner. And of course Russia never did give the Kuril Islands back, which casts doubt on the seriousness of any hints on Karelia that may have been made through clandestine channels.
The paper reported further that a secret expert group summoned by Mauno Koivisto, the then Finnish president, had drafted an assessment of the costs involved in regaining sovereignty over Karelia and that the group had arrived at a "purchase price" of 64 billion marks, or about 10.8 billion euros, along with long-term infrastructure reconstruction costs of up to 350 billion marks, or some 58.9 billion euros.
Koivisto is keeping quiet. Foreign Trade Minister Paavo Väyrynen, then the Foreign Ministers, has denied any knowledge of the events as has (fi) Jaakko Blomberg, who was the head of the political department in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. That doesn't disprove the article, of course, and calculating the costs might have been considered prudent even on a contingency basis.
Assuming for the sake of argument that the possibility of getting Karelia back was real, what should have been done about it? The article concentrates on the question of cost, but there are other considerations. An obvious analogy is the reunification of Germany, but in that case you had Germans on boths sides of the border. Karelia is full of Russians who can't be thrown out - for moral reasons as well as practical ones. What did the inhabitants think about living in Finland?
It can be argued that returning the area to Finland would in part put right a historical wrong. If Karelia was returned to the control of the Republic of Finland, would that repair the damage done to the evacuees? They'd still have lost their homes and rebuilt their lives inside the current borders. Certainly getting Karelia back would have some benefits for them. Visiting would be easier and getting permanent residence would become more appealing through more investment and better governance. But they wouldn't get their old lives back.