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Defence Minister heatedly denies dual citizenship news – Yle holds line

Minister of Defence Jussi Niinistö has publicly rejected Yle's reporting on the treatment of dual citizens in the military, blaming the organisation for spreading "false news" and damaging Finland's reputation in Russia.

Jussi Niinistö .
Finns Party MP and Defence Minister Jussi Niinistö. Image: Heikki Saukkomaa / Lehtikuva

Minister of Defence Jussi Niinistö says that the way in which national broadcaster Yle reported on recent news about military rules concerning dual citizens is harmful to Finland's image in Russia.

"Basically, the Defence Forces have acted lawfully and Yle is spreading false news," Niinistö said in Parliament on Wednesday. "The false information spreading like wildfire in Russia leads people to believe that dual citizens are treated unfairly in the Finnish military service – and that just isn't true."

The Russian media has not, in fact, widely reported on the dual citizenship issue.

A handful of articles (on news sites such as Fotanka and Regnum) quote the Yle article directly, and the state-owned Sputnik News site's English version contains a news item headlined "so much for equality". However, central Russian news agencies Interfax and RIA Novosti do not contain any mention of the citizenship row on their websites at the time of writing.

Minister of Finance Petteri Orpo says he disagrees with Niinistö's view.

Yle stands behind its news

Head of national news and current affairs Riikka Venäläinen says that Yle's reporting on the issue was based on sound sources.

"I think it's important to be able to speak on issues of security without taboos," Venäläinen says. "To me the most interesting thing here is the dual citizenship phenomenon and the development of citizenship-related legislation."

Venäläinen says she considers Niinistö's talk of "false news" to be unjustified and unnecessarily heavy-handed for a minister.

"The Defence Minister's comments on the news marring Finland's image are very odd. The Minister said himself [on Tuesday] that he was working on a bill that would restrict the access of dual citizens to military positions. Bill drafting is a public process, and a discussion will arise over it regardless."

Niinistö and the Defence Command have pointed out that the Command is not in possession of any official or secret guidelines concerning dual citizenship.

"Yle never claimed that the guidelines came from the Defence Command," Venäläinen says. "It's obvious that this isn't an official norm urging staff to go against the Nationality Act. It is a guideline that was given out in the Defence Forces."

Law may change, "question of loyalty"

Defence Minister Niinistö says that a "theoretical scenario" exists wherein a person applying for a military position was not chosen, and went on to blame the decision on their own dual citizenship.

"The applicant could have jumped to that conclusion, but the Defence Forces do not ask people about dual citizenship, even during security screening."

Niinistö says that this don't-ask policy on dual citizenship is the prevalent rule in the Defence Forces – and that that needs to change.

The Ministry of Defence released a statement on Wednesday saying that Niinistö has created a project with the intent of bringing dual citizenship legislation in the defence administration into focus.

Meanwhile Matti Vanhanen, chair of Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, says he understands Niinistö's worry over dual citizens in military positions. According to Vanhanen the risk has been identified years ago.

"It is a question of loyalty," Vanhanen said in Parliament on Wednesday. "When faced with two home countries, towards which will a dual citizen be loyal? This is what we want to ascertain when it comes to persons in significant security policy positions."

Vanhanen adds that many difficult legal problems are involved, because the citizenship-related bill could constitute a breach of rights.

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