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Niinistö: US-Russian relations tense as year changes

Finnish President Sauli Niinistö said a phone call between the presidents of the United States and Russia conveyed some optimism that diplomacy could help ease current tensions.

Tasavallan presidentti Sauli Niinistö pitää lehdistötilaisuutta presidentin linnassa.
President Niinistö describes the situation between Russia and the United States as tense. Image: Benjamin Suomela / Yle
Yle News

Finnish President Sauli Niinistö said Thursday's call between the President of the United States Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin offered little in the way of news.

"Perhaps the best part of the call was that both parties assured—at least in their press releases—that they were ready to make diplomatic progress," Niinistö said on Yle radio show Ykkösaamu on Friday.

"We can rest somewhat assured that this atmosphere of peace will be maintained at least until the second week of January," he added.

Talks between Russia and the United States are expected to commence in Geneva in the second week of January.

During the call between the two presidents, Putin is said to have warned Biden that imposing sanctions would be a big mistake.

"It's certainly part of the rhetoric now," Niinistö said of Russia's sanction warning.

According to a White House press release, Biden made it clear that the United States and its allies would respond if Russia were to invade Ukraine again.

Is it about Ukraine or a NATO expansion?

Niinistö speculated that current US-Russian tensions may boil down to NATO's expansion. Russia has demanded of both the United States and NATO that the alliance stop its eastward expansion.

"Inevitably, when you think about the messaging, especially from the Kremlin, the main focus appears to be those general requirements—security guarantees, as they say. Ukraine seems to form a framework for such a debate," Niinistö said.

The Finnish president spoke on the phone with Putin in mid-December. At the time Niinistö said Finland would keep its option of joining the western alliance open.

Niinistö said he does not believe that NATO would close its doors to Finland right now.

"I think this is a very clear situation for Finland. I do not think that we will face any kind of membership barrier as a result of the Russian negotiations with either the United States or NATO," he said.

"This decision is in our own hands."

Estonia's cannon request

Estonia has meanwhile said it would like to give Ukraine Soviet-made cannons and ammunition it originally purchased from Finland. To proceed with the donation, Estonia needs permission from Finland and Germany, from whom Finland bought the Howitzers in the 1990s.

"Of course, the situation in Ukraine is very sensitive, and Finland has long had the principle that no weapons are handed over to conflict areas. That will certainly be considered," Niinistö said of Estonia's request.

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