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Finnish President mulls changing political landscape as Trump prepares to take office

Finnish President Sauli Niinistö says US President-elect Donald Trump is being purposely ambiguous about his foreign policy ambitions, but finds recent sabre-rattling between the Trump team and China, and Trump’s offer to drop Russian sanctions concerning. Niinistö also mentions that he has been very happy with how Finland’s Prime Minister Juha Sipilä has handled international relations.

Sauli Niinistö
Sauli Niinistö Image: Tiina Jutila / Yle

Sauli Niinistö, President of Finland, appeared on public broadcaster Yle’s morning talk show on Saturday. Among other things, he discussed the changing political situation in the world.

For example, Niinistö says he is wary of putting too much stock behind US President-elect Donald Trump's latest offer to roll back US sanctions against Russia. The day before, in the Wall Street Journal, Trump had suggested he would be open to lifting sanctions on Russia, if Moscow cooperates in the fight against terrorism.

Niinistö stated in the Yle interview that the sanctions were imposed because of Russia's illegal actions in Crimea and Ukraine, not terrorism.

He said the “help” Trump called for should begin with Russia's acceptance of the Minsk peace agreement, whereby all foreign armed formations will be withdrawn from Ukraine.

The Finnish President also expressed his concern about recent sabre-rattling between the US and China.

Trump intentionally hard to pinpoint

Niinistö stated that the foreign policy objectives of the Trump team have been very hard to work out, and he suspects this might be intentional.

“It seems that he has a real colourful way of expressing himself, and plenty of different hues to chose from,” said Niinistö.

“I doubt that he even meant to communicate clear policy initiatives, at least they certainly haven’t come across,” he said, in reference to the run-up to Trump being named US President.

Niinistö: Negligible Russian interest in Finnish elections

Another issue that has taken the US by storm in recent weeks is the accusation of Russian meddling in the US election. A report from US intelligence services claims that Moscow orchestrated cyber attacks and fake news reports aimed at undermining US citizen confidence in official decision-making.

The Finnish President was of the opinion that something similar was unlikely to happen in Finland’s next presidential elections, scheduled for 28 January 2018.

“I find the idea far-fetched. I can’t imagine that Russia would show that kind of interest, frankly. We also have a good stock of common sense in our population that would work to foil something like that,” Niinistö said.

Niinistö once again refused to say yet whether he will be running for a second term as Finland’s president.

Sipilä has been a great foreign policy PM

Niinistö also gave Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipilä recognition for his work to negotiate and promote Finland’s international relations. He says he is surprised by criticism that says Sipilä tends to leave foreign policy matters to the president.

“I’ve had experience working with four different prime ministers, and I am astonished that someone would say that he is somehow passive in foreign policy. This is not the case. He has made many visits abroad and kept communications open with Moscow. I use him to fulfil my foreign policy mandate, and curiosity, about EU issues,” Niinistö said.

As to Sipilä’s recent conflict-of-interest issues, the President said the Prime Minister should have perhaps given the arrangement of his personal finances more thought.

“I believe that the surrounding debate has educated him, and many others. In future, he will certainly be much more careful.”

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