HELSINKI—Russia is planning its biggest military exercise in years, and its neighbor Finland is going underground.
A subterranean city beneath Helsinki forms a crucial line of defense for the capital. Finnish soldiers routinely train here, with a mission to keep Finland’s government running and city residents safe in a network that features more than 124 miles of tunnels, passageways and shelters.
Much of the network has been adapted over recent decades with defense in mind. Blast doors seal entrances. Passageways are adapted so the military—with a regiment dedicated to controlling the tunnels—can contain enemy infiltrators. Utility and subway tunnels provide arteries for communications, water supply and Wi-Fi. There is enough shelter space for all city’s more than 600,000 residents in the event of an attack or disaster.
The subterranean defenses have long been in place, but the Finns are now stepping up preparedness as Russia readies for Zapad 2017, the country’s largest military exercise since the end of the Cold War, in September.
“The soldiers make sure we will have the advantage underground if they ever come to us wanting a fight,” said a former Finnish Defense Ministry official.
Russia’s war games will take place on Finland’s border as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization steps up its own presence in the Baltics, across the Gulf of Finland. The country is in the European Union, but not a member of NATO.