Finland shares a 1,300-kilometre border with Russia, its eastern neighbor. Although this unique geopolitical position might occasionally cause heartburn to the nation's leaders, straddling East and West allows it to act as an effective mediator.
The article's headline has been shortened and updated with quotes around "played a peaceful note." The expression was used by Boris Yeltsin in the 1997 summit. Finnish-language articles on this topic can be found here, here and here.
During the Cold War, Finland insisted on maintaining a policy of neutrality despite having signed an "Agreement of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance" with the Soviet Union in 1948 wherein it agreed to resist armed aggression by Western powers against the USSR through Finnish territory.
In 1973, Helsinki hosted what was to become a highlight of East-West dialogue in the Cold War era. The Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE) was a three-staged process of talks culminating in the Helsinki Declaration of 1975. The forum, consisting of East-West talks between the Soviet Union and Western states, led to the creation of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
In the final stage of the Helsinki process, 35 heads of state, including the US, Canada and every European nation save for Albania and Andorra, agreed on lofty principles: the permanence of Europe's borders and equal human rights for all. Instead of a legally binding treaty, the end product was a commitment to work towards the ideals of peace and stability in Europe.
The conference was especially unique in a Cold War climate as the leaders of both the US and USSR – Gerald Ford and Leonid Brezhnev – as well as those of East and West Germany, all partook in the dialogue. In spite of such a broad turnout of participants, the Helsinki Declaration ultimately failed in its ambitious goal of ending all wars in Europe.
As the Cold War gradually drew to an end, the swiftly arranged Helsinki Summit of 1990 brought together presidents George Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev to discuss Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait. As a gift from Gorbachev, Bush received a cartoon in which both leaders were depicted as having won the "boxing match of the Cold War."
During Mauno Koivisto's presidency (1982-1994), Finland's foreign policy had turned increasingly westward in spite of strong Soviet influence. Although President Koivisto would not support the Baltic states' struggle for independence, Finland gravitated toward EU membership and abandoned the treaty of friendship and cooperation with the Soviet Union after its collapse.
Finland re-emerged as the focal point of world affairs in 1997 when presidents Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin arrived in Helsinki to discuss arms control and NATO expansion. President Clinton's recent knee surgery had come at an inconvenient time as President Yeltsin, contrary to expectations, was in good physical condition while Clinton was carted around in a wheelchair.
President Clinton's team was reportedly very concerned of his image at the summit and wanted to avoid the impression of a taller Yeltsin looking down on wheelchair-bound Clinton. Thus the Americans would not allow the Finns to arrange Yeltsin's seat at the press conference but instead provided a chair and table themselves – yet Yeltsin clearly appears to be sitting on a taller chair at the conference. Despite both parties' incentive to project a strong image, President Yeltsin surmised that Helsinki would once again "play a peaceful note for the world."
In June 2018, Helsinki again began preparations for a top-level summit as presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin would meet in the capital to discuss US-Russian relations.