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Niinistö discusses “shocking” Navalny case with Putin, Merkel and Kaljulaid

Niinistö declined to speculate as to whether his talks had been instrumental in the Russian opposition leader's release.

Niinistö is one of the few EU leaders to have kept open a close dialogue with Putin in recent years. Image: Silja Viitala / Yle

Finnish President Sauli Niinistö has held talks with several heads of state regarding Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and the unrest in Belarus.

On Friday Niinistö and Russian President Vladimir Putin had “a long phone call” about “the case of Alexei Navalny and the question of organising his health care” as well as the situation in Belarus, according to Niinistö’s office.

Navalny, who is in a coma after a suspected poisoning, was flown to Berlin for treatment early Saturday. Russian officials had previously refused to allow him to be removed from the hospital in Omsk where he was being treated, but reversed their stance late Friday.

"I asked whether he couldn't be moved to Germany," Niinistö told Yle on Saturday.

Putin replied that there was no political obstacle to the transfer, he said.

Niinistö described the news of Navalny's illness and possible poisoning as "shocking" in a comment to Yle.

"He has been the highest profile figure of the Russian opposition for years. We now hope that he receives the best possible care, regains consciousness and recovers. There will certainly be plenty to be considered in the aftermath of this," Niinistö said.

Belarus unrest also on agenda

On Friday Niinistö also spoke with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid.

Interviewed on Yle TV1's Ykkösaamu programme on Saturday morning, the Finnish president declined to speculate however as to whether his discussions had been instrumental in gaining Navalny's release.

The president said that he and Putin also discussed the situation in Belarus and the possibilities for calming tensions there following a disputed election. EU leaders have refused to recognise the results of the vote.

Niinistö is one of the few EU leaders to have kept open a close dialogue with Putin throughout various crises, meeting with him about twice a year since taking office in 2012.