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Niinistö: I see no signs of a real war between Russia and the West

Finnish president Sauli Niinistö spoke about the recent developments in the war in Ukraine as a guest on Yle TV1's Ykkösaamu programme.

President Sauli Niinistö shared his assessment of the situation between the West and Russia on Yle TV1's Ykkösaamu programme on Saturday. Image: Vesa Moilanen / Lehtikuva
Yle News

As relations between Russia and the West further deteriorate, Finnish President Sauli Niinistö went on Yle TV1's Ykkösaamu programme on Saturday to talk about the current situation with Finland's eastern neighbour.

In the past week, Finland has restricted tourist visas for Russians, the Nord Stream pipeline in the Baltic was sabotaged under the sea in the Danish and Swedish Exclusive Economic Zones and Russia annexed four regions of Ukraine—a move which was condemned by Finnish leaders.

On the programme, Niinistö was first asked a question about the given yesterday by Russian President Vladimir Putin, in which he said that Russia was waging war against the West. According to Niinistö, this statement is intended primarily for "domestic use".

"I don't see any signs of a real war between Russia and the West," he stated.

According to Niinistö, the explosions in the Nord Stream gas pipelines underline the need to continuously develop the security of basic societal infrastructure.

"Now is the time to keep an eye on what kind of phenomena might be possibly prepared or might happen," Niinistö emphasised.

Pipeline sabotage "got the message across"

Niinistö said that he believes the gas pipeline explosions were intended as a wake-up call.

"I don't believe that the pipeline was broken just for the sake of the pipeline," he said, adding that, "the message was, of course, that things can happen."

So far it is not known who was behind the destruction of the pipelines, but Russia is the main suspect.

The threat of Russia or another entity damaging other infrastructure in the Baltic Sea, such as Norway's gas pipeline or telecommunications cables is very high.

"The worst conclusion is that if 'an international terrorist organisation', as Russia says, has done that [sabotage], that terrorist organisation will continue its actions elsewhere," Niinistö warned.

Niinistö said that Finland is well prepared and that Finnish authorities are on alert and that the security sector has woken up, though he does not expect sabotage to be carried out in Finland.

"But we need to be more vigilant than before," Niinistö stressed.

Niinistö said it was difficult to predict a timeframe for Finland's Nato membership when asked whether it was realistic to expect Finland joining the alliance by the end of the year.

Finland an impressive military force for its size

Compared to the Baltic states, for example, Finland has been much less aggressive on restricting the admission of Russian tourists and has also been quieter in its use of language.

"The Finnish way has been not to make such a big noise, but to act instead," Niinistö said.

He also pointed out that Finland has made "perhaps the most progress of any European country" since the end of the Cold War adding that Finland is a formidable European power, "quite impressive for its size, even in absolute European terms".

Niinistö on Putin

Putin's speech on Friday declared the Russian annexation of the regions of Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhia.

"By our standards, the map has not changed at all," the Finnish president underlined.

In Niinistö's assessment, the move is mostly in a way to benefit Russia for its own use, despite a lack of international recognition.

"After Russia has invaded those territories, they will then say that they are defending them and the Ukrainians are attacking," he stated.

The Finnish president also said it could be about creating a patriotic fervour in Russia.

"Russia seems to be looking for an excuse to defend Russia instead of invading Ukraine. Same action, different label," Niinistö said.

Despite the historical souring of relations, Niinistö said that it was important to try to keep dialogue between the West and Russia open without fear of condemnation.

Niinistö has spoken to Putin since the war began, but other Western leaders such as French President Emmanuel Macron have reached out to call Putin.

"It is better, after all, that even in a critical situation, it is possible to maintain a bilateral dialogue in some way," Niinistö clarified.

Niinistö also added that with Russia's mobilisation, Putin's internal support has dropped.

"Surely, in the end, the people there know more than we think they do. War is a tough word. It scares the Russians too," Niinistö described.

Niinistö added that it looks like Putin is now prepared to risk it all.

"It certainly seems that he [Putin] has everything at stake, including his own fate," Niinistö spelled out.

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