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Niinistö evokes 'spirit of Helsinki' at diplomats' conference

The Finnish President addressed diplomats in an event streamed live to officials located across the globe. 

Tasavallan presidentti Sauli Niinistö tarkastaa Merivoimat ja vierailee Saaristomeren kansallispuistossa Örön saarella Kemiönsaaressa.
President Sauli Niinistö said that the fall of the government in Kabul had huge implications. Image: Vesa Moilanen / Lehtikuva
Yle News

Finnish President Sauli Niinistö told Finland's diplomats that the world is becoming more uncertain, and that Finland has a role in helping manage increased tensions.

Speaking at the annual Meeting of the Heads of Mission, he said that the collapse of the Afghan government has been the dominant international story in recent weeks, and Niinistö acknowledged its importance.

"It is still too early to see the whole picture.," said Niinistö. "Still, it is already clear that these sudden turns of events will have major consequences, both in concrete and symbolic terms, both immediate and long-lasting ones."

The president emphasised Finland's responsibility to those Afghans who had been employed by Finns in the country in the past two decades.

In the wake of the government's decision not to evacuate security guards from the Kabul embassy he told journalists afterwards that he had no problem with the government's evacuation list, however.

The future of crisis management operations was also in the balance, according to Niinistö.

"In Afghanistan, what collapsed extends well beyond the government in Kabul," said Niinistö. "What has happened forces the whole western world to face even broader, fundamental questions. If, after two decades of massive efforts, the outcome is this, what will be the future of big international crisis management operations, particularly of the kind of operations aimed at building nations and transforming societies in a larger scale? What kind of capacity does the West have to promote its values worldwide? Or is there even a will to do so anymore? Furthermore, what will all this mean for the world order?"

One factor to consider is that great power competition is intensifying, according to Niinistö.

"But both Beijing and Moscow have surely come to the conclusion that what happened in Afghanistan showed that neither the United States nor the Western world as a whole can succeed in exporting their set of values," said Niinistö. "Whether the interpretation of the West being weak is right or wrong, the shadow of a doubt is difficult to shed."

'Spirit of Helsinki'

The president concluded his speech by touching on migration issues, asking if current rules and practices can hold as migration increases, while cautioning against blaming any individual migrant for problems.

"But migration challenges the EU to challenge its own principles," said Niinistö. "If it really comes to the crunch, can we adhere to the human rights agreements as we are making ourselves believe? And if we cannot, what will happen then?"

Niinistö also invoked the 'spirit of Helsinki', which is said to have created the space for the 1975 meeting in the Finnish capital which laid the foundations for the OSCE.

He said it would be natural for Finland to assume the chairmanship of the organisation in 2025, to mark fifty years since the Helsinki Conference.

Niinistö touched on similar themes on Monday at the Crimea Platform conference in Kiev, where he also affirmed Finland's support for "international efforts to restore Ukraine's territorial integrity".

Parts of Ukraine have been under the control of Russia-backed separatists for several years, and the Crimean peninsula was annexed by Russia in 2014.

Marin urges EU unity

Prime Minister Sanna Marin (SDP) also addressed ambassadors at the event. She echoed Niinistö's calls for a stronger security and defence co-operation between EU countries.

Marin said that the EU has to appear united to outsiders, even when there is not unanimity between member states.

"The union cannot be paralysed or become a playing field for great powers," said Marin. "More efficient external policies require more united common political responsibilities, and that now has to be built."

Marin repeated Finland's opposition to Russia's annexation of the Crimean peninsula. According to Marin the main responsibility for resolving the conflict ine astern Ukraine lies with Russia, but there appears to be little desire for genuine dialogue.

Marin also defended Finland's presence in Afghanistan.

"Maybe many would like to think that our work for Afghanistan and the future of Afghans would have somehow been destined to fail," said Marin. "I see human rights and equality, access to education and healthcare are for everyone and Afghans' desire to move forward towards a better future is clear for us all to see. Even one Afghan girl who was able to go to school can bring about change, and there are now a lot of them."

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