The Russian Security and Military Research Group is led by Lt. Col. Simo Pesu and includes senior researchers and doctoral students, as well as rotating research assistants and university interns.

The joint professorship between the University of Helsinki and the National Defence University was established in 2017 to facilitate research in Finland on Russian foreign and security policy. The professorship is funded by three foundations: the Mannerheim Foundation, Maanpuolustuksen Kannatussäätiö (National Defence Support Foundation) and Maanpuolustuskorkeakoulun tukisäätiö (National Defence University Support Foundation). Dr. Katri Pynnöniemi was appointed Assistant Professor (tenure track) and holder of the Mannerheim Chair of Russian Security Studies in August 2017.

Simo Pesu

Lt. Col. Simo Pesu is the head of the Russia Group and a senior researcher at the National Defence University. He earned the General Staff Officer’s Degree in 2004 and has served as a commissioned officer in the Finnish Defence Forces since 1993. Lt. Col. Pesu’s military experience includes several positions in signals, command and control systems, special forces, and military intelligence and strategic research in Finland and abroad. In recent years, he has been involved with strategic foresight and strategic analysis tasks. His current research focuses on Russian military-technological and foresight thinking and developments.


Katri Pynnöniemi

Katri Pynnöniemi is an assistant professor at the University of Helsinki (Aleksanteri Institute) and holds a joint Mannerheim Chair of Russian Security Studies at the University of Helsinki and the National Defence University. In this position, her task is to develop research and teaching on Russian security studies at both universities. Her current research is focused on threat perceptions and enemy images in Russian strategic thinking and as part of strategic communication.

Previously, Pynnöniemi has worked as a senior researcher at the Finnish Institute for International Affairs. She has been a visiting researcher at the University of Tarto, Estonia (2012), the Swedish Institute of International Affairs, Stockholm (2016) and the Wilson Center, Kennan Institute, Washington D.C. (2017). She is a member of the Scientific Advisory Board for Defence (MATINE). Pynnöniemi holds a Master’s and Doctor’s degree in international relations from the University of Tampere, Finland.

Pynnöniemi has published widely on the system change in Russia and on Russian foreign and security policy. Her current research deals with Russia’s security policy and strategic thinking.

Research portal profile


Pentti Forsström

D.Mil.Sc., Lt. Col. (ret.) Pentti Forsström is a senior researcher at the National Defence University. He holds the General Staff Officer’s Degree from the year 1997 and he served in the Finnish Defence Forces until 2017.  Forsström’s military experience includes several positions in military intelligence and strategic research in Finland and five years abroad. In 2009, he graduated from the General Staff Academy of the Russian Armed Forces. During the last two years in active military service, he finalized his doctoral dissertation on the development of Russian military strategy. In 2019, he was appointed as a senior researcher in the Russia Research Group.  His current research interest focuses on Russian military in general and the art of war.

His doctoral dissertation focused on the change of the fundamentals of the Russian Military Strategy: “Venäjän sotilasstrategia muutoksessa. Tulkintoja Venäjän sotilasstrategian perusteiden kehityksestä Neuvostoliiton hajoamisen jälkeen”, 2019 (The Changing Russian Military Strategy. Interpretations on the Development of the Foundation of the Russian Military Strategy after the Collapse of the Soviet Union)

Jukka Viitaniemi

M.Mil.Sc., Maj. (ret.) Jukka Viitaniemi is a senior researcher at the National Defence University. Viitaniemi’s military experience includes several positions in the Finnish Army and in Military Intelligence in Finland and abroad. His current research focuses on Russian Military Strategy.

Jonna Alava

Jonna Alava, M.A. is a doctoral researcher at the University of Helsinki and a member of the Russia Research Group at the National Defence University since August 2019. Her article-based dissertation examines gender aspects in the military-patriotic education in Russia. 

The first article ‘Russia’s Young Army – Raising New Generations into Militarized Patriots’ analysed discourses in which the legitimation of the military-patriotic youth organization ‘Yunarmiya’ is constructed. The second article examines the representations of female soldiers in the Russian armed forces. The latest article deals with the nationalist transformation of Russian patriotic education during the war. 

Research portal profile

Santeri Kytöneva

Santeri Kytöneva, M.Soc.Sc. works as a research assistant at the National Defence University. In addition to assisting in communications and research, his own research currently focuses on the justification of force in the context of Russian military science. During the course of his intership (2021/9–2022/3), he wrote a working paper on spiritual security Voimankäytön oikeutuksen lähtökohtia : Venäjän hengellinen ja kansallinen turvallisuus Garejevin mukaan and gave a presentation at the Russia Seminar 2022.

Aleksander Malinen

Bachelor of Arts (BA) Aleksander works as an intern in at the Russia military and Security Research group. He studies at the University of Helsinki in Masters Programme of Russian linguistics and the Expertise in Russian and Eastern European Studies in Aleksanteri Institute. His Academic interests consist from history of ideas of Russia and Russia’s ideology behind its national security. Aleksander’s tasks will include assisting in research and communication.


