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Finland's President travels to London for "important" Ukraine summit

The two-day meeting of Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) leaders is arranged by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaking with Finland's President Sauli Niinistö during the climate conference in Glasgow last year. Image: EPA-EFE/All Over Press

Finnish President Sauli Niinistö travels to London on Monday at the invitation of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson for a two-day summit of the Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF).

The UK-led JEF is a multilateral framework for defence cooperation that also includes the five Nordic countries, the three Baltic states and the Netherlands.

A statement (siirryt toiseen palveluun) released by the Office of the President on Saturday evening said the agenda for the meeting will be the war in Ukraine and the security situation in Europe.

A separate release (siirryt toiseen palveluun) from the British Prime Minister's Office added that the leaders are also expected to discuss joint military exercises in the Nordic and Baltic regions.

Important meeting for Finland

Mika Aaltola, director of the Finnish Institute of International Affairs (FIIA), told Yle he believes that the meeting is especially important for Finland against the backdrop of Russia's attack on Ukraine.

The UK is a key Nato member and also a nuclear-weapon state, with Aaltola adding that Finland's cooperation with the UK — which has left the EU — on matters of defence and security is in a good place, and has not suffered from the fallout of Brexit.

Mika Aaltola of the Finnish Institute of International Affairs. Image: Silja Viitala / Yle

"Especially in these conditions, we benefit a lot from Britain," Aaltola said.

Finland has stepped up cooperation with both the United States and with Nordic neighbour Sweden since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and Aaltola said he believes there are no obstacles to strengthening relations with Britain either.

Johnson to hold separate meetings with leaders of Finland, Sweden

The statement from the British Prime Minister’s Office also said that Johnson will host the group for dinner at Chequers — the official country residence of British Prime Ministers since 1921 — on Monday night, having extended the invitation during the most recent conference call between JEF leaders last month.

The summit will reconvene in London on Tuesday, and Johnson is expected to meet separately with the Finnish and Swedish leaders at his official residence on Downing Street on Tuesday afternoon.

Niinistö and Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson are also scheduled to hold a bilateral meeting in London during the trip.

The latest All Points North podcast looks at how Finnish politicians, businesses and the public have responded to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

JEF cooperation does not rule out NATO option

In Aaltola's opinion, Finland's cooperation with the JEF can be both beneficial and flexible, as intensifying defensive training drills is important in order to create disincentives for Russia and also understanding common responsibilities.

"There are potentially strong enough forces in place for smaller military operations that also concern the territorial defence of the Baltic and Nordic region. That goes to the heart of the matter," he said.

There is a close relationship between JEF and Nato, Aaltola added, which feeds into Finland's potential membership of the military alliance.

"A step towards strengthening Western defence cooperation can be taken and from there a safe stride into Nato. The two options are not mutually exclusive," he said, adding that Finland must also consider matters from the operational level in both the Nordic and Baltic regions.

An extensive, international military exercise takes place in Norway on Monday, involving soldiers from more than 25 countries. The Finnish Defence Forces will also participate in the exercise.

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