Video shows tanks heading for military exercise in western Finland, not to Russian border

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As tensions soared between Finland and Russia over Helsinki's bid to join NATO, footage of tanks hurtling along a train track circulated in social media posts that claimed it showed Finland sending tanks to its eastern border with Russia. However, Finnish defence forces said the video showed tanks heading to western Finland, away from the Russian border, for an annual military exercise planned before Moscow invaded Ukraine.

"Finland is moving military equipment to the eastern border with Russia," reads a Facebook post from May 4.

“Russia has no problem with you as you are neutral, why look for trouble with Russia by joining NATO?"

The footage shows scores of tanks being transported on a train.

A man off-camera says in Finnish: "It'll be getting crowded at the eastern border soon."

Screenshot of a Facebook post sharing the false claim, taken on May 23, 2022

The footage was shared in similar social media posts in a string of languages, including English, Chinese, Finnish, German and Polish on Facebook and Russian on Telegram.

Finland and Sweden formally applied to join NATO on May 18, 2022, ending decades of military non-alignment following Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that while Russia did not see Finland and Sweden's decision to join NATO as a threat, deployment of military infrastructure there may trigger a response from Moscow.

Military exercise

Reverse image searches and keyword searches found the footage in a YouTube video from May 5 titled: "Finland Transfers Equipment for Exercise Arrow 22."

The video's description talks about a military drill called Exercise Arrow 22 involving Finnish, British, American, Estonian and Latvian forces.

It links to a statement from the Finnish Defence Forces published on April 14, 2022 about the exercise in Niinisalo, Finland.

The statement says that "tracked vehicles will be transported by train" to Niinisalo and Kankaanpaa in western Finland between April 26 and May 2, 2022.

Another keyword search found a tweet from the Finnish Defence Forces on May 4, 2022 saying that the tanks in the video were transported as part of the military exercise.

Contacted by AFP, Finnish Defence Forces spokesman Henrik Gahmberg said that Arrow was an annual technical exercise unrelated to the Ukraine conflict.

"The transported tanks in the video are en route to the ongoing Arrow 22 exercise," he told AFP on May 10, 2022. "It was planned well before the war in Ukraine and has nothing to do with it."

"There have been no material transports towards the Russian border. There is no immediate military threat to Finland," he added.

The Finnish Defence Forces published details of previous Arrow exercises in Niinisalo in 2017, 2018 and 2019.

Gahmberg said the tanks in the footage were transported from Parola, southeast of the city of Tampere, to Niinisalo.

According to Google Maps, the train route passes through Tampere and away from the Russian border, which is about 270 kilometers (170 miles) from where the videos were taken.

Location of the footage

Visual features in the video correspond with Google Maps images of Tampere.

The first and last few seconds of the video show Tampere's landmark Nasinneula observation tower in the background (circled below in blue) and various other landmarks.

AFP tweeted photos of the Arrow 22 military exercise in Niinisalo on May 5, 2022.

The Finnish Broadcasting Company also reported that the tanks were transported on the railway as part of the Arrow 22 military exercise.

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Ukraine-Russia conflict