Understanding Russian security and military thinking has deep roots in the Finnish National Defence University’s traditions tracing back to the 18th century. In our work we cooperate and network both within the Finnish research community and with foreign research institutes, as well as individual researchers. The Russia Research Group meets regularly with the Swedish Defence Research Agency’s (FOI) Russian Studies Group, and with researchers working at the CNA, RAND, and the FMSO. We are always open to building new cooperative relationships as well. The annual Russia Seminar, held at the National Defence University in Santahamina, is our way of providing a forum to share insights on recent research, discuss new research topics and exchange opinions on current affairs.

The origins of the Russia Research Group stem from the National Defence University’s (NDU) strategy workshop, held in 2015. Colonel Kari Nisula, at the time Head of the Department of Warfare, suggested and formulated a proposal to create a research group that would specialize in academic research on Russia, teaching, and engaging with the Finnish and International research communities and the public at large.

Research work began in 2017 (with the appointment of Lieutenant Colonel Petteri Lalu as military professor, and the assignment of Colonel Juhani Pihlajamaa to the group.) By the end of 2018, the group included two special researchers working on their Military Science dissertation projects (Lieutenant Colonel Pentti Forsström and Major Vladimir Panschin), a special researcher (Lieutenant Colonel Simo Pesu) and an assistant professor (Katri Pynnöniemi), holding the the Mannerheim Chair of Russian Security Studies. The Russia Research Group also provides opportunities for young researchers. Our university interns are an important part of the team, and we currently have a total of five doctoral researchers.

The Russia Research Group researchers have acquired external funding for several research projects. In 2018, the Research Group acquired funding from Maanpuolustuksen Kannatussäätiö for a Russia-related dissertation project. Jonna Alava, who joined our group in August 2019 prepares her dissertation for the University of Helsinki. Other external funded research projects include the VNTEAS NORDIC, and a project (2017-2020) on Russia’s Patriotism and Militarism funded by the Finnish Military Science Research Foundation. In addition, the group participated in the Finnish Ministry of Defence’s Power of Russia project published in 2019.


Vladimir Panschin

D.Sc.Mil., Lt. Col. Vladimir Panschin was a senior researcher and a member of the Russia Research Group from 2017 until 2021. Lt. Col. Panschin holds a D.Sc.Mil. in military history from the NDU. From 2013 to 2016, he served as a Finnish deputy defence attaché in Russia. His research interests include Russian security and intelligence services, and especially the analysis of the military exercises of the Northern Fleet and the Western Military District. He succesfully defended his doctoral dissertation Diletantteja vai taitajia? Päämajan valvontaosaston johtama valvonta ja vastavakoilu talvi- ja jatkosodassa in 2018. Panschin keeps a blog about the activities of the Russian Armed Forces in Finland’s neighbouring areas.

Mari Puurunen

B.Soc.Sc. Mari Puurunen worked as an intern in the Russian Military Security Group from March 2021 until September 2021. Her tasks included assisting in research and communications. During her internship she was completing her Master´s Degree in Contemporary History at the University of Turku and in the Expertise in Russian and Eastern European Studies (ExpREES) Program in Aleksanteri Institute. Her interests cover security issues in Russia and Eastern Europe, especially the Baltic Sea Region. As a part of her internship, she wrote working paper publication Sotatieteiden akatemian roolista sotilasdoktriinien valmistelussa. Maanpuolustuskorkeakoulu, Sotataidon laitos, Julkaisusarja 3: Työpapereita nro 23.

Outi Helin

Outi Helin, M.A., B.Soc.Sc., joined the Russia Research Group as an intern in the spring of 2020 and continued as a project researcher until the end of the year. Her work was part of a research project on Russia’s foreign and security policy in Northern Europe. In the project, she studied how Northern Europe as Russia’s neighbour is covered in Russian academic literature. In addition, she participated in organizing Russia Seminar 2020 and held lectures at the NDU on Russian society and culture with other group members. Helin holds a Master’s Degree from Saint Petersburg State University and is finalizing her master’s thesis on Russian cultural statecraft at Tampere University.

Andreas Turunen

Andreas Turunen, M.A. holds a Master’s degree in international security and has a background working at Conflict Studies Research Centre as an analyst on topics concerning Russian security. As a research assistant Andreas is focused on assisting in research, organising Libguides online learning environment on topics covering Russia and conducting his own research.

Alexandra Nummenpää

Bachelor of Arts (BA) Alexandra Nummenpää worked as an intern at the Russia Military and Security Research Group. Her work in the Research Group focused on information retrieaval and management to support research and education activities of the National Defence University of Finland (FNDU). In 2022 she will graduate as Master of Arts (MA) in Nordic history and Archivial science at Åbo Akademi University.