The Russian Security and Military Research Group is led by Lt. Col. Simo Pesu and includes senior researchers and doctoral students.

A 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. Jukka Viitaniemi is a senior researcher at the National Defence University. Maj. 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 how gender is represented and what kind of gendered positions are formed in the context of military-patriotic education and, through the latter, in wider processes of militarization in Russia.

The first article ‘Russia’s Young Army – Raising New Generations into Militarized Patriots’ analysed the linguistic modes in which the legitimization of the military-patriotic youth organization ‘Yunarmiya’ is constructed. In the second article, she examines how the role of women in the military context is changing in Russia and asks what gender frameworks enable women to merge the woman and the soldier into a non-contradictory social identity.

Research portal profile

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 works as an intern at the Russia Military and Security Research Group. Her work focuses 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.


Juha Wihersaari

Colonel (ret.), Juha Wihersaari is a doctoral researcher and member of the Russia Research Group at the Finnish National Defence University. He has the General Staff Officer’s Degree from 1993 and he served in the Finnish Defence Forces until 2015. Wihersaari’s military experience includes positions mainly in military intelligence, where he served 26 years. During his career Wihersaari served two times as a defence attaché: the first time in Eastern Europe (incl. Ukraine) and the second time in the Middle East. He also served five years as the director of Finnish Signal Intelligence. Since 2016, Wihersaari has been the owner and director of a small intelligence and security company.

His doctoral research is focused on Hybrid Warfare in the Russian Art of War: “Hybridisodankäynti venäläisessä sotataidossa”. According to the current plan, Wihersaari’s dissertation is expected to  come out in 2023/24

Marzia Cimmino

M.Sc. Marzia Cimmino’s background is in political affairs and conflict prevention in Eastern Europe, Western Balkans and Central Asia. She worked for almost ten years as an Italian secondee for the political affairs units of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in Vienna, Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan), Belgrade (Serbia) and, most recently, in Kiev (Ukraine). Prior to joining the OSCE, she worked in the Russian Federation for Human Rights Watch and Carnegie Moscow Centre. Her papers and analyses on Russian foreign policy appeared on several think tanks’ online publications—the Aspen Institute and Carnegie Endowment, among others. She holds an M.Sc. in International Relations from the London School of Economics and Political Science. Marzia is fluent in English, Italian and Russian. 

Her dissertation at the Finnish National Defence University focuses on the effects of the OSCE conflict prevention early warning mechanisms on official negotiations regarding the crisis in and around Ukraine. 

Essi Tarvainen

M.A., M.Ed., Lt. Sgt. (res.) Essi Tarvainen is a doctoral student in the Russia Research Group at the Finnish National Defence University. In her dissertation she studies Russia’s geopolitical interests in the Baltic Sea Region and how it secures its national interests in both peacetime and during crises. Understanding the Russian perspective is her main focus.


Petteri Lalu

D.Sc.Mil., Lt. Col. (ret.) Petteri Lalu is a former head of the Russia Research Group at the NDU, where he served from 2017 until 2020. Currently he is a docent at the NDU and an affiliate member of the group. He obtained his Doctor of Military Sciences degree from the NDU in 2014. He has served as a commissioned officer in the Finnish Defence Forces since 1990 and completed the General Staff Officer Course in 1999. Lt. Col. Lalu’s military experience includes several positions in ground -based air defence, military intelligence and strategic research. His research interests include the Russian art of war and Russian military politics and the history of the Russian Orthodox Church.

His doctoral dissertation focused on the Soviet tactical and operational solution against the superiority of defence in the 1920–30’s. Syvää vai pelkästään tiheää?: Neuvostoliittolaisen ja venäläisen sotataidollisen ajattelun lähtökohdat, kehittyminen, soveltaminen käytäntöön ja nykytilanne. Näkökulmana 1920- ja 1930-luvun syvän taistelun ja operaation opit. Other publications: Vähällä verelläkö: Näkikö puna-armeija ja sen kehittäjät tulevan sodan kuvan ”oikein”, in ”Tuleva sota: Ennustamisen sietämätön vaikeus”, The Fighting Power of Russia’s Armed Forces in Putin’s Russia : Economy, Defence and Foreign Policy, and Historia ja kanonit kirkkopolitiikan välineenä: Venäjän ortodoksisen kirkon edustajien julkilausumat Ukrainan ortodoksien autokefaliahankkeessa vuonna 2018.

Hanna Ojanen

Dr. Hanna Ojanen is Adjunct Professor (docent) of international security organisations at the Finnish National Defence University, as well as Adjunct Professor of international relations at the University of Helsinki. An expert in European security and defence policy, she works as Senior Research Fellow in the Horizon2020 research project ENGAGE at Tampere University.

She holds a doctorate in political and social sciences from the European University Institute (EUI, Florence). Her previous positions include the Jean Monnet Professorship at Tampere University (Faculty of Management), Head of Research at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs, and Programme Director of the Research Programme on the European Union at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs.

Her recent research has focused on inter-organisational relations (particularly EU-NATO-UN relations) and her publications include The EU’s Power in Inter-Organisational Relations, and ‘The EU’s engagement with international organisations: the impact of NATO on the making of EU security policy’, in The Making of European Security Policy. Between Institutional Dynamics and Global Challenges.


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.

Santeri Kytöneva

Santeri Kytöneva, B.Soc.Sc. was a intern from September 2021 until March 2022. During his internship Santeri was working on finishing his Master’s degree in social sciences and philosophy at the University of Jyväskylä. He has focused on topics surrounding the Russian definition of war and information security. During the course of his intership, 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.